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12 Tips For Spectating A Marathon

Yes, I’m watching the Olympics, part of the day and much of the night.  Love Usain Bolt, love seeing the local Hansons jersey on a marathoner (even if it was only for a short while) and since watching the woman’s Olympic trials from a treadmill, I’ve become a bigger fan of spectating the marathon. Its just ‘neat’ to watch an Olympian run an event that I have trained for, but (and some will certainly disagree)  I think there is as much distance between 3:17 PR-Marathoning Me and 2:08 PR-Marathoning Olympian as there is between regular-me and regular-Orangutan.  There’s some comparisons, sure, but the differences are vast and we don’t really speak the same language and aren’t really the same species.

Watching on TV, I wish they’d show the back of the pack a little more. I tend to read a book or something else while watching since the TV just can’t capture the anxiety and energy..

But watching a marathon live is much different.

I’ve rarely been a spectator during a marathon, and when I am, it’s usually after I’ve finished and I’m walking backwards into the course to give the finishers some positive Vibes. I feel it’s my duty to give back a little.

Here’s a truth I believe after watching my wife complete a half marathon:.  It’s harder to be a spectator on marathon day than it is to run the race.

When you’re not running, but just trying to navigate the massive crowd to find someone, and  hope that they will actually see you when you finally do see them, you’re always wondering where they are.  Are they injured, are they hurt, do they need support? Your imagination goes to all sorts of things that have gone wrong and you wont’ to be there to help them.

You could be looking all over the course yet they are not even there since they are off to the hospital.

You could be waiting for them to come in at a 8 min/mile pace but somehow missed them because they had the race of their life and flew by much quicker. Bamn, how do you feel now? You missed them because you didn’t have faith they were capable. Or, you could bail out and leave when they were moving along at a 10 min mile pace, and needing to see you but your impatience got the better of you.

You feel  powerless to do anything about your predicament in the crowd, but while you are doing the actual running you are in complete control.  Good or bad.

Of course, with all this anxiety, it just makes the final rush when you do see them kinda sweet.

12 Tips On How to Be A Good Spectator:

I’ve seen tons of tips for spectators out there, and of course still feel obliged to give my own.  But first, I should say, it's incredible just for someone to get up early on a weekend and show up.  So lets start with that and then get more specific.

1. Of course, never say “Almost there.” Or “Come on, Not Far To Go.” Or any similar interpretation.  Never, no matter what. The right to free speech does not mean you can yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, nor can you say these terrible words.  Unless you can spit across the finish line, you are never almost there.
Satan comes in many forms

2. But do be specific if you want about the distance. I’m cool with that. “You’ve got a 10k to go. You can do this!” Something like that.


3. If there’s only one or two turns until the finish, say that.  For example, “one more turn and your home!”  “Just around that bend is the finish” When you’re a runner and can’t see the finish and your head is full of crazy mush and can’t compute, this is essential and incredibly heartwarming.

4. And at these moments. Feel free to scream. To yell. To jump up and down.  "2 miles, 2 miles to the end. 2. 2 miles to go!.  There is no tomorrow!! There is no tomorrow!!". It would be impossible to show too much enthusiasm. Fake it even, fake it better than Meg Ryan or Elaine from Seinfeld or a hurt soccer player. Just because my face doesn’t acknowledge you, my brain and my spirit does. So try not to be offended of I don’t show my appreciation. I will remember you hours, days, and even years later.

 5. I love signs.  But make them semi – original. No, they don’t have to be totally original, but “Run Forest Run” for example is way out of date.  Keep swimming, keep swimming, keep swimming” is new enough to me I still love it.  And for some reason, cuss words on a sign work great for me while marathoning.  Maybe the visceral nature of the event calls for them. A good sign burns deep into my memory.
Poor Aunt Beth
Perfect!!  God comes in many forms as well.

6. If I’m walking, don’t talk to me.  Don’t. Not sure how others feel, but don’t say “come on, you can do it, let's keep it up.” At that point, no I can’t. And this holds true if you are a runner and running by. I know its well-intended, but a hand on my shoulder as you are running by me if I’m walking mocks me. In fact, I feel a bit nauseous as I write this so I am gonna go throw up.

Okay, I'm better now. But in summary, if I’m walking, treat me like I’m invisible. Because I am, mostly. Disappeared.  And I promise (not) to respond to other walkers in kind. Forward is a pace.

7. Calling out my race number, I love that.  Say dat!

8. Being specific or unique is much appreciated. In the Free Press marathon, where first time marathoners had green colored bibs to reveal their virgin status, spectators give special love and support, with comments like  Way to go greenie!!” Loved this.

If you’re there for a specific spectator, something unique to them is always nice.  I remember the day after watching “Gladiator” and my wife calling me “Maximus!  Maximus!” during a half-marathon.  Yep, corny as it sounds it made the testosterone boil and bubble, and I was on my way to a PR and 2nd in my age group

9. Holding out a hand for a high five. Love it.

10. Offering things out is great. Even if you aren’t in an aid station.  And know that I have mentally picked the person many yards in advance of who I’m gonna swipe some refreshments from. So thanks for staying still.

(This situation holds true no longer, but is worth mentioning: Back when we needed to take our chip off our shoe,  thanks kindly to those who didn’t make me bend down but instead cut it off for me.)

11, If you are a priest and a spectator (don’t laugh, I seen them)  yes, please do say a prayer out loud for me, since I’m screaming them in my head anyways. There are not atheists at mile 22, so whatever your religion is, I am praying to your god too.

12. If you are the volunteer at the end of a marathon handing out medals, you are like a divine angel, so please forgive me for what I may say or do. Think of yourselves as a dentist who is taking someones wisdom teeth out. I’m under the influence of a heavy drug, so whatever I say or do should be confidential.  So far over 13 marathons, I’ve resisted the urge to give you a sweaty embrace and soak you in that weird marathoning mojo slime all over me.  This won’t last forever. One of you is gonna get slimed.

 *And I’m off, on a six day vacation.  But in the meantime, The Jade Rabbit for kindle is holding it’s pace at .99 cents until a few hours after Sundays Mens Olympic Marathon when the  winner (Meb!?)  has a flag draped over his back.  This is the time most of us regular orangutan marathoners are fighting over the post race swag, wearing a generic medal or maybe a metallic space blanket, and looking for our loved ones who have given us such cool support not only on race day, but for many miles in the making.


haha...this is a good one!! i just said the other day to a mom who was gonna be watching her daughter race about how it's sometimes harder watching...u feel like u have no control at all.

some crazy things that have been yelled at me during a race that particularly bugged me: 1) the dad of the gal behind me (like WAY behind) was yelling, "she's [me] dying, get her, get her...she'd dying!" and btw i was not dying and went on to lap his daughter..maybe i was so peeved that he actually helped. ;)
2) there was a guy who would ALWAYS yell, "punch it" to everyone all the time, it became a joke...hehe
2 Slow 4 Boston said…
I saw where you signed up for the running blog database. Love the spectator signs.

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