Tips for Spectating a Race

If you’re not running a race yourself, it’s still super fun to get involved by spectating! I’ve been boosted by the cheers and support from the sidelines so many times myself that I like to give some energy back to other runners when possible. Last weekend I went and cheered the Paris Gay Games Marathon, and had such a blast doing so. It’s really fun to help others get through their race, so I’ve put together some tips about how to spectate like a pro.

Pick a good spot

Where are you going to stand to spectate ?Unless you’re there to support one friend, my recommendation is to choose one place and avoid moving because that causes a lot of hassle, especially if you have to deal with race-day road closures. In big races, the organisers will often have designated cheer areas where they recommend people stand. This can be really fun because you get the vibe of everyone else around you, however they can often also be busy and overwhelming. Another option is to go to a very quiet part of the course where there is no-one around, because that’s often where the runners will be feeling at their lowest and so you can help them through. I tend to choose the latter, or to find a point where the course doubles back on itself, so that you can see runners multiple times.

Bring the party

The best support crowds are often the loudest. Firstly, think of some great things to yell as people go by, ranging from ‘Go go go!’ to ‘Those feet are on fire!’. I often find myself repeating the same things over and over again (Allez! Bravo! Super! Well done!) and although the runners can’t tell I’ve been stuck on loop, I get bored of myself after a while. If you can, try and be creative with your phrases, and then yell them at the top of your voice at everyone who runs past. After all, that’s what supporting is all about, right?

It’s very likely that you will lose your voice by the end of a solid cheering session. To help you out, I recommend bringing along other noise-makers to assist you. Cowbells are a great start, as are any sort of musical instruments – drums, horns – anything that will make sound (and won’t break if it gets accidentally trod on). You can also play music out loud to create a party atmosphere. At the London Marathon, my Advent Running team always sets up a little DJ table with speakers, which is really appreciated. This past weekend, I made do with tunes coming from my iPhone. It is all great, just make sure to play some up-beat bangers! My favourite is Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, because it has a great happy vibe and a brilliant mantra should you be going through a tough patch.

Race signs

Sign-making is an art… literally, you can get as arty as you like! Holding a big piece of cardboard with a funny saying on it will probably give you arm ache, but it will save your voice, and will definitely attract some laughs from runners. I’ve had a good giggle out on course from seeing some fabulous signs (for instance “If Trump can run, so can you” during the 2016 US elections). Gather your cheer-crew the night before and go to town making some hilarious posters. If you need some ideas for phrases, here are a few I like:

  • Smile, you paid for this!
  • Touch here for power (with a big spot for runners to slap as they run past)
  • ‘Pain’ is just the French word for bread
  • May the course be with you
  • You’re making me feel lazy
  • Go, random stranger!

Look after yourself

Spectating & cheering can be an endurance sport in itself, so be prepared for what could be a long day out. This means taking water and snacks for yourself, preferably without too much sugar to avoid crashing later on. You’ll likely get excited by the race atmosphere and want to jump up and down or dance, so wearing comfy, flat footwear is also important. It’s an incredible atmosphere to be at the sidelines of a race, but remember to look after yourself and take a break if you feel you need it.

Feed the runners

Have you ever been in a race, knowing that you need to eat something, but you just can’t stomach the idea of another gel… and then all of a sudden there’s an amazing spectator holding out a box of jelly beans? Well, be that spectator! Your little bursts of sugary goodness will give runners that extra bit of energy to keep them going – plus they just taste good (don’t eat too many yourself 😉). The best thing I ever saw was a spectator at the Dublin Marathon who had made little packets of jelly-babies in a knotted sandwich bag – they were super easy to grab while running past, and meant you didn’t have to worry about accidentally spilling an entire box of sweets onto the ground.

Another option is to hand out pieces of fruit, especially on a hot day. Orange slices will always go down a treat, but other fruits like the strawberries I had during Manchester Marathon are also great. If you’re planning to stand near the end of a marathon, you may also want to give out little cups of beer. I will never forget the lady giving these out at ~mile 23 of Edinburgh Marathon, it absolutely made my race!

Kathrine Switzer once said “if you’re losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon”. Not only will you see the incredible effort of runners striving towards their own individual goals, but you’ll also see strangers doing everything they can from the sidelines to motivate them to get to the finish. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of, from the fastest runners as the front all the way to the last person coming through at the end – and you should stay and support everyone if you can. Make the most of the experience, and then start dreaming about taking part yourself next time!

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