Last Updated on February 6, 2020 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Race spectating in and of itself doesn’t seem very difficult, does it? Show up to a race, lend your enthusiasm to passing runners, and call it a day, right? Right. Except that like many things in life, there are certain courtesies, or formalities if you will, that can lend to a positive race day experience for everyone involved. Runners, race staff, and spectators alike.
So, if you’ve never spectated a race before, (or maybe you have, and some runners or other spectators gave you funny looks, and you still don’t know why) this one is for you:
Dear Race Spectators,
Your friend, family member, or loved one has trained their butts off for months to participate in a running or endurance event. And now race day has arrived! Let me be the first to say: we all appreciate you coming out to spectate and support the race. Certainly just as much as your loved one appreciates all the support you have given them throughout their training.
Now, I know that you have the best of intentions as you proudly stand on the sidelines and cheer your loved one on. But please keep in mind that your actions may directly impact other athletes as well…the ones who have also spent months training their butts off for this very day.
While you may not be running yourself, you can still be a very helpful (or hindering) part of the race day experience. Following these race spectating tips will help create a positive and memorable experience for all of those involved, both participants and spectators alike.
Race Spectating 101:
I know this may seem pretty obvious. But I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve run past a large crowd of spectators all standing around looking sullen and bored, waiting on their runner. Countless times I’ve yelled to the spectators and told them to perk up, instead of the other way around.
I understand that spectating a race, especially a long one that starts early in the morning, can be exhausting. But running is harder, so please cheer us on! Even cheer for the people you don’t know, they do appreciate it!
Bonus points: If you see a runner’s first name displayed on their shirt or race bib, give them a personalized cheer. Hearing their name shouted out among the crowd may be just the pick-me-up the runner needs.
Please Don’t Touch the Snacks!
On course and post-race snacks and beverages are included in the entry fee for the race. Therefore, these are literally paid for by the participants. Often, these amenities are provided in limited quantities, with just enough for the participants registered for the race.
It’s WILDLY discouraging for a runner towards the back of the pack to finish a race and find there are no snacks left, and may even be dangerous for a race to run out of fluids. In short: please leave the snacks and drinks for the runners. Absolutely no exceptions (unless of course, the race director gives you permission.)
Signs Make Us Smile!
I think I can speak for many runners when I say that towards the end of a race I’m near delirious with exhaustion. And in that state, laughter is the best medicine. Well, laughter and the finish line, but I’ll take when I can get. Not only do large signs with inspiring words or sayings bring encouragement to runners, but they may also provide a welcome distraction. Especially the funny signs.
Like this one:
Or this one:
Get creative. Need some inspiration? Check out my friend Amanda’s post “50+ Funny & Motivational Race Signs” over at Run to the Finish.
Please Don’t Make Light of the Distance
Deep down we know you mean well, but shouting “you’re almost there!” to a runner who still has a mile or more to run in their race can be very disheartening. I once had a volunteer tell me “you’re almost there!” at mile 92 of a 101 mile race. Yeah, 90+% is *almost* there, sure, but 9 more miles when you are that tired? It feels like forever to go.
You see, distance often becomes subjective to the runner and their fatigue level. I know this sounds very trivial and almost entitled, but seriously, we are exhausted.
Unless we are mere feet from the finish line, we are NOT almost there. Instead, try encouraging, yet vague, words such as “keep it up” or “great job, runners!” to help encourage everyone along.
Stay off the race course.
This is a huge safety issue, for runners and those race spectating. While you may have the best of intentions in stepping off of the curb or onto the trail to give a high five or hand something to your runner, you may end up creating a dangerous situation. Many runners are very focused on their race, or may even be listening to music through headphones, and may not be expecting someone to step in their path. Avoid becoming a hazard by staying to the side of the road or trail and off of the race course.
Keep an Open Mind After the Race.
Running a race can often be as mentally exhausting as it can be physically exhausting for a runner. Post-race, your runner may experience emotions ranging from confusion, exhaustion, frustration and even euphoria. Understand that these emotions are often related to fatigue, dehydration, or even improper nutrition, and the fact that they may have accomplished…or failed to accomplish…something they have spent MONTHS training for. Try to be as helpful as possible in assisting your runner post-race, while still giving them plenty of space to not feel overwhelmed or rushed.
One of the best places to spectate a race is from the position of a volunteer. Not only will you be able to cheer on the runners, but you will assist them in helping their race day go as smoothly as possible. Most races cannot happen without the aid of volunteers, and your help will be appreciated by runners and race staff alike.
Again, we thank you for coming out to support and cheer us on as we participate in the sport we love! Thank you for keeping these safety tips in mind…and humoring us when we ask you to not tell us we are “almost there” !
RUNNERS: Have any more suggestions to add?
SPECTATORS: Have any questions to ask?
Please comment below!
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.