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the awesomely average life of a girl like all others

An open letter to race spectators

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For pretty horrible reasons, a lot has been written recently about people who willingly get out of bed early in the morning to cheer for runners at events. Even though no one has been nice enough to ask for my thoughts on race spectators, I thought I’d put them out there anyway, because I’m not paying US$18 a year for this domain to not have an opinion on whatever comes to mind.

In the picture above, the person surrounded by wonderfully drawn MS Paint love hearts is my darling mother (convenient since Mother’s Day is coming and, you know, SEO and stuff). The person with the cord awkwardly coming out of her shorts is yours truly. Darling mother is here pictured cheering for yours truly in the last kilometer of the Lisbon Rock n Roll Half Marathon last year, which also came to be known as my worst result ever in a half marathon.

That “worst result ever” (for which I blame the heat rather than myself, obviously) meant that my family, in the first and only one of my races they’ve ever been able to spectate (since I have this habit of racing on the opposite side of the world to where they live), had to stand in the sun for over two hours on a Sunday morning instead of much better ways of spending that time like, you know, anything else.

They didn’t care, though (or, if they did, they kept it to themselves). They were happy to cheer me on even though it was about a million degrees (approximate estimate, probably not the exact temperature) and they’d had to park their car approximately a million kilometres away (also an estimate, possibly not the exact distance) to see me run, a past-time they have zero personal interest in. Mum is actually of the opinion I shouldn’t really run that much, that it can’t be good for me. And yet, look at that. After two hours in the sun doing nothing but dodging other people’s sweat, she was happy to see me run past in the last kilometre and even ran alongside me for a couple of hundreds metres.

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Two months ago, I ran a marathon (can you believe how long it’s been since I last bragged about mentioned it? Me neither!). A few of my friends drove hundreds of kilometers to support me. Pictured here is my friend N. (with P. behind the camera). They drove from Auckland to New Plymouth on Saturday, got up early on Sunday to watch me run, saw me cross the finish line and had to drive back to Auckland that same day. They were part of an awesome group of people who willingly drove along the second half of the marathon course, stopping to cheer for me along the way. Every time the pain got really bad and I had to walk, I’d spot N. jumping out of the car and waving his arms around in the distance, shouting “Go Vera!” and I would keep going for a little bit longer. I talk a lot about how important it was for me to eat and drink at the right times but the truth is that seeing these people along the way was more important than 1000 energy gels (no exaggerated estimate here).

Sometimes, my support crew will half-jokingly tells me it was a “tiring” morning waiting for me to finish a run. They know it gets me worked up to hear it because I’m the one with all the muscle aches and I just want to tell them to shut the hell up. But it is exhausting. It’s not their hobby and they’re not getting any personal satisfaction out of it so, to be honest, sometimes I have to wonder why they do it and how they can muster the enthusiasm to get out and do it. Why they don’t just wait for me to get home, shower and then tell them about it. These people will not only cheer for me in the sidelines but also hug me when I cross the finish line all sweaty and gross. They’re weird.

And then, there are the other spectators. The people I don’t even know. The people who don’t even realise how much they keep us all going. People who make signs that make me smile when my cheek muscles feel too exhausted to move, people who hand out extra sugar in between aid stations, little kids high fiving runners along the course…

I’ve come to realise all those people clapping until their palms hurt are a big reason why I enter so many events (about one per month in the last couple of years, sometimes more). For most of us recreational runners, these events are more than just a chance to test ourselves. Let’s not kid around, it does feel pretty good to see people cheering for you and know they admire what you’re doing. How many chances do we get to have that in other parts of our life? Every time someone says something nice to me as I run past them, I feel almost like I’m excelling at what I’m doing even though I’m right there in the middle or back of the pack. Since I wasn’t one of the cool kids doing drugs in school, I can’t be absolutely sure it compares to the high you get from those, but I know that the sense of pride I get out there on the course is pretty hard to beat. I suspect a lot more non-runners would give it a go if they knew how absolutely on top of the world they get to feel at a running event, no matter how far down the bottom they place in the rankings. The next day, you go to work and life might be a little bit shitty, but that’s ok because, did you see yourself yesterday pounding that pavement? Did you see those people cheering you on, thinking you were awesome for even trying it?

So thanks for that, all of you people who get up early to watch people run. Your support carries us runners when all our energy has left us. If runners at those events are people trying to be the best version of themselves they can be, you’re also not doing too bad a job of that either, showing the world how people can support others, friends or strangers, for absolutely no reason other than just being good people. I love the hell out of all of you and your selflessness is very much noticed and appreciated, even if my sweaty face doesn’t show it at the time. Let me know if you ever decide to enter an event and I’ll come support you. Provided it’s not too far away, or too early, or too late, or too hot, or too cold. Other than that, I should be able to make it.

