11 Tips for Being a Supportive Marathon Spectator

If you've ever walked or run a marathon, you know how crowd support can immensely help you. But being a good marathon spectator takes preparation and work. If you're planning on watching an upcoming marathon, follow these marathon spectator tips to be an asset on the racecourse.

1

Be Prepared

Cheering a marathon runner

 Caiaimage / Sam Edwards / Getty Images

The water stops and food stations are for race participants, so you should be prepared with your own supplies. Pack some bottled water and snacks for yourself, but also be prepared with items for the runner (or runners) that you are there to support.

Most runners like to carry their own hydration and fuel, but it's always helpful to have someone in the crowd ready and waiting with extra items a runner might need.

Have some goodies for the runners, such as:

  • First aid supplies (antibiotic ointment, blister bandages)
  • Hydration (water, sports drinks, coconut water, etc.)
  • Snacks to refuel (jelly beans, orange slices, sports gels, etc.)
  • Tissues or paper towels
  • Wet wipes and sunscreen

Runners really appreciate noise and your hands may get tired from clapping, so you might also want to have some kind of noisemaker, like a cowbell.

Make sure you also have a reliable watch, a course map, cash, a camera, and a cell phone. If rain is in the forecast, bring an umbrella, rain jacket, and extra socks. It's always good to have extra layers in case you get cold. If it's sunny, don't forget sunscreen and sunglasses.

You're most likely going to be standing for a while, so make sure you're wearing comfortable shoes.

2

Make Signs

Runners love to read signs along the racecourse to help break the monotony. The enthusiasm from spectators, whether it's expressed verbally or through encouraging signs, can help runners fight off fatigue and stay motivated.

Try some of these phrases for signs: "You're my hero!"; "There's beer at the finish line"; "All walls have doors" (a good one if you're cheering around mile 20 or beyond). Your sign can be funny or inspirational; both will be appreciated!

If you're supporting a family member or friend, make a sign with their name that will encourage your runner but also help them to easily identify you.

3

Respect the Course

Don't stand or walk on any part of the course. It's not fair to runners if you make the racecourse even more crowded or become an obstacle that they have to run around. If you can't see the runners from where you're standing because it's too crowded, move to a different viewing location.

4

Yell Encouragement

Rather than just clapping as runners go by, pick a phrase or two to yell. Some good ones include:

  • "Looking good"
  • "Looking strong"
  • "Nice job"
  • "Way to run"
  • "You can do it"
  • "You're flying"

Many marathon runners display their first names on their shirts or race bibs. So if you see someone's name, you can always add that to the end of your catchphrase.

5

Don't Demotivate or Distract

Just as saying the right things can help runners feel good and motivated, saying the WRONG things can actually frustrate many runners.

  • DON'T tell racers to "Go faster." Each runner is doing their best and, in many cases, they probably can't go any faster, particularly when they are getting closer to the finish line. It is important for them to pace themselves so they have enough reserve left to finish the race.
  • DON'T yell, "Almost there" or "Not far to go" unless you're right next to the finish line. (Marathon runners don't want to hear that phrase unless they are about to cross the finish line)
  • DON'T yell out a specific distance, such as, "Two miles to go," unless you're 100% certain that the number is the correct distance to the finish line (if you happen to be standing next to a mile marker, for instance). Too many spectators give out wrong information, which can be frustrating, confusing, and disappointing for runners.

Marathoners need to focus on the here and now. Anything that distracts from that can make finishing the race that much harder.

6

Use Technology

Many large marathons have a variety of great services to help spectators follow their runners. See if the race's website has a sign-up for a runner tracking system, which can send alerts to cell phones, pagers, or wireless handheld devices as your runner moves across the chip timing mats throughout the course.

Some races also offer Internet stations throughout the course and at the finish line, where spectators can check their runners' progress online.

If your runner is carrying their smartphone, apps such as Find My Friend can help you track them.

7

Predict Their Pace

If you're looking for a family member or friend, find out their projected pace per mile ahead of time. (Here's how they can predict their marathon time.) This will help you figure out when they should reach certain points in the course.

Keep in mind for big marathons that it could take a runner as much as 15 or 20 minutes to cross the starting line because of the crowds. So don't base the predicted viewing times on the start time. You can adjust your projected viewing times after your first sighting of your runner.

8

Find Your Runner

Make sure you know exactly what your runner will be wearing, from head to toe. In crowded races, it's easier to spot a purple shirt, for instance, rather than looking at everyone's faces.

Let your runner know what you'll be wearing and where you think you'll be standing, so they know to look for you. If the race and cheering sections are really crowded, it's helpful for the runner to know what side of the street you'll be standing on.

Some spectators carry balloons so their runners can easily spot them from a distance.

9

Plan Your Route

For big city marathons, public transportation is the best way to get around the course. Check the marathon's website to find out which trains or buses you should take to get from one point to another.

If you absolutely have to drive to get around the course, you should also check the race's website to get information on road closures. Whether you're using public transportation or driving, give yourself plenty of time to get from one spot to another.

10

Have a Finish-Line Plan

The finish line area can be crowded and chaotic, so make sure you and your runner have a plan to meet up after they cross the finish line. Some races have designated spots where runners can meet family members.

If there's no family reunion area, make sure you designate another landmark where you'll meet or have a plan for contacting each other.

11

Go the Extra Mile

If you really want to go the extra mile for your marathoner, they might really appreciate one of these shows of support.

  • Bring a special treat. If you know your runner might be flagging toward the middle or end of a race, position yourself so you can provide a favorite snack that might help them power through.
  • Run with them. This certainly isn't possible in every marathon (and is often frowned upon by race officials), but if you get the chance, try running alongside your marathoner briefly to help them stay motivated. Note: Always make sure that you respect the rules of the course and stay out of the way of other racers.
  • Try dressing up. A funny themed costume or a custom t-shirt can help amuse and motivate a runner to keep going.

A Word From Verywell

Marathons are a spectator sport and your support can be invaluable to racers who are putting both their bodies and minds to the test. Cheering on a marathon runner means being supportive, encouraging, and well-prepared.

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  1. Bi T, Bianchi-Berthouze N, Singh A, Costanza E. Understanding the shared experience of runners and spectators in long-distance running events. In: Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM. 2019;461:1–13. doi:10.1145/3290605.3300691