Yesterday I ran with a running friend and we talked for a while about the strange world of running, and, specifically about the spectators at running events. As in running, good race spectating takes some practice. Here are my tips for good road race spectatorship:
1. Cheer! I know this one seems obvious, but I have determined that most race spectators are there to see their sister/dad/cousin/boyfriend’s roommate run, but there are likely lots and lots of other runners (most of whom have no one at the event) who would like you to cheer for them. Rather than standing on the side of the road mute and looking bored until your runner comes along, cheer, or at least occasionally clap, as runners go by. If a race prints names of runners on the race bib (hint: it’s usually below the number), use names. It’s pretty cool to hear someone I don’t know cheering for me by name. If you don’t want to cheer, bring a noise maker of some kind and make some noise.
2. I’m not “almost there”. I appreciate the “almost there” sentiment, but unless I’m .1 miles or fewer (read: can see the finish line), I’m not almost there. This is particularly true if there are 10 or more miles to run. Runners like to hear encouraging cheers and, to many non-runners, I’m sure our language is very strange. It’s not as if one can yell “defense” or “nice play” at a race. What do runners like to hear? This varies by runner, but I like “stay strong”, “nice work”, “you’re awesome/cool/amazing”, and “looking good/strong/fit”. The old standby of “woohoo” also works. I once ran past a group of high school cross country runners cheering at a race. Their cheers of “I know it sucks, but you can do it”, and “work hard” were very encouraging. Ask the runner in your life what they like to hear. Chances are that will work for other runners, too. A special note from my speedier friends – runners at the front of the pack like to know where they are. For example, the first lady might not know that she is the first female. If she is, tell her. The second female might like to know how far ahead the first female is from her current position (i.e. “second female, first is 10 seconds”). It is useful to tell front-of-the-pack runners where they are in terms of time and place. The start of a race is chaotic and runners beyond the first likely don’t know who or how many are in front.
3. Runners like funny signs. Consider making a sign for passing runners. This saves you having to cheer or clap all the time and gives the runners something to look at. When racing with friends, we enjoy reviewing the signs that caught our eye after the race. Little signs are fine – just make sure the size of font is appropriate for the speed of the runners so that we can read it while we pass.
4. Please don’t cross the race course right in front of me. Please, please don’t cross the race course right in front of me near the finish line. A friend once ran into a spectator just feet from the finish. Don’t let this be you. Wait to cross, cross on corners, and please move quickly out of the race course. Keep these simple rules in mind when you leap out into the race to take a picture of your runner. No one likes dodging you and your pictures will look terrible with my ear in half the frame.
5. It’s ok if your kid wants a high five, but don’t expect every runner to offer one. I see lots of kids on race courses who want a high five from the runners. This works and I’ll give kids a high five if I’m close to the child and running a long race (thus not going too fast). Your child probably won’t get too many high fives in short races, as runners are just moving too fast. Keep an eye on your cute kid to avoid runner-child collisions.
There you have it – my top 5 tips for road race spectators.
So, runners and spectators, what other tips do you have? Share your best race signs and spectating tips in the comments.