I often get asked how or where people should watch runners in a marathon. Here are my top tips after years of both running and watching.
Picking out your runner
If you’re watching on the actual race sidelines, then make sure you know exactly what kit your runner is wearing. A ‘bright shirt’ or running number wont help you see them. You need to know details like ‘red shirt with white shorts’. The best way is to have seen a photo of your runner in their exact kit so you know what to look for.
Runners, be honest, not modest about your time range, so your supporters don’t miss you. Online tracking can help (see below), but don’t rely on it. I’ve included a table of mile markers and pace timings at the end of this post, to help you plan where to watch and when.
Check to see if your race offers online runner tracking. You can usually do this with a name, but having the race number helps too. This is great if you can’t travel to the race or want to follow from home.
Just be aware that if you’re using it on the sidelines, then probably every other spectator is too, so there may be a bit of a delay. If it’s all working well, it’s a really useful way of seeing when your runner will reach you, and solves the spectator’s dilemma of whether you might have missed them and should move on.
Spectators, say which mile and which side of the road you’ll be. The more specific the better. When crowds are huge, it’s hard for tired runners to spot you unless they know exactly where to look.
One place versus moving around
That’s really personal choice. It’s more planning and commitment to work out multiple spots, but you can do it with the tips above. Your runner will love seeing you several times. Alternatively you can find and stay in one good spot, and maybe watch the whole marathon unfold from pros until your runner appears an hour or two later, without fear of missing them.
I remember running past a spectator at mile 20 who was saying “I’m exhausted!” I did actually know what they meant – supporting is pretty tiring! Focusing for ages trying to pick out one person. Standing for long times. So wear comfy clothes, take some food and drink to keep you going, and umbrella/ suncream as needed.
Be patient that it takes a while to meet at the finish as thousands of finishers and supporters are all converging on the same spot. Don’t agree to meet at ‘the finish’, go for an exact spot. Often races will put up large letters so you can choose a significant one for you to meet at.
Supporters, indulge your runners who may way want to give you a mile by mile analysis of the race! Don’t plan to get anywhere fast, as crowds are often big, and tired runners will now be walking slowly!
Race day is always exciting, but it can be a bit deflating the next day once the buzz has died down. Why not keep your runner feeling proud by giving them a Race Finisher card or gift to remember their fantastic achievement?