Nice ways to cheer for a friend running a marathon?
September 4, 2014 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Marathon runners, what are some ways that you love your friends and family to show you support? My friend is running a marathon, and as a non-runner, I would love some ideas to cheer him on during, or congratulate him at the end.

The marathon world is a strange and overwhelming to a non-runner such as myself. Besides getting him his favorite drink post-finish, what can I do before the race, during, or after? We're arranging to keep track via an app during the run, and will be going to eat something good after. Any other good ideas you have? Thanks!
posted by film to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ask your friend if there is a certain mile marker that is the hardest one for him. Then be there at that mile marker to cheer him on. :)
posted by jillithd at 12:59 PM on September 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

What race is it? Many races have courses that you can spectate at multiple points. If your friend can tell you roughly what pace they are aiming for, you can try and show up with funny signs at each point.

To be honest, I am almost never hungry after a marathon. Find out your runner's specific details, and maybe book the dinner for much later in the day.

Also, depending on the course, it is almost always going to be easier for your runner to spot you than it will be for you to spot them. Wear something BRIGHTLY colored or outlandish.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:03 PM on September 4, 2014

Use your app to meet them along the route and cheer them on. Your presence will be wonderful, but goofy signs and cowbells always make it more fun.

Have a bag at the finish line with a change of shoes (I like to slip into flip flops) and, a sweatshirt/sweater (they will probably be cold once they go back inside for lunch). Also, baby wipes (or a wet wash cloth stored in a ziploc) to wipe off their face after the race. Wonderful in hot weather (when you'll be sweaty) or cold (when your face will be crusty and salty). And perhaps a small first aid kit? After my first (and only, thus far) marathon I had a huge blister on my foot that I absolutely needed to drain before I could even wear flip flops. Fortunately, a pin and a few band aids were close at hand.

Also, don't forget to cheer on other people when you're waiting for your friend! It's fun when people are calling out your number/name/phrase on your shirt and you don't even know them!

Have fun!
posted by lucy.jakobs at 1:06 PM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cheering for your friends is great, but they have to notice you! So visibility is key both on the route and a the start and the end - so perhaps dressing up on a single bright color, having a big flag, a sign, baloons or inflatable animal so your friend can immediately recognize you in the crowd?
posted by Middlemarch at 1:08 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, please, please never use the phrase "almost there." Until your runner is turning off his Garmin, he is not almost there.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:20 PM on September 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

The runners I knew would have a pasta or pancake party the day before (something about needing lots of carbs, I think?).
So depending on how your friend likes to prepare that might be a fun thing to treat him with.

Also, aim for a snapshot at the finishing line!
posted by Omnomnom at 1:24 PM on September 4, 2014

Mile 20. That's the Wall time for most people, and seeing a friendly face there would give most a boost. You could also bring along a banana for them!
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:25 PM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've watched several friends in the NY Marathon at various points and, as suggested above, try to see them at several points on the course. For NY, there is an app to track a runners' progress so you can try to time the multiple stops (though in the past it has had some problems). So I would check/ask if your friend's race has this capability too.

For NY, many places are crowded with spectators, so the last time, I finally remembered to get distinctive balloons the day before and let my friend know what to look for and approx where I was planning to watch from. Signs are also fun, but harder to spot in a crowd because so many people have them. I also like to find out what color shirt my friend plans to wear, so I can try to spot them sooner.

Again, my experience is primarily NYC, but the finish line is difficult/impossible to get to, so I usually plan in advance to meet them elsewhere after the race is over.

For one friend, we saw him at mile 16 and he was cruising, and then cut across town and saw him at 20 or 21, when he was struggling. He said he was thinking about stopping and then he saw us (unexpectedly - this wasn't a planned spot) and he gave us some credit for providing some energy to finish the race.
posted by Bailey270 at 1:29 PM on September 4, 2014

Take pictures of him, and try to make them flattering. Race pics are pretty expensive, and I usually look like I'm about to keel over. Bring a nice camera. Pic a spot on the course where he will be approximately a half-hour after sunrise (when lighting is optimal - not too dim but not too harsh), and when he comes by you cheer for him, wave, get him to smile, and get a pic.

Have backup food (gels) and water for him. Races provide this, but sometimes run out, and that can suck. Also have something he can snack on afterward in case their post-race offerings are not great.

Have a planned meeting place after the race, and some way that you can find each other. Some races are good about having a designated meeting area, but sometimes it is just a parking lot where 20,000 other runners are trying to meet their friends and family. My running partner has parents that love to cheer him on, and they carry a stuffed animal on a stick (so it is approx 8 ft tall) so he can spot them when he is going by in the race and so he can find them afterward.

