Just recently I was at the Scotiabank Half marathon - I was helping at it and then when my tasks were done I went into spectator mode.
I knew a lot of peeps racing in this race as it is a popular race 1 - for the gorgeous course and 2 - because it is a fast course - PB's are easy to come by on this course. It was a lot bigger a few years ago but with the Seattle Rock-n-Roll the same weekend a lot of locals head off to that race. Anyways I digress.
So while I was helping I stood along the road and clapped and cheered runners as they went by from the very first one to the very last one. As I knew a lot of the runners I made sure to yell out their names if I spotted them and more than a few hugs and high fives were passed out.
After I finished I headed to my car and was off to meet friends who were racing at the finish line for breakfast.
I was driving down and realized how few spectators there was and so I decided to roll down my window, crank the tunes and start honking to where I had to meet a friend and race organizer to hand off some stuff. When I met him he we stood and I was clapping and yelling. At that point he said to me - wow there is not many supporters out - I did not think it was a big deal till I did the Vancouver Half and all the spectators that were on the course it helped me and they were awesome. I smiled and said I know they help a lot.
It got me to thinking about it and it is true. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am super independent and not big on super emotional displays. When I ran my first half it never occurred to me that Joe and/or my friends should be there. Why - they weren't racing - it was not like I was going to be talking to them, I mean I was running. While I listened to others say that if their partner, parents, etc, etc did not come out they would be super upset. HUH? Okay seemed weird to me.
In my first marathon, Joe, my sister-in-law and nieces and nephews surprised me by being on the course and at the finish line and it was nice. Seeing various friends along the course helped a lot and I started to begin to understand.
When I really began to get it was when my BFF Chris and other friends got-to-gether without me knowing and made T-shirts and named themselves the Shaunettes. They totally surprised me during my epic first half-ironman and I desparately needed them without even knowing it. Because of them I was able to finish that race - their support and belief in me got me to the finish line. It was then that I truly learned the power of the spectator.
I am a convert and an avid and loud spectator now. I love to scream and yell, music is always great, T-shirts, theme songs, and you can never have enough cow bell. The best feeling is when you see someone who is tired and you know they are hurting and you just know that you can give them an encouraging word and a smile. You will never understand how much that helps.
I have been on the side line and seen someone with less than 500 metres in a marathon stop and you can tell they are in a dark place and just don't care. And with the power of the crowd and our yelling encouragement we brought them back from the brink, we gave them the energy they needed and the encouragement to finish. It was so inspiring to see the power we had.
So I encourage you to yell and cheer for everyone on the course when you are out waiting for your friend - you are appreciated. Park your car and open the hatch - turn on the tunes. Honk your horn if you are driving by - yell encouragement to everyone - don't be shy because you know what the runners will love you for it. Plus I have seen it - you get a few cheering and others start to cheer and so on and so on.
Before I sign off there is one big RULE as a spectator that you must never break - it is a terrible sin. Never, ever, EVER say You Are ALMOST there! Unless it is less than 1km to the finish. EVER - otherwise it is just mean.
So if you are not racing then come out and pay-it-forward by cheering. It is good for your race karma and I promise you will be inspired by the end of it.