Whether you’re a runner yourself, or just supporting your “crazy” runner friends, the opportunity to cheer others on in their pursuit of a PR or finish can be a lot of fun. It’s also an important part of the race. As a runner myself, I love seeing the signs, hearing the cheers, and high-fiving the kids on the side of the road. It’s a huge encouragement to have people giving you the thumbs up, getting you through tough areas mid-way, and pushing you to step on it at the finish line. When you’re heading out to cheer on your buddies, it’s important to be prepared for the day you’re in for, or you may find yourself more tired and frustrated than the runners.
This post is just to give you a few tips on how to be an encouragement to the runners, and have fun doing it.
Get the info
It’s important to have the race information. There’s nothing like going to cheer someone on and then realizing that you missed them. Knowing when the race starts, where it goes, what roads are closed and where to park are big pieces of the puzzle. You can likely get all of the info you need from the race website. When in doubt, Google it.
Plan the route
It’s likely that for short races (5-10km) you’ll only be able to be at one spot to cheer, and for races that don’t start and end in the same place, you’re going to want to be there when your runner gets to the finish line. But for longer races you may be able to see them 3-4 times, but it’ll take some planning to do it. If you’re not familiar with the area, drive your route so you know how long it will take. And remember: big races mean big road closures, and your route will be more congested.
Know the plan
If you’re opting to see your runner more than once, consider places that have a loop, which will give you the opportunity to see them twice in a short amount of time. It’ll be important to know how quickly they plan on running, so that you’ll be able to stay ahead of them.
Stuff happens at races. Accidents, fatigue, adrenalin. Any of these could change the plan, and the timing of your runner. Keep your map handy so that you can make changes on the fly. It certainly helps to have a smart phone or GPS to help guide you.
With a spot chosen you’ll need to be visible. Something as simple as a brightly coloured hat may be all you need for your runner to see you. You may want to plan to always be on the same side of the street and let your runner know – that way they’ll only have to look half as much to see where you are. Letting them know the plan will help them know where to expect you. Maybe you could make some fun signs to hold up as well. You could be funny (“Mortuary 2 blocks ahead: don’t even think about stopping!”) or inspirational (“We love you, Dad!”). Of course, you could always dress in costume and there will be no avoiding you.
Silent cheering is an oxymoron. It’s great to be moral support, but better to be oral support. Belt out some slogans that will get your runner’s attention and help them mentally sustain through the race. Staples like, “Good job”, or “You can do it”, are great, but sometimes it’s nice to hear something a little different. Consider sentimental cheers, “Looking sexy, keep that kick going!” What you say could mean a lot. And don’t just cheer for your runner – they all will appreciate your enthusiasm and encouragement.
Don’t say this…
While it may seem like you’re helping by telling a runner where they’re at, or how far they have to go, this can backfire on you. If you’re information isn’t accurate, for instance, it can spur a runner on to try to push when they should rest, or to question their pace. Some runners get discouraged hearing how far there is to go, even if they’re only 1k away from the end. Races carefully place their mile markers, let them do the talking on that point.
Take a picture when your runner comes by, or set your camera up to take a burst of pictures (many cameras have this mode on them, to allow you to take several photos in succession). Having someone spot for the runner while ensuring that your camera is on and ready can help to ensure you capture the moment. There’s nothing as disappointing as going to shoot the pic and realizing you forgot to turn the camera on.
Your runner may have asked you to hold on to something for when they pass by – an energy drink, bar, gel, or something else, particularly if they’re running a long race (like a marathon). Make sure you’ve got it ready to go, in your hand, when they come by. If you’ve arranged it ahead of time, it may be nice to have whatever it is open and ready to go – although if you haven’t clarified that before the race, keep it closed. It’s not fun having a sticky energy gel shooting onto your shirt when you’re looking for a pick-me-up. You may also be asked to spontaneously hold something – unneeded sunglasses, gloves, etc. They’ll likely come flying at you. Try and help as best you can, getting the stuff back to your friend after the race. And remember, this is a hand-off, not break time.
A few things to think about…
- If it’s a marathon and you’re staying in one spot, you will likely be there for a while. Think of this like a day at the beach – bring snacks, sunscreen, a chair or blanket.
- Check the course yourself – not all maps are 100% accurate.
- Double-check where you’re going to cheer. There may be some places where spectators are not allowed.
- The finish line can be chaotic. If it’s a big race and you’re planning on being near the end, give yourself lots of time. It’s going to be crowded and you likely won’t be seen by your runner.
- Have fun!
With the season nearly upon us, hopefully there’ll be lots of opportunity to get out there and cheer on your friends and family!