I have been running road races for several years now, and I have noticed that the quality and enthusiasm of the cheering crowds change from mile to mile. Have any social studies been conducted to explore the phenomenon of road race cheering, and what advice would you give to a crowd of race spectators situated at various locations along the race course? - Cheerleading Cherub
Sadly, there has been no government or privately funded study on the subject of human behavior with respect to cheering, shouting, jumping up and down excitedly or painting team logos on the bare chests of plump middle age football fans. Not a single effort has been made to document or understand why a spectator would exert great energy in verbal and active support of an athlete.
And while we may never fully understand why a crowd cheers for runners at a road race, we can document how they perform along the course. In doing so, we can compare the established practice of cheering with a better technique that can actually help a runner during the race.
There are four major locations along any race course where the quality, sentiment and amplitude of cheering varies in a way quite incompatible with the runners needs.
The starting line - It is here, amid the cacophony of milling pre-race runners that the initial words of encouragement are professed. "Have a good race!" and "Good luck!" are the most frequently used well-meaning phrases called out to the assembled throng as they take their mark before the starting gun. The loud cheers which echo at the official start of the race do inspire each runner, though the conscientious spectator would do better to shout "Go out slow!" or "Pace yourself!" in these early moments while the runners minds are still clear and their brains still oxygen rich.
The halfway mark - Most spectators are drawn to the start and finish of each race. Each Patriots Day in Massachusetts thousands line Hopkinton's West Main Street to watch the fresh strong marathoners begin their battle and Boston's Boylston Street to cheer the weak and weary crawling to the finish. When I was a young spectator in Boston, I would always make it a point to line up in Wellesley Center; the halfway point, to watch the runners pass by. It is here that the first misguided cries of "Looking strong!" go out. While interesting and well intentioned, this cheer is hardly helpful. The mid-point of any race is often a strategic point where runners need to evaluate their current condition in comparison with their pre-race plan. For a runner intending to run negative splits, it is here that a healthy cry of "Start cranking it up!" or "Turn up the tempo!" would help remind the runner that the real race is about to begin.
The start of last mile - The most memorable cheer directed to me during a road race was shouted at mile 25 of the 107th "Boston Marathon". A well inebriated beer swilling collegiate fan of the sport slurred "Lookachoo! Man yur runnin' a marathon!". These words of encouragement were spittled with true admiration. The typical race spectator will often shout "Looking good!" to we, the running/walking dead. This phrase garners disdain from the struggling runner who knows too well that he or she does not, in fact, look good. We have just run the better part of a race as fast as nature would allow, and the equal and opposite reaction to our efforts is a deep weariness festering within our bones. On behalf of all runners who frequent Run the Planet, I am begging you; please: spectators: never shout "You are looking good!" to a runner in the final miles of a road race. It does not help. It causes the remaining functional brain cells to ponder the question "If I'm looking good under these conditions, I must be the most attractive man [or woman] alive!". I recommend that spectators should offer a friendly "Save it for a strong finish!" or "Dig deep, you can do it!" as a helpful cheer of encouragement. Such sentiments trigger primitive responses in a runner's medulla oblongata that yield more positive results. Remind us to focus, remind us to fight, but please do not lie to us here at the edge of our waning humanity!
The finish line - One of the most popular locations for race spectators to congregate is at the finish line of any race. It is here where the passions of the play come to rest. What few energy nuggets have been stored by each competitor are spilled upon the last hundred yards in an exuberant display of crushing madness and human extremes. Rising to a relative roar, the shouts of encouragement from the cheering throngs spark an instinctive desire in every runner to offer their last spark and breath to the multitude who themselves have given so much of their spirit and cries of "Congratulations!!!"
Run long and taper.