The Connection Runners + travel

What I Learned About Spectating a Race

As you know, I warmed the proverbial bench last Sunday and cheered on Chicago Marathon runners from the sidelines instead of participating in the race.

Before heading west to the race, I received a bunch of good spectating tips from readers which helped me to get in the right mindset before I took up my Official Spectating Post.

Though it was an intimidating experience at first, I found spectating a race to be rather enjoyable and exciting once I got the hang of how to navigate one of the largest marathons in the world.

Here are some how-tos I picked up while schlepping myself all Chicago.

*Snag a copy of the course map, and plan out your spectating route the night before. Consult with the folks you'll be cheering on so that they know where to expect to see you.

Go The Extra Mile: Take a drive or walk to the locations to make sure they are easily accessible (i.e., no water or buildings or construction or closed roads blocking your path to each spot).

*Keep track of the race clock and your runner's pacing so that you don't miss them at a certain meeting spot.
As a runner, it can sometimes freak you out mentally when you plan on seeing them at a certain checkpoint and then don't. Spectators, hustle between these meeting locations so your runner can see you and throw you awesome race faces for photos.

Go The Extra Mile: Sign up for during-race updates on your runner. Many races now offer text, Facebook, and Twitter updates with projected times and paces.

*Travel lightly, but take care of yourself, too.
You'll likely be outside for a few hours, even for short races, so bring along some snacks (especially if you're a raging pregnant woman who's constantly hungry). Pack snacks and some hydration options for yourself in an easy-to-maneuver bag. I tucked my wallet, cell phone, and snacks in my dSLR camera bag and just carried that around for the day - no purse.

Go The Extra Mile: You may also want to coordinate carrying some extra race fuel for your runner, too, like energy gels, blocks, peanut butter sandwiches, whatever.

*Prepare for temperature shifts during the race.
In Chicago, we stood in the chilly, 50-degree shadows of buildings and beneath the scorching sun that boosted temps in the 70's. Wearing a short-sleeved tee, jeans, comfy running shoes, and my warm, but lightweight '09 marathon jacket proved to be a good combo for me as I spectated Chicago.

Go The Extra Mile: If you're really hardcore, you might be watching the race in the rain, snow, sleet, or wind, so don't forget about gear for inclement weather.

*Know where to find a restroom.
My bladder is currently the size of a pea, and there's a baby who likes to sit right on it, so I use the loo a lot. While trekking around Chicago, my fellow spectating ladies and I stopped quite a bit. We didn't want to depend on using race course port-a-potties (gross and generally reserved for race participants), so we stopped by other bathrooms when we saw them.

(Sorry, no picture of me in the bathroom. That would be weird.)

Go The Extra Mile: Our friend and spectator extraordinaire, Brandon, tipped us off to using hotel lobby bathrooms. They usually have no line as compared with lines found at fast food restaurants and coffee joints. Of course, this would work only in a race town with lots of hotels in walking distance.

*Cheer for, yell at, and encourage every runner that passes you by.
Better than any energy product on the market is an encouraging yell from a spectator, a high-five from a sticky-handed little kid, or the distinctive notes of an erratic cowbell. They may not acknowledge you, but I promise they hear you and appreciate the support.

Go The Extra Mile: Look at participants' bibs and T-shirts to see if they have their name printed or written on them. Calling runners out by name (or, at the very least, their bib number) helps them to feel extra supported (you know, like a good jock strap or sports bra).

Lastly... Be ready to feel inspired.

If nothing else, you'll want to jump right in and join the runners while spectating a race.

If you could be a spectator at any race in the world, what would it be and why?

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What I Learned About Spectating a Race + travel