With in person racing coming back this fall and (hopefully) here to stay, you may be feeling a bit lost with the whole environment of a race. Running an in person race as a runner after a couple years of not racing will no doubt feel weird to most of us at first. But, after attending the Muskoka Marathon this past weekend, I found that I had even forgotten what that spectator feeling was like! And it took some real planning to make sure that I was supporting my racing friends the best that I could. Here are a few tips that I picked up during my past races supporting runners.
Check out the Race Route Ahead of Time
Most races will post the race routes on their websites well before race day. Check it out and try to pick out some good spectator spots (socially distanced if needed) so that you can maximize the number of times that you’ll see the runners you are supporting. For example, If it is an out and back, you know that you’ll see the runner once on the way out and then once on the way back. This will not only let you take some awesome pictures of your friends and let them feel your support, but if you need to grab some throwaway layers or hand off hydration or fuel to them, you’ll be in a prime location to catch them.
If you’re more creative than I am, you can make up a witty sign and hold it out for extra cheering points. I bring a cowbell from a past race, ring it to my heart’s content, and shout as many motivational phrases as I can. One key tip though: I have been told many times by some friends to NOT say “you’re almost there”. This is, apparently, much more anger inducing than motivating. So, maybe that phrase can sit on the sidelines along with “quit slacking”, “only 35 km to go”, and “it’s all downhill from here” when a hill is right ahead.
Discuss with your Runners
One great benefit to having friends out there spectating and supporting when you’re running a race is, not only will you be sure to see some motivating faces out there, but you may have the option of having your supporters hand you gels, fuel, or even hydration at key points of the race. As a supporter, make sure that you discuss with your running friends if there might be anything that you can carry with you just in case or even if you might need to grab items from the runners (usually when the weather is colder and they may need to toss a long sleeve towards you once they’ve warmed up after a few kilometres). One caveat to this though is that I would try to never completely rely on your race supporters to give you your only source of hydration and fuel. Even if you are being super attentive, there is always the chance that you might miss your crew and if you don’t get a gel at a key moment, make sure you have a backup on you or you are okay taking the hydration that is handed out along the course.
Dress the Part
Sometimes, as a spectator, you might think that you can dress the same way that the runners you are supporting are dressed. But, after many numb fingers and wet clothes can attest to, you are going to be much, much colder as a spectator than you would be than if you were running. Dress in layers, so that you can always peel off a jacket and still have a warm long sleeve underneath. A good sized umbrella or a rain jacket with a hood may also be necessary if you are expecting rain (tip: a cap with a brim is a great way to keep the rain out of your eyes too).
Pace (if you can)
Finally, if you are planning on running a part of the route alongside your friends or even helping pace your runners for a portion of their race, make sure you do not get in the way of any other runners and that you do not break any rules of the race. I am NOT condoning banditing the race so please do not cross the finish line and cut off the other runners in the race. But, running alongside a friend who has been struggling may be just the motivation that they need to finish the race strong. Wear your running shoes if you are planning on jumping in and also whatever running clothes and gear that you might need. You can also carry a handheld bottle if you are able so that you can provide on the go hydration, especially if it is a hot race.
There is no other feeling than crossing the finish line of a race as a participant, however, a very close second, is being able to support a fellow runner and witness them accomplishing their goals. Racing seems to be back in the Six and I couldn’t be happier! I sure hope that there are many more opportunities to race, cheer, and support in the coming months. You’ll hopefully find me out on the course running, or maybe on the sidelines ringing my cowbell yelling motivational phrases. I’ll be the one yelling “you’re almost there” at the 2km marker of your 10k HAHA :D.