Top 10 Tips: Spectating a Race
Spring race season is finally underway and ready to kick into high gear. For all you Casual Runners out there, we know you have been diligently training and putting the finishing touches on your race day outfits, and, dare we say, maybe even your race costumes? OK, you have the running part covered, but today we want to help you out with something you may not have considered yet: the spectating!
That is right, what would a race be without spectators? So whether you have friends and family coming out to cheer you on or if you yourself are sitting a race out to cheer on your fellow Casual Runners, we have you covered with these Top 10 Tips for Spectating a Race, many of which you may not have considered. Here we go!
10. Get your sleep.
While you may not be running the race yourself, you will have the same early morning wakeup call that the runners do. Make sure not to overdo it at the hotel bar the night before, and you may want to pass on that extra serving at dinner so you can be at your best on race morning.
9. Be accommodating.
True, this is not your race, but do not forget how stressful race morning can be for your Casual Runners. The last thing you want to do is mess with their race day routine. Do your best to be flexible and stay out of their way as they get ready (even if they are being slightly irrational about finding their gels, hair ties, or costume pieces, come on, we’ve all been there, done that!). When they are ready to go, you should be ready to go, do not hold them up as they will be anxious to get going and get to the start corrals.
8. Pack some snacks.
The last thing you want to do is miss your runners on-course because you are in a long line waiting for a bagel or a cup of coffee. Think ahead and pack your travel mugs with hot coffee and throw plenty of tasty snacks in your bag. Just because you are not running does not mean you won’t be working hard. You will work up an appetite along the course, so having something to satisfy your hunger is always a good idea.
7. Dress comfortably & in layers.
Here is a secret: while you may not be running the race, you may cover almost as much distance as the runners do. Especially if you plan on catching your runner at several spots along the course, you will cover a lot of ground on foot, and this means racking up the miles.
Pack comfortable clothes and shoes (many spectators dress in running clothes and shoes, all they are missing is a race bib). These folks are the smart ones because they know they will be comfortable at all times, including when they need to pick up the pace to catch their runner at the all-important race icons and prime photo ops.
Also, keep in mind, you will be standing around a lot waiting on your runners – hurry up and wait seems to be the way spectating goes. While the general rule for runners on race day is to dress as though the temps are 10-20 degrees warmer, spectators want to do the opposite and dress in layers. You will be warm when you are hustling between stops, and will want to remove top layers, however, when you get to your primo stop and have to wait a while, you will want to put those top layers back on to stay comfortable.
6. Plan Your Route.
This is the tip that requires the most pre-planning. We have all shown up to run races without having even glanced at the course map, because we know we can always just follow the crowd to the finish line. Spectators, however, do not have this luxury, as they must not only look at, but should actually study the course map in advance.
Course maps and spectator information on race websites will help you identify the best areas to spot and cheer on your Casual Runners, as well as steer you towards public transit (where available), bathrooms (see below), and optimal viewing locations where you can see your Casual Runners multiple times while minimizing walking. You should also pay special attention to where and when you can cross the course so you do not end up being trapped within the course, which can make you miss your runners at your next viewing spot. Finally, pay attention to security areas and areas that are otherwise closed off or inaccessible to spectators, this will save you valuable time and steps on race day.
5. Know your runner’s pace.
You would be surprised how many spectators miss this one. In order to know where and when to spot your Casual Runner, you need to know how fast they plan on running the race (as well as if they plan on stopping for photos and bathroom breaks). You should know that, if your Casual Runner plans on running 10 minute miles and you want to see them at the starting line and at mile 2, you have 20 minutes to get to your next viewing location (but you should probably aim to be there in 17 minutes just to build in a little bit of cushion for yourself).
Keep track of their updated pace on race day and adjust your timing accordingly. Some runners will run faster, thanks to race day adrenaline. Others will find that it just is not their day and will find themselves lagging behind their planned or training pacing, but this is when they will need your support and encouragement the most!
4. Check out the race tracking tools.
Most races with chip timing offer simple runner tracking alerts. All you need to do is go to the race website and sign up for alerts that are sent to your phone via text, email, and/or social medial. Unfortunately, these alerts are usually fairly limited in terms of intervals for spectating purposes, as you will only usually receive alerts at selected benchmarks during the race (such as 5k, 10k etc.). So, for example you may be waiting at mile 6, but the only alert you will receive will be at the 5k mark, which leaves a lot of room for error. You just have to be patient and know your runner’s expected pace.
Many races are getting better about building in their own runner tracking tools such as smartphone apps. These are limited to the biggest races and they are getting better, so keep an eye out for these on race websites.
You can also use phone apps to directly track your Casual Runner’s location (such as Find My Friend on iPhone), but, be warned, these tend to drain batteries fast and you do not want to kill your runner’s phone battery so they have to go without music for the all-important last few miles of their race!
3. Scout the bathroom situation
Runners may be able to make pit stops in the trees along the route, but let’s be honest, when you are dressed in street clothes and don’t have a race bib, local police may be a little less forgiving if you decide to do the same. Do make sure you have an idea of where and when bathrooms will be available along the race route.
Some races do allow spectators to use the port a potties set up for the runners, but not all of them do. Also, the runners themselves tend to create long lines, and you do not want to add to the delay in getting them back on the course. So the better option is to scope out what other bathroom options along the route you may have. We suggest scoping out the locations of nearby Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and yes, even gas stations.
2. Be flexible
The number 1 rule of racing is to expect the unexpected on race day. Your Casual Runner may be having the run of their life and set a PR well ahead of their expected pace, they may decide to slow down and soak in the race experience, or, the wheels may fall off and they may unexpectedly have a bad race performance. Whatever the result, they will appreciate your support on race day and you need to be flexible and adapt to whatever may develop during the race.
1. Have fun!
If you are going to spend your day slogging around a race course, do remember to have fun! After all, that is what this whole experience is all about.
Yes, you will have a lot to keep track of on race morning, but do not forget to stop and appreciate a gorgeous sunrise, the inspiration of the other runners and spectators, and, really, just soak it all in. You will be glad that you did!
Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!
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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!