Marathon Spectating Tips and Gentle-Running

The past few weeks every time I have seen people out running, I’ve wondered if they are running the marathon. I’ve wondered if this was their last long run. I’ve wondered if they feel prepared, if they are nervous, staving off injuries, chasing a PR, or just excited to run and to finish. And now marathon weekend is here. And it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to catching an early bus or train so I can go down to 4th Ave. and watch the elite women whiz by before I go to church. Afterward, I might head to Bedford and Lafayette, between miles 9 and 10 to cheer on the rear of the “pack” as well.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, marathon spectating is a wonderful way to feel a love and connection with your fellow men — even people you don’t know and will never see again — and to be inspired as you watch them run by you on the race course. There’s such diversity among the racers and so much support coming from the crowds. Last year Jimmy brought tears to my eyes as he ran down Bedford Ave. with his team and I anticipate there will be many other uplifting sights along the race course this Sunday.

If you ever get the chance to stand along the sidelines of a big race, here are some things to consider:

  • You may be there longer than you thought — plan accordingly. Seeing the effect you can have by cheering someone on may make you want to cheer more people on. And suddenly, you’ve been standing there for an hour when you only meant to be there 10 minutes. Dress comfortably, bring snacks, stay awhile.
  • Don’t be shy. It’s really awesome to see and hear people’s voices, cheering, for you. Yell for people by name if they have it on their shirts, or by some other distinguishing feature if they don’t. The guy wearing a top hat with the Italian flag waving on top will probably know who you are cheering for when you say, “Looking good, Italy!” (Unless he doesn’t know any English, of course.)
  • Be specific. Try to think of something to yell that will stand out to them. “Good job!” is nice, but if they hear, “I like that spring in your step, Joe!” or, “You’re burning rubber, Mary!” it’ll put a smile on their face and make things a little easier. If you’re closer to the end, or near “the wall” (miles 17-22ish) it might help to remind them to relax, smile, keep their heads up. (Although I will say that when I was feeling like I might throw up and walking between miles 20-25 at the Utah Valley Marathon in June, when people told me not to give up, I was a little annoyed. If I had given up, I would have been sitting on the curb, waiting for a car to take me to the finish — hearing people tell me that it looked like I had given up was discouraging.)
  • Finally, signs are fun. At the Hartford Marathon a few weeks ago, the sign I loved most was, “The reason your feet hurt is because you are kicking @$#!” My feet really did hurt and it totally helped to think of it in that way. My sister’s sign last year got a lot of comments from tired runners who let her know they were doing it for the ice cream, beer, pizza, whatever. Make a sign and hold it high.

And if there is not any marathoning in your weekend, but you are interested in something running related to think about anyway, and maybe an experiment to try, read this from the New York Times Magazine: The Once and Future Way to Run. Then try doing 100-ups and see if you can get used to the gentler (barefoot) running style. It is an interesting way to practice the barefoot stride without having to commit to actually running anywhere barefoot. And, personally, I have seen a big difference in my running since I changed my stride away from the heel-strike. My race times have fallen greatly and my legs feel great. Running gently makes sense to me and I think it is worth giving a try.

Have a lovely weekend!

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  1. I think marathon spectatorship is one of the most worthwhile things you can do with your time. So Inspiring! I can’t tell you how many of the amazing runners had me near tears. The blind guy? Bawling. Cancer survivor? Pass the tissues. Amputee? I hear the call to action. Seriously, one of my best Sunday afternoons ever was cheering at this race.


  2. I haven’t run or cheered in many races; the few I have run, I’m more annoyed by cheerers than encouraged. It’s like they’re intrusively intruding into my personal struggle, but I think that’s just a introverted character flaw 😉 I prefer exercise in isolation, unless it’s team sports like frisbee or soccer.


    lizzie Reply:

    Ben, you are a special soul. 🙂


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