12 Important Tips for Running Spectators


Have you been a running spectator before? If so, you know how exciting and fun it can be, and also how — sometimes — it can be quite stressful. FIT Founder Kelly McLay has always valued her supporters and over the years she has had so many dedicated friends and family on the course. Her appreciation for spectators drastically grew earlier this year at the London Marathon, “I was a spectator truly for the first time in London, and, oh my, what a new POV! I was so stressed trying to find all our FIT clients running the marathon. I missed some while navigating traffic, lines, transit. It’s definitely easier to run 26.2 miles than be a spectator!” 


Running spectators play a huge part during a race. They’re not only cheering and encouraging runners with posters and high fives. Often times, spectators carry fuel/liquids, an extra pair of socks or shoes, a chafe stick, contacts, etc. as a backup for their runner in case a quick wardrobe change or an extra water bottle is needed during the race. Lots of planning and preparation goes into spectating races of all distances and it’s not easy.

Kelly’s cheer squad at the Boston Marathon.

Kelly’s cheer squad at the Boston Marathon.

But, for the runner, it’s so worth it. Those few hours of planning and navigating the course for a fleeting two-second interaction with the runner is so helpful. It’s one of Kelly’s favorite parts of racing, “it's my motivation and I get such a high when I see my team!!” 

We reached out to some of FIT’s experienced running spectators (aka our biggest fans — massive thank you to Angie for contributing most of these!), and with their input, we compiled a list of best practices for spectators. These tips can help make race day go as smoothly as possible, and make the experience of supporting runners less stressful and really exciting!

Here are our top 12 tips for running spectators, in no particular order…


1. Planning is key when you’re picking locations to see your runner. Prior to the race, we suggest printing a map of the course, check online blogs and the race website for recommendations on the best places to cheer, and check your transportation options (car, bike, taxi, subway, on foot, etc.). Depending on the course, you might be able to see your runner only once or many times. And this will vary depending on the runner’s pace. Keeping in mind your familiarity with the course location, including alternate routes and traffic on race day, devise your spectating game plan. If you're traveling by car, note an address near each of your chosen cheering locations. Then on race day, Google maps can help you find the fastest route there through traffic. 

For FIT tours, we can suggest places along the course to spot runners, as well as recommend transportation options. “FIT provides a great inclusive environment of support to participant spectators of the marathon with race details, a tour, pre-race “carb load” dinner, event route travel tips and post race celebration activities. A truly fun experience for me.” - Roger M.


2. Let your runner know your plan so he or she can look for you at specific locations along the route. The more crowded the race course, the more important it is to have a plan so you don't miss seeing your runner. Be sure to also have a plan for where you will meet up after the race. It will be crowded near the finish line. Allow extra time to get there.

3. Also, always confirm which side you are cheering from — confirm it’s from the runners' left or right, not the spectators’. This is so easy to confuse — if a spectator is looking back, left and right are opposites! 

4. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. In rainy conditions, Angie prefers a poncho to an umbrella. An umbrella can block the view of other spectators. If you're near someone with an umbrella, watch out that the runoff from their umbrella doesn't run down your neck!

For my first in-person marathon spectating, I traveled from San Diego to NYC to watch the NYC marathon! The energy on the course was vibrant — music, people cheering, and happy runners! As a spectator, I enjoyed watching the athletes look for their families or familiar faces in the crowd, lock eyes and get a burst of energy! I tracked my runner using the NYC marathon app. And spent the day getting on and off the subway where I knew I’d spot a glimpse of her! I also made sure to find a good bar and food along the way. 🙂
— Whitney, NYC Marathon spectator
Scarlett & her cheering cowbell!

Scarlett & her cheering cowbell!

5. You'll be chasing your runner for multiple hours, don't forget to plan time for restroom stops and food breaks. If there is a donut shop along the race course, consider cheering there. At the very least, be sure to have a granola bar and a water bottle on hand to refuel. Spectating is hard work! 

Tips for the Course:

6. Wear comfortable shoes. Depending on your cheering plan, you could end up walking 2-5 miles while cheering for your marathoner. 

