Rocket City Marathon is now one week away. I ran it for the first time last year and learned that the power of running local races is in the friends and family who come cheer you on. My friends pulled me through the entire course and it made the day something I’ll never forget. As we creep up on it again this year, I’m recalling how much of a difference those voices made in my race, and it has me thinking about the act of marathon-spectating in general. I’m not sure if I could have survived last year without my friends. With each marathon I run I become better at powering through without friends along the way, but I hope my experiences can help other friends/family who may be considering cheering on their runners next weekend.
If you know anyone racing and you have time to spare…GO!
Even if it’s just the choir leader at your church, or your cousin’s wife’s sister…go! Ask them their pace, ask them what they’re wearing, and go try to find them. Tell them where you’ll be because you’ll never believe how much they’ll be looking forward to seeing you. I counted down the miles until I knew I’d have friends along the course. Your friend will be doing the same. You taking that small moment out of your morning to scream at your friend will carry them through at least a couple of miles when they need it most. If you can find a spot after mile 20? They may kiss you because those are the darkest miles for most runners.
If you DON’T know anyone but have the free time…GO!
Even if you don’t know anyone, you should find a spot along the course to set up a chair and just cheer. Cheer for everyone. Tell them they’re doing great. Tell them they look great. They may not be able to thank you but know that – in their heart – your cheers are giving them strength.
Don’t just cheer for the people you know.
There are points along the course where people gather to cheer and often they’re focusing on finding their one person and they’re just staring at you as you run past. This is a little tough because you’re running a marathon, there are people there ready to cheer…just not for you. If you’re out there…cheer the whole time you’re out there! At least just clap and say, “Good job!” It’s tough to run by a group of people and no one is cheering. And you’d be surprised how often that happens. ESPECIALLY at the finish line. Listen – if you’re at the finish line? CHEER FOR EVERYONE! Don’t just look for your person! They’re all coming to the end of a very long and painful journey…they deserve your voices!
Offer to take stuff from your friends.
As they run by, ask if they’d like to leave anything with you. Weather changes over 5 hours and often we decided to ditch the things we started with. It’s tough carrying that crap so offer to take stuff for your friend and get it to them later. Let them know the day before you’ll do that too so they don’t just ditch it out of desperation along the way.
Offer to keep fuel/supplies at your cheer station for your friend.
When you’re asking your friend how fast they think they’ll be and what they’ll be wearing, offer to keep something for them that they may need that day. Vaseline. Crackers. Gatorade. Bandaids. Ask them if there’s anything they’d like you to have…JUST IN CASE. Trust me…you will be forever on their Christmas Card list if you do this.
Cheering is not restricted only to raceday or to the course itself.
If you can’t make it that day – but you have friends/family who are racing…send them a message the day before. Let them know you’ll be thinking about them. Chances are they’ve been working 16 weeks or so to get to this point. Not to mention the mental work getting to sign up and start training in the first place. They’re thinking about it 24 hours a day 7 days a week that last week before the race. They’re dreaming about it. You acknowledging this giant occasion, even in just a text or a FB message, will mean the world to them. Tell them you’ll be thinking about them. Tell them you’re proud of them. Those words before the race are just important as the cheers on the race. Sometimes, when you’re marathon training, you can feel like no one really gets it but the people training with you. Let them know you get it. That you know this is a huge deal and you wish you could be there for them.
Stay A Little Longer
If you make it to cheer on race day, stay past when your friend passes you. Stay for the people in the back of the pack. I finished my first run/walk marathon in over 7 hours. I was very much in the back of the pack and those people still there cheering me on made my day. Most everyone was gone because everyone else was done. Those people still there cheering on people like me who were walking most of the course? Were like angels from heaven.
If you’ve never run a marathon or considered it – pay attention to all of the people 20 years older and/or 40lbs heavier out there on that course. If you could hear their stories you’d learn that some survived cancer. Some lost 100+lbs. Some never ran a day in their life. Some have been training for years. Some are moms of 10 kids. Some work 60-hour workweeks. Whatever reason you’ve ever thought you couldn’t run a marathon – there’s someone out there with the same excuse. Just be open to the experience and the inspiration. I can tell you the specific people who ran marathons before me who inspired me to give it a try. And then who inspired me to try again after my first one was a disaster and I swore I’d never do another. There are people out there that day overcoming huge hurdles to cross that finish line. Inspiration is there by the bucket-load, if you’re open to it.