“This isn’t my first rodeo” – a phrase uttered by me on a few occasions last weekend as I was complimented on my ability to whizz and direct my way around Manchester to find good cheering spots during the marathon. As a former running widow, before I took up running myself, I have been to many a race to cheer on Jack and have become great at finding good places to spot runners. Finding my way around an unknown city with ease has become second nature and last weekend earned me the nickname ‘Satnav’!
So without further ado, here are my top 5 tips for race spectating –
1. Before you do anything, download Google Maps and any transport apps that will help you get around on the day. During bigger races, Google Maps also shows the race map on the screen, so you can see how close you are to the race – handy when running off a tram and finding your way to a good spot! For major cities I swear by the Citymapper app which has helped me navigate my way around Manchester, Berlin, Amsterdam, New York and London. This app is incredible, simply put in where you are going and it tells you how long it will take through different modes of transport – walking, cycling, public transport and even Uber. It gives clear guidance step-by-step on how to make your way to your destination and has offline public transport maps available.
2. Work out with your runner how long they are going to take and where they would like to see you. By working out how long they will take for each mile, you will be able to check if you have enough time to get to your agreed spectating points, whether by public transport or walking. There’s nothing worse than agreeing to be at miles 5 and 9 then on the day realising that this is a logistical nightmare! Downloading a pace guide can help as this will tell you when to expect your runner at each mile. My friend’s husband had worked this out perfectly during Manchester which really helped. Also consider how busy the race/city will be. In Manchester, we were lucky to squeeze on one tram as it was completely crammed. Had we missed that tram we may have missed our runners, so do take this into consideration if you are trying to see them more than 2 or 3 times. As London is so busy during the marathon (and Jack is super-fast), for my own sanity and ease of spotting him, I will probably only see him at one or two spots on route before I must race my way to the end.
*side tip – also agree where to meet at the end of the race. This was something we didn’t do at Amsterdam and it was only by pure chance that I found Jack at the end. Don’t agree to meet at the finish, it will most likely be crazy. Most races put on lettered meeting points which are a good place to find people.
3. If there is one, download the official tracking app for the race. These can be unreliable as so many people are trying to get on it at once, especially at London, however they can give a good guide of how your runner is doing and when they will get to your spot. At Manchester, my friend’s husband was able to see that she started 8 minutes after the official start time and we could then use that to calculate when we would see her. The app was also able to tell us if anyone had slowed down or sped up. These are also great for tracking at home I you can’t make it to the race.
4. Have a spectating plan. Trying to spot your runner in a sea of people is hard, your eyes are darting around the place and unless they are wearing something distinctive, you may miss them. The same goes for them, if they have their head down concentrating or just soaking up the atmosphere, they may not notice you. Agree with your runner what side of the road you will be on, that way they can try and stick to that side and see you. Another good tip I’ve had in this area is, if you know the route well, agree on a landmark to stand beside, eg I’ll be outside the bike shop, or beside the red post-box. Mile markers can get busy too so tell your runner you will be 200 yards away from it. If there are a couple of you spectating, agree in advance that one of you will take photos and the other look out for the runner otherwise you both might miss them. At Inverness I was on my own and while trying to fiddle about with my phone camera I almost missed my friends. Sometimes it’s better to just soak up the atmosphere and give huge cheers rather than trying to get a photo at every spot.
5. Finally, take a bag. This is my way of getting a few tips in one to keep it to a top 5! My race day essentials for spectators starts with a battery pack. Watching races can be a long day and if using your phone to take photos, track and navigate, it will drain your battery. I got mine from Amazon for about £10 and it has about 2/3 full charges in it when it’s full. Secondly, get a travel card for the city you are in, this saves time and money on the day. Next, maybe take some extra gels, energy drinks or snacks for your runner if they would like you to. Things happen in a race and they may lose some so it might be handy to have spares. Finally, fill with your runner’s essential post-race items. They will have their own bag drop but, just in case, have some extra layers in there for them (and for you – it can get cold watching!), salty food to replenish those lost salts, sugary food for a pick me up, and plenty of water. Prosecco, beer or champagne never go amiss either!
There you have it, my top tips for spectating. Other than these, just shout really loud, make sure you’re seen and give them all the support you can! Remember that lots of runners may not have the support that your runner does so give them a shout too, especially if they look like they are struggling and need some encouragement. Races are a truly inspirational and humbling experience for runners and spectators, so just soak it in and enjoy.