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23 thoughts on “An open letter to race spectators

  1. 1) Darling mother looks so cute and we can see Vasco da Gama in the background!!! Short break for some shopping?!
    2) I’m happy I have my clothes on in this photo…
    3) Pretty cool looking at you running, but the landscapes also help when we are waiting for you. Oh, and social networks are awesome!
    4) Yeah, hugging you when you’re sweaty… Must agree it’s a pretty stupid move from me. Hey, I’m Portuguese, what can I do?!
    5) You run so much that even my muscles ache! And for that… YOU F&$KING ROCK!!!
    6) Na… 5 points were enough.

  2. This post can truly be related to by all (unless they are stupid) runners. It totally carries you to see people who don’t know you cheering along side family. It makes the experience. I especially love seeing little children who are no higher than my knee cheering and passing out sweets and wet towels.

  3. Reblogged this on The Road to Boston…and beyond and commented:
    I totally second this post! One of the key ingredients!

  4. This is so true and hilarious…….. still laughing as I press post comment……..

  5. Good one…minus the SEO bit, of course. In NYC, we’d stand and cheer for the runners as they past the bar where we were on to our third Bloody Marys

  6. whoelheartedly agree – jokes and all! You mum is adorbs :)

  7. the half i ran last weekend went past 2 retirement homes, and at both of them at least a dozen of the residents had come outside to cheer us on. i completely forgot about my splits, my pace, and my sweat as i literally turned to face them and wave and yell hello. to see them there, in their wheelchairs and with their walkers, waving and ringing cowbells…it was probably my favorite moment of the entire day.

    as always, a lovely (and raucously funny!) post : )

  8. I would totally come and cheer people on during marathons, but only if they run by outdoor bars.

  9. Also, this post was crrrraazzzy funny. :)

  10. Spectators (unless they are runners) have NO idea how much they help us along the course. The energy and the clapping, and the cheering and the signs to distract us…they do so much more than people understand. There are lots of reasons I race as much as I do, and why I love it as much as I do. One of the biggest is the high of it, being around people who love doing the same thing, and being supported by people who know you and many who don’t. It’s a happy healthy high that no government can ban.

    Your mom is seriously awesome, and mine like yours believes the amount I run is probably bad for me. BUT she is starting to come around about it. :)

  11. Love your Mum pic – especially after reading that she’s not really into running, but is giving you A+ support anyway!
    I really appreciate spectator support during a race, they are always positive and uplifting. I also enjoy being a spectator and always go to watch the marathon finish and cheer on a few runners, it’s incredibly inspiring. It makes me want to cry, and do silly things like enter the half this year!

  12. Great article and so true!! From my own experiences of running I can totally relate but also from the flipside which i experienced recently. Having an injury I was forced to endure watching the Tarawera Ultra. I’m not normally a great spectator. This time though I was taking photos for the event director which made it bearable, but also I had my three wee girls (10,8 and 6 yrs) along for the day.
    I thought I’d make it fun for them we made some cardboard signs and I got them some party hooters. I told them how muh it helps the runners and after the first couple they saw the impact in the runners and went full on, all day from there. Cheering, hooting and hollaring not just mum but every runner. The result was obvious – big smiles and thanks and nearly all the photos i took showed happy runners (which usually at any stage after the first hour of an ultra is very unusual!).

    As an event director I try and brief my marshals on the course to have fun with their job and cheer runners as they marshal.

    So I’ll agree with what you’ve said and thank all spectators. Thanks for your efforts and keep it up!

  13. My husband and my sister were with me so many times throughout my Ironman and I will never ever be able to thank them enough. I will never be able to explain to them how much it meant to me to have them there.

  14. Great post! Yes, the spectators are a huge part of races no one makes them do this, they want to and without them a race would be a run :)

  15. I was so happy to hug you even with all the sweat !!!! And you know sunday mornings are made for sleep but I’ll be there always!!! :)

  16. Hell yes! Spectators make the race, and you absolutely nailed the thank you. Also, after reading your about page, I kind of want to come and cheer you too. Is that weird?

  17. Pingback: Things I’m Lovin’ (May 11) | Run With Holly

  18. i’ll remember this post and clap even louder next time i’m in a finish line waiting for paulo to finish his race! :)

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