If I think back to every race I’ve run, I can remember at least one volunteer or spectator that made my race experience a good one.
It’s easy to forget that these people are spending their own personal free time standing outside on their feet for hours cheering for a bunch of crazy people that think running 26.2 miles is the best idea ever. We, as runners, make the decision to race and we obsess about it for months. The spectators and volunteers have a big hand in making our experience a good one.
I know I’m not the only person to think differently about the folks that stand on the sidelines of the race course since the events of Boston 2013. The friends, family members and strangers that line the course are incredible human beings and we, as runners, are so lucky to have them.
I raced the Indy Monumental Marathon on Nov. 1. It wasn’t even 30 degrees at the start, there were 20 mph winds, and the sun didn’t begin to rise until after the race started. 26.2 miles is a long way to run without support from others. I can think of several instances on the course where a spectator or volunteer made me laugh or encouraged me when I really needed it.
Around halfway, just past the 13.1-mile timing mat, a man was standing with a very simple sign. It read, “Just don’t suck.” Clear message, right? It made me and others running with me chuckle. He yelled, “It’s simple. Just don’t suck, guys!”
It’s easy to get stuck in your own head when you’re racing and it was a relief to have someone snap me out of it, if only for a few seconds or minutes. Often times, there is a spectator or volunteer there to give you that attitude adjustment right when you need it.
Later on in the race, about a half mile from the finish, I was hurting. This was full on pain face, am-i-there-yet, why-do-my-legs-hurt-so-bad in the last steps of the marathon. It took all of my willpower to keep my legs going. This is what you train for, the last 10K of 26.2 miles. I looked up to my left and could see the finish line. But before I could get there, I had to make two more turns to my left. I knew this to be true because I obsessed over the course map in the weeks leading up to the race but I needed someone to say it.
A man spectating the race on my left belted out “JUST TWO MORE TURNS!” and others exclaimed, “wow, look at this finish.” I only had two tenths of a mile left and they gave me the jolt that I needed—when I didn’t think there was a single jolt left in my body.
Having spectated many friends’ races in the past few years, I know just how exhausting spectating can be. It has its physical and mental challenges just as racing does. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of a sport that has so much energy around encouraging one another. So, to the friends, family and race volunteers that have made me smile, laugh, cry and run harder than I thought I ever could: THANK YOU.
For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.