7. Cowbells are a fabulous accessory for spectating. Really, who doesn't need more cowbell?

8. You're there to cheer. Cheer loudly and be supportive of everyone out there! (It's best to avoid saying, "You're almost there!" unless you're standing in sight of the finish line.) 

FIT team member Kelley’s husband Dan at the 2017 NYC Marathon putting his orange beanie to good use! 😉

FIT team member Kelley’s husband Dan at the 2017 NYC Marathon putting his orange beanie to good use! 😉

9. Take lots of photos! Getting photos of your athlete can be tricky, though, if the course is crowded. And remember you only have two hands. Unless you have a cheering team, you won't be able to manage a sign, ring the bell, take photos, and hold your favorite beverage. 


10. Signs and Fatheads are fun to help your runner find you in a crowd, but they can be tough to manage in the wind. Avoid balloons which are even more difficult to manage (and as our FIT team learned in London can escape to the sky and be a lost resource- oops! ;) If all else fails put an orange beanie on a stick!

Technology Reminders:

11. Race apps may not work well on race day, especially if the race course goes through a city with skyscrapers, if you have spotty cell coverage, or if there's high data usage in your area. The app may also drain your phone battery. Bring an external battery as a backup. 

12. If there’s a possibility for spotty cell coverage or delays from high data usage, apps like WhatsApp can be helpful for messaging if you’re able to find WiFi.

There you have it — 12 tips for running spectators!

ANd With that, we’d also like to give a huge shoutout to some of our most loyal spectators and the people who’ve helped us run every distance from one to 26.2 miles…

”I have witnessed Tracey transform her running from a part-time activity to a passion of pursuit as she endeavors to challenge herself to complete the World Majors. Sharing the highs and lows of running has been a great experience as she just has one left to achieve her goal – Tokyo.” -Roger M, British Columbia.

Spectator extraordinaire John McLay, FIT Founder Kelly & baby Scarlett!

Spectator extraordinaire John McLay, FIT Founder Kelly & baby Scarlett!

”John has supported me all over the world — from guiding with FIT to cheering on clients to running alongside the race with boot and baby (he had an injury) to get to multiple points along the course. He has done it all. He's even weathered a few marathons himself. He has been to all 7 continents on this journey!” - Kelly McLay on husband John

“I’m a mother of two daughters who have been active and athletes their entire lives. I’ve stood on the sidelines and cheered on my daughters from pre-school through college starting with their  T-ball games, dance recitals, gymnastic meets, and soccer, basketball, and softball games. Through the years I watched them develop a passion for sports, determination, and grit.  

True to form, here’s Lynn in the red sweater ready to cheer on her daughter at the 2017 NYC Marathon.

True to form, here’s Lynn in the red sweater ready to cheer on her daughter at the 2017 NYC Marathon.

Fast forward to young adulthood and now I cheer on my older daughter while she runs half and full marathons. I learned uses for Vaseline I would never have guessed existed. I've been in awe of the planning it takes for her to leave her Brooklyn apartment at 6:30 am to be at the starting line on Staten Island for an 11:00 am start (and the planning it takes to make sure there are enough places for bathroom stops!). I've learned about the importance of wearing clothes with no seams. I’ve watched my son-in-law’s patience as he guided four parents on and off the subway so we could catch a fleeting glance of my daughter at various places along the NYC marathon route. We've experienced the joy and pride of watching her run alongside thousands of other runners through the avenues of NYC. We scream and yell to catch her attention and give her a high five of encouragement. We’ve celebrated her finish with her while she was wrapped in a silver warming blanket at the end of the marathons. The same dedication and determination she had for her team sports is now a part of her running. We wait with anticipation for her to share the dates of her next race and mark them in BOLD on our calendars for priority!” -Lynn C., Vermont

Happy Father’s Day/Month (we just FIT that in ;) to all the fathers and father figures — thank you for all that you do!!

Happy Father’s Day/Month (we just FIT that in ;) to all the fathers and father figures — thank you for all that you do!!

PS. A belated but very Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers, father-to-be, and father figures out there! We love having you as part of the FIT family! Here’s a very touching father-son moment that we absolutely love.

Have you spectated a race before? What tips would you add to our list? Would love to hear...