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Sarah Bowen Shea: Fun at the Finish Line

Sarah Bowen Shea writes about her love of emceeing at the finish line of races.

There are many elements that make a race great: a scenic, well-marked course; attention-to-detail organization; well-stocked aid stations; a lively vibe; and, I would argue, a finish-line announcer. It’s that attention to detail down to the final steps of the race that clinch a memorable, positive experience.

I ran the Victoria Marathon last weekend. As I walked from my hotel to the race to the starting area, the event’s 8K race was wrapping up. Even from a kilometer away (hey, it was Canada!), I could hear the effusive, silver-tongued announcer calling out the finishers’ names and often a personal detail about them. He spoke so fast and with such zest, I wondered if his day job was as an auctioneer.

Even though I make my living as co-founder of Another Mother Runner, not auctioning off Picasso paintings, antique ottomans or prize-winning steers, I’ve been the emcee at several women’s races. I’ve been told I have a gift for the gab, which is a useful quality to have for filling this race role. Thanks to a notebook computer on my lap and a timing mat a hundred yards from the finish, I was able to see the names of each finisher as she covered the final stretch of the race.

The first year or two, I stuck to a script, and often just read off finishers’ names (botching their last names, I’m certain!), occasionally adding in where they were from for a little variety. But then, while working a kombucha buzz, I started tossing in my own color commentary.

“Krista Rider is ripping it up as she crosses the line!”

“Way to finish strong, Cyndie Pelto!!”

“Give it up for first-time half marathoner Audrey Schaab!”

The more lively and, yes, goofy I got, the more the spectators and racers seemed to enjoy my spiel. Several grandfatherly types came up to me during lulls to compliment me on what a good job I was doing; a few husbands asked that I send birthday wishes or kudos to their wives when the ladies finished. Delivering a line with exuberance softened the blow of mispronouncing names or mixing up with finisher 178 with 187. I had a blast, especially encouraging the half marathoners who approached the line in 3 or 3.5 hours. Every racer acknowledged, every participant celebrated.