Fall marathon season is approaching, and even if you’re not a marathoner, you can still be a part of the festivities. If you know somebody who is running, you can show your support by being an enthusiastic spectator.
It’s actually quite easy to be a spectator. While the runners invest several months preparing for race day, all you need to do is spend a little time learning how to be a good fan. It only takes a few minutes—by coincidence, about as long as it takes to read this column.
Spectators are an important part of the race, as the things you yell have an impact on runners. Although we might not always respond, we can definitely hear you.
Your comments and encouragement can push us forward with renewed vigor and enthusiasm—that’s the good news. The bad news is, if you say the wrong thing, it may plunge us into the depths of despair. (Not to put any pressure on you or anything.)
Whether you are rooting for one particular runner, or just out watching the masses parade by for entertainment, it’s very important to scream the right thing. It’s even more important that you don’t screw up our race. So here is a spectator’s guide for yelling at runners.
First, understand that positioning is key. Most people like to stand within sight of the finish line to see their runners come in. But with so many people yelling, it’s very hard to hear familiar voices—and honestly, at that point, it doesn’t matter what you yell. By the time we’ve reached the finishing chute, we’re pretty certain that we’re going to finish—even if we have to crawl across the line.
If you want your runner to hear you, and really want to assist them, move to a less crowded location—preferably somewhere within the last 10K. Shouting some encouragement on a lonely part of the course can be a lifesaver at times.
Here are some further guidelines for responsible cheering:
DON’T Say These Things:
ALMOST THERE! From a runner’s standpoint, this is as depressing as it is common. Here’s the thing—we know how far there is to go, and we don’t consider ourselves “almost there” until we see the finish line banner.
YOU’RE LOOKING GOOD! You lose all credibility by shouting this—it’s the biggest lie a spectator can utter. We know that we don’t look good. (Unless you happen to find sweaty, salty, smelly, drooling, glassy-eyed runners particularly sexy—in which case, feel free to drop me an e-mail sometime.)
ONLY x MILES LEFT! where x is anything over ¼ mile. There is no such thing as “only” in a marathon when it comes to distances. No matter what the x is, we know those last x miles will probably be painful. Yes, under normal circumstances, two miles doesn’t seem very far—but after 24 miles of running, it can seem like an eternity.
Plus, people have difficulty in estimating distances. What you think is two miles might actually be two and a half or three. There’s nothing worse than hearing, “Only two miles left!,” running for about five minutes, then hearing someone else shout “Only two miles left!” Runners have nightmares about that sort of thing.
DO Say These Things:
GO DONALD! This happens to be my favorite one. A personal touch is always nice—so if you know a runner’s name, shout it out as loud as you can. If you don’t know the name, then shouting a bib number is OK. You can also yell something from their shirt like “GO Canada!” or “GO Team!” or anything else that distinguishes them.
Here’s a fun game you can play: When a big group of runners approaches, just shout common names at random. There must be a Mary or Bill or Jose in there somewhere. You might give someone a nice surprise.
YOU RUNNERS ARE AWESOME! or WE ARE PROUD OF YOU! are great things to yell. They sound nice, and since you’re just saying what you feel, there’s no way for us to cognitively disprove it.
GREAT BUNS! I’ll be honest—this took me by surprise last year when a female shouted it to me as I ran past. It seemed like a strange thing to yell—but then I spent the whole year remembering it fondly. So obviously this is a pretty cool way to leave a positive impression.
(We know some women will be offended if this is shouted by men—but believe me, the men enjoy this kind of yelling from the women.)
BEER AND SOUP AT THE FINISH! Most runners will warm up to any mention of the comforts awaiting them at the finish line. Just don’t tell them how many miles away it is.
So there you have it – now you can go out and make a difference when watching a marathon this fall. Have fun, do some cheering, and appreciate the huge number of runners going by. They’ve worked hard to earn the honor of you shouting at them.