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Out There: How To Be A Spectacular Spectathlete

The Boston Marathon, running’s Super Bowl, is known for having some of the craziest Spectathletes.

Spectators stand on the sidelines and watch. Spectathletes, such as Dan Quick, however, take the event to a whole new level.

The Boston Marathon, running’s Super Bowl, is known for having some of the craziest Spectathletes.

Written by: Susan Lacke and Dan Quick

“Hey, Susan. You got a tandem bicycle?”


“How ‘bout some body paint?”

“Fresh out. Sorry.”

“Do you know the nudity laws in Tuscaloosa?”

“You’ll have to Google that one, dude.”

I suppose my curiosity should have been piqued, but requests like these are actually pretty common from my friend Dan. That said, when he was on the front page of the newspaper riding a tandem bicycle, sporting a Mohawk, and clad head-to-toe in maroon and gold body paint to cheer on the Arizona State University triathlon team in the collegiate nationals last weekend, I wasn’t shocked. I’ve learned to expect this stuff from him.

In every race, there are spectators and there are Spectathletes. Spectators stand on the sidelines and watch. Spectathletes, however, take the event to a whole new level. At the finish line, both runners and Spectathletes are known to collapse from sheer exhaustion (or, in the case of the latter, sometimes inebriation). It’s a lot of work to be a Spectathlete, but many a race has been enhanced by girls in bikinis, men in Speedos, and bloody-mary bars at mile sixteen. The Boston Marathon, running’s Super Bowl, is known for having some of the craziest Spectathletes.

With Boston just days away, I’ve asked Dan to share how you can take your spectating to the next level. Here’s what he has to say:

Congratulations! You’ve been appointed to the post of Spectathlete! Perhaps you were originally signed up for the race, but got sidelined by injury. Maybe you’re there to support a friend or family member. Perhaps you’re just up in the rotation with your significant other — it’s their turn to race, and you’re the race support. It’s easy to whine about not racing, but being on the sidelines is no lamentable condition.  In fact, the role of Spectathlete is almost as crucial to the event as the competitors themselves.

Personally, the crowds are what got me into the endurance scene.  In 2007, I flew out to Chicago to cheer on my brother in the 2007 LaSalle (now Bank of America) Marathon.  The crowds were 3 to 30 people deep the whole distance of the event and the energy was contagious.  That high has fueled me through many a workout and race.

Without bringing 1.5 million of your closest friends to Beantown next week, how does one go about bringing this energy to your loved one racing?  First and foremost:  Abandon all shame. Modesty does not look good on a Spectathlete.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to be tactical. Just as the racers have a strategy outlined to complete their event, you also should have a game plan for tackling a long day of crowd-pleasing.

NUTRITION: Remember that your efforts are just as taxing as those running the actual event (the runners may disagree, but you and I know the truth) and, as such, you need to have your nutrition dialed in. The key thing is hydration and vitamins, for this I recommend starting off early with a Bloody Mary for a shot of much-needed amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

COSTUME: It’s probably best to have partaken in the aforementioned nutrition before embarking on the costume selection. A properly outrageous appearance will not only bolster the spirits of your athlete, it’ll boost your overall appeal as a Spectathlete.  I recommend body paint.  Nothing says “I’m proud of my racer” like a grown man or woman covered from head to toe in paint.

Disclaimer: Though some suggest it, I cannot recommend that anyone ever actually uses house paint for anything other than painting houses.  The lady at Lowes was really quite reluctant to mix my desired colors once she knew their intended use. Instead, check out a body-specific paint manufacturer.  Whichever method you use, however, just remember to stay seriously hydrated. The latex-based coating you’re using on 95% of your body isn’t exactly ideal for internal body temperature regulation.

NUDITY: Who doesn’t like nudity?  I’m just going to go out on a limb here and assume you’ve got a hot body (Logic: Hot people read “Competitor.” You are reading “Competitor.” Therefore, you are hot.) Why not show it off? If, as in my case, you have an excess of what I affectionately refer to as “energy stores,” then showing that you can embrace your healthy body image will act as a service to others (that’s what I tell myself, anyway).

AUDIO: Spectathletes are a multi-sensory wonder. It’s not enough to just look the part; you have to sound the part, too. For this you can go to the classic cowbell or upgrade to a larger bell-and-drumstick combination.  For those who want to go big, there’s the bullhorn.  Use this one with discretion. I speak from experience when I warn you that saying the first rowdy things that come to mind, into a bullhorn, may not end well.

TRANSPORTATION: This one is possibly the most important of all aspects of Spectathletism because a marathon, unlike a track event or cycling criterium, covers a great distance.  Plus, if you’re taking the aforementioned “abandon-all-shame-costume-nudity-bullhorn” advice, you’ll want to stay mobile to avoid arrest.

In all seriousness, you’re going to want to be able to see your athlete several times along the course. That’s difficult on a point-to-point like Boston without some wheels.  You can hoof it, take a Segway, or do it the Dan way, with a hand-me-down tandem bicycle. The benefits of this, beyond the sheer novelty of it all, include having your hands free to use the bullhorn while the driver handles the navigation, extra carrying capacity with some panniers and racks, and in the event of losing a rider due to heat stroke (see aforementioned body paint warning) it serves as a warm invitation for a companion or really hot stranger to join in on the fun.  No matter what method you choose, however, remember safety first – and DO NOT ENTER THE RACE COURSE.

ATTITUDE: This one should be a no-brainer, but still needs mention.  If you’re going to be out there acting a fool for your athlete, make everyone else feels your support, too.  If you see a racer struggling, give him some encouragement; if someone is really hammering, give her some props. You’ve got to be egalitarian come race day.  Racers all deserve recognition for qualifying for the most prestigious marathon that an age-grouper can ever hope to run.  While you’re at it, spread the love and high-fives to your fellow Spectathletes, too…and if you see any hot girls, give them my number.

With proper training, dedication and sacrifice, you too can reach the upper echelons of Spectathletics. Have fun in Boston, and remember: A race without the ruckus is just a bunch of sweaty people working out.


Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Look for her print column in the pages of Competitor magazine, and follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke.