Dear Running Spectator,
I get it. Watching a marathon can be stressful ― perhaps more stressful than running the 26.2 miles. You’re trying to track your runner on an app that you downloaded the night before, all while navigating a new city in the hopes of taking one good picture that your runner can post. Oh man, the picture. Trying to get the best angle, while trying to clap and cheer? It’s impossible. And if the picture stinks, it’s your fault.
It’s not easy.
So today I’m going to tell you how to make spectating fun. I’ve learned in my four years as the global run concierge for Westin Hotels that for a runner to have a great race, it’s equally important to decrease the stress of the spectator.
Here are five simple rules for spectating like a boss, which will make your day more enjoyable and, just as importantly, show every runner out there that you, my friend, are doing it right.
I've learned that for a runner to have a great race, it's equally important to decrease the stress of the spectator.
Rule #1: Make A Friend
Take an event like the NYC Marathon where roughly 1 million people line the course. Rather than stress about the issue of “Do I take a picture? Do I hold the sign I made last night? Or do I give them a high five?” go make a friend. Once you make that friend ― let’s call him “Keith” ― you and Keith will agree to the following:
When you know your runner is five minutes away (by tracking your runner on the new app), Keith will go into “help my new friend” mode. Keith is responsible for taking pictures of both the runner and you as you cheer your face off.
Maybe you’ve agreed to hug your runner. Keith captures that moment. Maybe you’ve agreed to high five. Keith snaps this. Whatever it is, Keith is your free hired photographer for five minutes. Exchange email addresses so you can receive the pictures and then return the favor for Keith and his runner friend.
Try to make sure Keith’s runner isn’t maintaining the same pace as yours, but not that much faster or slower.
Two wins come from this.
For starters, if the pictures are bad, blame Keith.
Secondly, you can do what you came to do: cheer on your runner. Which leads me to Rule #2…
Rule #2: Know What To Say (And What Not To Say)
This is really simple. If you want to make a runner smile, say that they’re doing amazing. Tell them their stride is beautiful. Hell, tell them to call you. This is most runners’ shining moment. Their 4.5 hours of fame. And with so many new, adoring fans complimenting them on their short shorts and compression socks, runners feel motivated and will push themselves harder.
Do NOT tell a runner they’re halfway there, even if they are.
Do NOT tell a runner to go faster, because they can’t.
Do NOT tell a runner that they’re almost at the finish because they’re probably not, and the key for runners is to stay in the present, not fast forward to the future.
Basically, just lie.
Tell every runner you see that they look fantastic and they’re doing great. It’s that easy. The more you lie, the more fun you’ll have! Incidentally, this is also a fun way to introduce situational morality to your children. On to rule #3!
About 70 percent of runners now travel to races, which means you're probably traveling, too.
Rule #3: Know Where You’re Going, And Know How To Get There
Nobody likes homework, but your morning will go sooooo much smoother if you go to the race website, look at the race map and plan out your day ahead of time. About 70% of runners now travel to races, which means you’re probably traveling, too.
Think of spectating a race like going to Ikea. You know it’s going to be rough, and it may even get heated, but if you write down what you need ahead of time, you’re less likely to walk out angry at life. Plan ahead.
And be specific. “I will be on the left hand side, at 110th Street, wearing a bright yellow shirt, and if all goes according to plan, our children will still be there.” Segue to Rule #4.
Rule #4: If You Have Kids, Be Near A Bathroom
Every year, I take my two children to the base of Heartbreak Hill to watch the Boston Marathon. My son can now last for about two hours watching runners, but my daughter gets bored after 10 minutes. She continually asks, “Is that your friend? Is that your friend? Do you know that person?”
By the end, she realizes that her daddy is a total dork and, somehow, gets pleasure out of cheering thousands of strangers. But I do come prepared.
Here are some suggestions on what to bring:
- Make your signs on race day, on the course. Bring some poster board and markers to where you’re spectating. Making the signs there can buy you about 20 minutes, and your kids might get inspired by the outfits whizzing by.
- Bring noise makers. This is the rare opportunity for parents to tell their kids to make more noise. Kids quickly recognize this “free pass” and seize the moment. By having a cowbell or a plastic harmonica handy, you’re delaying the inevitable eruption of the volcano also known as your children.
- Bring blankets or sweatshirts to keep the kiddos warm. Even if it’s warm outside, your kids will complain about being cold. Trust me.
- Bring enough liquids and snacks to last you a week. When kids watch runners run, their appetite goes wild. You’ve been warned.
Rule #5: Ask Your Runner If You Can Take Over Their Social Account For The Day
Taking over someone else’s social account can be a ton of fun and a way to not only show support for your runner, but allow the runner to have a commemorative mini movie, starring you, at the end of their race.
In conclusion, I hope you understand how much we appreciate you, Spectator. It’s a thankless job, but without you, who else would we tell our story to about the 26.1 nipple-chafing miles that you didn’t see?
Running a marathon is a little bit like that tree falling in the forest with no one around. Does it really count as a noise? Without spectators, is it really a marathon?
About the Author: Christopher Heuisler is Westin Hotels’ resident running concierge. He’s a veteran marathoner who has hit the pavement in 25 states. You can follow him on Twitter via @RunWestin, where he shares running advice and tips on how to stay healthy while traveling. He’s a regular contributor to Marriott Traveler’s Fit Traveler section.