When I first started running my family and friends came out to watch, not because running is a spectator sport but because they were being supportive. Plus I think some of them secretly had money on whether or not I’d finish and/or puke at some point during the race. But now I think some of them actually enjoy watching a marathon and realize it truly is a spectator sport. The diverse group of people you see who’ve all trained so hard to reach a common goal is pretty incredible. It’s the only sport where the elite are competing at the same time, on the same course, as the soccer mom who is fulfilling a bucket list item.
The reserved excitement mixed with nerves and the fear of the unknown is everywhere prior to the race. When walking around before a marathon, you’ll see the top-dogs who are trying to qualify for Boston do their stride outs in their short shorts (why is it the faster you are, the shorter your shorts are?) trying to loosen up their legs. There are people like me who simply hang out in the porta pottie line because, let’s be truthful, I don’t need to loosen my legs but other things…. maybe. Then there are the people who seem to be completely disengaged from the event and can’t wait until it’s done so they can go back to bed (I may or may not be talking about my husband). The first timers are mixed with the veterans and are all lining up together. This mix of stories and athleticism is compelling to watch. And the race hasn’t even started yet.
Once the race gets going, you’ll also see how diverse runners really are. The people who are just thrilled as hell to be doing this are soaking it all in, high-fiving the kids as they run past them and have a smile on their face for the full 26.2 miles. The elites, run past you in a blur and you’re hoping your camera shutter captured them as you wonder to yourself “how the hell do they run that fast for 26.2 miles?”. But the real spectator sport is watching the average Joe (or Jane). The people who weren’t the cross-country stars in college or the ones that aren’t built like a Kenyan move from point A to point B. Sometimes you’ll see walking, sometimes you’ll see shuffling, sometimes you may see a lot of limping or even someone hyperventilating (to the volunteer who asked if I needed medical last year when I was hyperventilating at mile 22… thank you!). But no matter the pace or the stride you’ll also always see someone who has vowed to finish the damn race if it’s the last thing they do. They aren’t going to stop or give up because defeat lasts a lot longer than pain. And while the spectators aren’t watching in hopes of finding someone suffering, when they come upon them and offer words of encouragement, a few extra claps and a “you can do it”, it is usually all it takes to keep these folks going and to keep them pushing on. That ability to help someone achieve their goal shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone who watches a marathon. You can’t really yell words of encouragement to Aaron Rodgers from the cheap seats and think he’s now going to throw a touchdown pass and win the game. But you do have that type of power from the sidelines of a marathon.
So if you’re a spectator for an upcoming marathon, please don’t just cheer for your friend or family member. Cheer for everyone you see. Cheer for the people doing well and more importantly for those not doing well. They hear you. They may not always acknowledge you (sometimes it’s just not possible to even look over or give you a thumbs up, trust me) but they always hear you and always appreciate you. Rock the Route, enjoy yourselves and have fun watching and know the runners’ couldn’t do what they do without those who line the course, in good and bad weather, and cheer us on.
Until next time,