How to be a Good Marathon Spectator
Marathon training and running the actual marathon teaches you a lot about yourself.
You learn what food to eat and when to eat it.
You learn how much water to drink and when to drink it.
You learn what clothes bug you when you run — what rides up, what falls down, and what chafes.
You learn your digestion timing.
You learn more about yourself than you’d ever imagine.
After running two marathons and spectating Twin Cities marathon this year, I realized I learned something else: the types of spectators, signs, and cheers I love… and the kinds that just really grind my gears.
This realization got me thinking that maybe there’s some unwritten rules for being a good marathon spectator?
Put Thought into Spectating
I chose to run the Chicago Marathon this year, which freed me up to full focus on spectating for The Twin Cities Marathon. I was all-in for preparing signs, planning where to spectate with friends…but also, started thinking about my past marathons and something I really hadn’t given much thought to:
- What signs encouraged me?
- What signs made me want to slap someone?
- What did people tell me that actually DID help me get through a tough mile?
My answers revolved around messages being clever, creative, or personal.
Seeing a familiar face.
Seeing a really clever sign. (Favorite from Chicago “You run better than our government!”)
A Good Marathon Spectator Doesn’t make Bad Signs
The most demoralizing thing one can hear on the course (especially when having a rough race…)
“You’re almost there.” — with anything more than LESS than a mile to go… in this specific case, I remember there were still 6.2 miles left with 20 miles already down.
No, NOT almost there in that situation. Unwritten Rule #1.
Another spectator once tried to hand-feed me bacon at 22 miles.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE bacon.
I don’t love bacon 22 miles into a marathon. (Honestly, I usually don’t love anything at that point.)
I also don’t love bacon from the hands of someone I don’t know where they’ve been… ew?
I have learned what NOT to do as a spectator.
But most importantly, what I have learned is the importance of spectators.
It wasn’t until running and seeing different courses that I fully understood just how important the crowd is to the runners.
Some of these spectators will never run a marathon (or a mile) in their life.
I can’t blame them, but at the same time think they’re missing out!
Some spectators who are out religiously cheering for runners, get a certain satisfaction from encouraging runners.
Spectators are really a part of the whole experience.
It was really a rewarding feeling to be on “the other side” of Twin Cities marathon.
No, it’s not the same feeling as finishing a marathon, but still you feel proud.
Mostly proud of others.
Step One: Be Creative
I decided for TCM, my first step, I needed to create UNIQUE signs.
We all know this is the ‘worst parade ever…’ and yep, ‘26.3 would be crazy’…
and then those ones about ‘your mom’…
I wanted something that didn’t demoralize people, but also gave them a good laugh and encouragement.
The two signs that got the most reactions, and even got some runners to stop and take pictures:
Step 2: Be that familiar face in the crowd
One of my premature concerns with running out of state (in Chicago): I had no one to look for in the crowd.
Usually that familiar face at mile 24 (my parents and friends) helps me immensely.
It’s something to look forward to, and get your mind off the situation at hand. (Whatever that may be.)
I know how great that momentary high is for the runner.
Try spectating sometime. What’s the worst that can happen? You feel motivation via marathon-energy diffusion?
Maybe you will become a marathoner one day from it. It happened to me… (never say never!)
Step 3: Stick Around for Everyone
We all run the same race; fast or slow.
We all need support and encouragement along the way.
Some miles are great. Some really suck.
Some runners finish in the top 100 out of thousands.
But someone also comes in last.
Stick around to cheer The Back of the Pack.
Every runner deserves it.