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.
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.