If you are familiar with being a spectator at marathons, and other running events, you probably realized over time that cheering and clapping for the participants is a great way to show your appreciation and respect for what the runners are accomplishing. If you are new to watching, it can be baffling to understand how to cheer or show your support at these events. At first it can feel just plain awkward to be clapping and cheering for individual runners that you don't even know.
The goal of this article is to educate, inform, entertain, and transition your running spectatorship to a new level. Whether you are a beginner or a professional, you maybe surprised at what is acceptable and what is annoying to the runners. Here is what to say and when to say it so you don't unknowingly irritate the runners.
Let's be real, watching a marathon or long distance race is a unique experience in its own. Where else can you watch potentially thousands of people in a race, not know any of them, and not be disappointed in any of the participants that didn't have a chance of winning?
Bottom line: cheering is helpful. There are different mile markers in a marathon where different words of encouragement have greater effects on the runners participating than at other mile markers in the race. The analogy I like to use is a real world example. When my 4 year old tries to dress herself and is having trouble with a button, being a dad, I want to help. My 4 year old gets very irritated with any attempts from dad helping out. Even though you know they need help, sometimes it is best to let them work through it.
Here is an example of the stages that a runner goes through during a marathon, and what types of cheering helps during these stages. Adversely, I will also identify what you should steer clear from saying at certain parts of the race. Remember, that these are guidelines and not designed as hard fast rules you should follow.
If you are in this particular area of the race, virtually any words of encouragement are helpful. Reason, at the start of a race (especially one with a lot of participants) usually the runners have a lot of adrenaline and excitement built up at this point. And it will usually carry them to about half way through the race fairly easily.
If you find yourself in this particular area, here is where things start to get interesting. There will be a mixture of emotions and mental states that you may have never witnessed in one place or event. At this point, the adrenaline is gone and now you see how well the runner has trained for the race.
If you find yourself here watching the race you will see extreme ranges of emotions, running styles, and pain thresholds. From people that look like they could run 10 more miles to people that just don't make it, and everything in the middle. Mental state of mind of the runners at this point is unstable. Be prepared for colorful and sometimes surprising reactions.
Run The Planet thanks Marathon Family (www.marathonfamily.com) for the permission to reprint the article "Cheering: helpful or just irritating?" by Scott Winter. For more information about how to support your runner, in all phases from getting started to training to race day and back again, please visit www.marathonfamily.com. Questions, comments and suggestions can be mailed to info(at)marathonfamily.com. Illustration copyright © by Run The Planet.