Marathon Spectating: Do’s and Don’t’s

Posted by Filed Under: Marathons

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 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.

About Donald

A protégé of Dr. Dre, Donald emerged on the blog scene as one of the most unusual writers to ever grace the genre. Using questionable wit and mediocre skills to ramble about everything from his childhood to a compulsive fascination with popular culture, he became the biggest crossover success since Eminem emerged from Eight Mile. Born on the hard streets of Inglewood, CA, Donald began writing blog posts in his basement, and gradually won over larger audiences by becoming a battle blogger against hip-hop MCs in underground clubs. His meteoric rise to success proved too much to handle, however, and Donald cancelled a planned US tour due “exhaustion.” He entered rehab to battle his Diet Pepsi dependency, then resurfaced on the Monterey Peninsula, where he lives with a wife and three kids. Having shunned the big city and the media spotlight, he now runs and blogs on his own terms, and he has finally found happiness.

  1. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on August 23rd at 7:44 am

    Ha ha ha! Great advice!

    I mostly just ignore any of the early comments that you recommend against, but I love when people yell out my name, my team, my bib number, or something else to single me out. Or they are singling somebody else out and I just pretend they are cheering for me; that works too.

    I can honestly say it’s been a long time since I’ve had any complement my body during a race, and I’ve never had somebody yell out the food at the end. That’s a good trick that I’ll have to remember the next time that I am cheering at a race.

  2. Amanda on August 23rd at 8:22 am

    During my last marathon, I wanted to kill the guy at mile 23 who said the finish is just around the corner… I really wanted to believe him and felt utterly let down when this was not the case!

  3. Tim on August 23rd at 10:06 am

    Loved the article and felt compelled to add another don’t to the list. Don’t yell “it’s all down hill from here”. We know it is not all down hill.

  4. Nancy Toby on August 23rd at 4:28 pm

    Great article! Also helpful is *accurate* information about the next aid station – how far, water on the left or right, Gatorade first or second, etc. Or upcoming turns or hills. But it MUST BE ACCURATE, don’t lowball distances.

  5. Jeanne on August 24th at 6:00 am

    I can’t wait til someone yells Go Donald at me next time!!!

  6. Julie on August 24th at 2:13 pm

    I agree w/all of these and it was funny to read as well. I will say that personally I like it when someone tells me I am 1/2 to 1/4 mile from the finish, but it must be accurate. I like to sprint that part or at least give it all I have left and it is nice to know how far out you are, if the course isn’t marked. I hate wondering where the finish shoot is and then getting there and not giving the end my all, but again….the distance must be accurate!!! Nothing is worst than picking it up and the end not coming and dying before you actually make it there.

  7. Jon (was) in Michigan on August 24th at 4:49 pm

    Yeah the name thing is always great. I was really suffering and it was wonderful to have 20 young college girls SCREAM my name when I went by. 😀

    Another sign I saw that was great was the standard “You are my hero” sign. Simple, yet very touching, especially at mile 20 when everything really sucks.

  8. Irene on August 26th at 9:57 pm

    I loved this article!!! Yeah, I really dislike hearing “you’re almost there!” Tecnically, you’re almost there when you start the race… It also does me good to see a familiar face in the crowd or hear my name. 🙂

  9. Johnny on August 27th at 8:12 am

    Yeah, You can yell “you’re almost there” when I hit Boyelston Street, otherwise I feel like throwing my empty GU pack at you 😉

  10. Brian Walsh on September 11th at 11:50 am

    One thing to most definitely not say is, “This is the last hill!” On a rather hilly course, after about 35 km and hearing that only to crest that “last” hill and see another was crushing.

  11. Diane Harlow on October 13th at 6:27 pm

    Having only been a spectator while my husband and daughter ran, I’ve always cheered, and wondered, if I was saying the right thing. Thanks to your article, I now know what not to say. I learned early on to call out your names, and tell you how terrific you are. And I didn’t tell everyone they looked great, but in my eyes, considering I’m standing on the side of the road, and you’re running 26.2 miles…you do look great…sweat and all! I don’t think many men would want to hear “great buns” from a 55 year old, so I’ll have to come up with something else before my family runs the Marine Corps Marathon in 2 weeks. Thanks for the great article and other suggestions in the comments.

  12. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on October 14th at 11:17 am

    Diane, feel free to yell “great buns” at me if you see me go by during marine corps…I won’t mind. Heheh.