Carry comfy shoes for him for afterward, and possibly a change of clothes. Running in cooler weather you get sweaty, but then when you stop you are freezing. Even in warm weather, you are soaked in sweat. Having a t-shirt and flip flops (or fresh socks and sneakers) can make the walk back to the hotel/car/whatever much nicer.

Also, the apps that races provide track runners are not always accurate and up to date. The text alerts I've signed up to receive have sometimes not come through, or come through significantly after the runner crossed the checkpoint/finish. Don't rely on it 100%
posted by I am the Walrus at 1:49 PM on September 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Make a huge pot of beef stew. Apply liberally every 90 minutes for the remainder of the day. And bread with real butter.
posted by grateful at 2:27 PM on September 4, 2014

This is the correct answer.
posted by dbarefoot at 2:50 PM on September 4, 2014

My incredibly awesome Bear waited at the 12 mile point for me and besides the sign/smiling/kiss I got when I greeted him, HE HAD ICE AND WATER waiting for me. Yes, it was so wonderful I am using shouty capitals.

It is also really cool after that to get to the finishers area to meet your finisher and celebrate with them.
posted by bearwife at 3:06 PM on September 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would just say to try to be there and cheering at as many places as possible - and be sure to be heard. It can be hard to pick out a face in the crowd 15 miles in but it's a big pick me up.

I would say to not offer him refreshments, it's against the rules for him to take them from anything but an official aid station.
posted by ftm at 4:12 PM on September 4, 2014

I have run the New York City marathon twice and the first time I had friends waiting with a cupcake at a tough mile and the second time I had another friend have an icy cold coca-cola as I passed mile 20. Funny signs are the best for sure, even if you aren't the friend of the sign holder.

I would just ask your friend what they would want you to have and what mile and then add funny sign. My friends would tell me what side of the road they would be on and exactly where and it was easy to find them.

I have run a couple less crowded marathons and honestly, these things would have been even better when there were no spectators around.

Finishing is cold! If you can meet them with warm dry sweat pants and whatever to put on until they get their bag, it is true that is awesome, but I think it depends on the race.
posted by katinka-katinka at 4:44 PM on September 4, 2014

We not only made signs from neon posterboard, we cut the letters of my fried's name out (a foot high!) and strung them together for a HUGE sign. We actually stood at a turnaround spot so that when she was coming towards us we held up her first name and when she was coming back away from the turnaround we held up her last name :)

Find out his race number. Hold that up too.

Track him and see him at multiple points.

The commenter above accurately points out that tracking software, etc. isn't always correct. If you track your friend at multiple spots, pick an easily recognizable person ahead of your friend (we saw two guys wearing shirts saying something like FUELED BY CHOCOLATE during the Ironman) and watch for them.
posted by Madamina at 4:49 PM on September 4, 2014

You might get tired cheering and clapping; I've found people seem to respond to a cow bell (of all things). Guaranteed someone will say, "Needs more cowbell".

Use gloves or tape your fingers, though - last time I got ouchy blisters.

Also, this is the best sign ever IMHO:

posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:27 PM on September 4, 2014

Also, don't forget to cheer on other people when you're waiting for your friend!

THISTHISTHIS. It's hard running a marathon; it's dispiriting running past silent spectators.

For me, it's miles 21-24 that are the hardest. Over the 20-mile barrier; but not yet up to the "just one more to go" 25-mile mark. Support there means the most.

Before: depending on the size and security setup of the event, you may not be able to enter the start area. If you do: the period before the start is a mixture of nervy anticipation jitters and portapotty queues. Seriously: pre-race peeing, really important. Offer to stand in line.

After: your runner might be a bit spacy. It's draining both physically and mentally. So be prepared to guide them: know the layout of the finish festival. Where can they get water? Have a bottle ready, but also be ready to get more. Where can they get a snack? Fuel on the course tends to be sugar-based: Gatorade, goo, bars -- I often find a salty snack like pretzels or chips is very welcome. Where are the toilets? If they tend introvert, maybe scout a quieter spot where they could chill out and/or stretch. Also: scout the best/quickest/least crowded way out of the finish festival.

One other thought: don't forget that the race itself is preceded by months of long, hard, and maybe solo training runs. Consider if there's also support you can provide there? (For example: having a "support car" helper enables more and different training routes because you can have them shuttle you out to the start of a long A-to-B route and meet you at the end.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:39 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and:

baby wipes (or a wet wash cloth stored in a ziploc) to wipe off their face after the race

posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:42 PM on September 4, 2014

Oh, and a similar AskMe in which I see I made similar suggestions.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:00 PM on September 4, 2014

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