While it doesn’t require the same amount of endurance as running a marathon, marathon spectating does involve some preparation and work. If you’ll be on the sidelines of a race, such as the New York City Marathon, follow these tips to have a good viewing experience and help the runners.
Be prepared. Carry a small bag with some bottled water and snacks. Make sure you have a watch, a map of the race course, cash, and mobile phone. Check the weather to see if you’ll need an umbrella, extra layers, or sunscreen and sunglasses. And don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes. If you’re going to be driving to different parts of the course, make sure you check the race website to find out about road closures. For big city marathons, public transportation is the best way to get around, so make sure you’re prepared with bus and train maps.
Timing is everything. To figure out when your runner will be passing you, find out his estimated pace per mile. If he’s running a big race like New York, get his wave start time and an estimate of how long it will take to cross the starting line. Check the race’s web site to sign up for a runner tracking system, which sends alerts to your mobile phone as your runner crosses timing mats on the course. You’ll be able to track your runner as she moves along the course and be ready when she’s approaching you.
Tell your runner where you’ll be. It’s actually easier for runners to spot spectators, than vice versa. But the runners need to know where to look. So tell them ahead of time what spots you plan to be at – and be specific. Don’t just say, “I’ll be somewhere on First Avenue.” Tell them, “I’ll be on the northwest corner of First Avenue and 85th Street,” so they’ll know to look for you there.
Spot your runner. Make sure you know exactly what your runner will be wearing, from head to toe. In very crowded races like New York, it’s easier to find a red shirt, for instance, rather than looking at everyone’s faces. Let your runner know what you’ll be wearing and where you’ll be standing, so she knows to look for you. Hold a sign with her name so she can easily spot you.
Be a supportive fan. Even if you don’t know any of the runners personally, put some effort into your spectating and cheering. Marathoners love looking at and hearing from spectators to break up the monotony, so whether you hold a funny sign or say an encouraging phrase like, “Stay tough”, they appreciate the effort.
Respect the course. It’s very annoying – and dangerous – to runners if spectators stand or walk on part of the course. If you can’t see the runners from where you’re standing because of the crowds, move to a different viewing location.
Be careful what you’re yelling. Supportive comments are always appreciated but, whatever you do, do NOT tell anyone, “You’re almost there!” or “Not far to go!” Trust me, marathon runners don’t want to hear that phrase unless they’re steps away from the finish line. You also shouldn’t shout out a specific distance such as, “Three miles to go,” unless you’re 100% certain that the number is the correct distance to the finish line (like, if you happen to be standing next to a mile marker). Spectators sometimes (unknowingly!) give out wrong information, which can be completely frustrating and confusing for marathoners.
Also see: What NOT to Say to Runners