The Untold Story: Race Spectators

Whenever we read race recaps, we read about the course, what the runner thought of the race or the organization, the conditions, whether it was a bad day or not…and sometimes we read about the spectators. 

I really got a chance to feel the power of race spectators during the 2013 New York City Marathon, and randomly was thinking about this yesterday, which is why I wanted to write about it. I know I’ve written about how much I love the running community a few times now, but I wanted to focus this post on the spectators.

My Personal Cheering Squad

As runners preparing for a marathon, we sacrifice a lot. We train for 16-20 weeks. We get up early for long runs. We miss out on fun events because we need to sleep. But spectators sacrifice a lot too! The day of the marathon, my brother, sister, dad and boyfriend woke up at 5 am with my mom and me to head to New York. We got there around 7 am, and our race didn’t start until 10:50 am. They had to entertain themselves and wait around for over 3 hours!

Once the race started it was GO time. While we were trekking our way through the boroughs, they were navigating the subways. Squeezing onto packed subways in order to make it to where they said they would be. They were running around making sure we would see them. And all that for what? 30 seconds or less as we ran past them and said hi? But regardless, they smiled, they cheered, they made signs for us.


We did miss them at a stop once, but instead of complaining they just got right back on the subway and went to the next stop. Since they missed us, that meant waiting extra at the next stop around mile 22. Once again, we saw them, said hi, and kept going on. Since they were at mile 22, that meant they had to book it to the finish if they were going to see us in Columbus Circle. We saw them right before the finish, and then finally finished those 26.2 miles. But the day wasn’t over yet. They still had to wait for us to get our medals, get our bags, and somehow get back to West 63rd street from West 81st street (almost 1 mile away). But they waited patiently.

Once we got to our meeting location, we were able to take family photos and recap our day. 

They were troopers, and what the spirit of the marathon also entails. It’s not just about us runners, but also about those who support us. Who get up early right there with us. Who run around all over the place to get pictures of us, see us for 30 seconds, hand us our GU or extra water. But then there are also the strangers…

The Other Spectators

I want to thank ALL race spectators here. You cheer on random strangers. You scream your heart out and pump up the runners. This is what got me through those 26.2 miles in New York. Every step of the way my mom and I heard our names being yelled. At one point a chant was started by a group, “PATTY…AND TINA! PATTY…AND TINA!” It was awesome. When we got into Central Park, I stopped to walk. A group started cheering my name and as I slowly started to run again they got louder and louder. This lady ran alongside me and said, “Here take some frozen grapes!” 

In the 2011 New York City Marathon, around mile 21 I was done. I was walking and miserable. This random stranger stepped on the course when he saw me and said come on you can do this! I said, no I am dying right now my legs are shot. He was like, “I wanted to run NYC, but I didn’t get in. So I’m running Philly next week. But you’re here and got the opportunity to be here so we are going to run!” He then grabbed my arm and started jogging with me. He was like “Come on, we’re going to the next corner.” So we jogged. He wished me luck and sent me on my way. I will never forget that moment. That is what the spirit of the running community is.

All of this is why my mom and I went up to Boston to watch the Boston Marathon this past April. Many asked us why we were going and if we knew anyone. Our response? “Nope, we just want to watch the race and cheer people on.” We wanted to pay it forward and cheer our hearts out. It was such an amazing day. 


After reading Heather’s (from Relentless Forward Commotion) post about her experience running in the back of the pack, it made me kind of sad. The running community is a great one, so why are we not supporting ALL runners, regardless of pace?

Race spectators help get runners through the race, and it was sad to read her and other’s accounts of how there aren’t many for those who are in the back of the pack. Every runner deserves people cheering them on, yelling out their name, high fiving them.

Which is why my mom and I told each other that from now on, after races, we will stay and keep cheering on our fellow runners. We had always planned to be at this year’s NYC Marathon as spectators as well, so we can’t wait to scream for all of you who are running! 

Moral of this post? Thank your fellow spectators. Whether it’s your family or a total stranger, they have made some sacrifices to get to that race as well. They don’t have to be there, but they are…for you. I’ll leave you with my New York City Marathon recap video I made, which shows our story, but also that of our spectators. Let me know what you think!

Do you enjoy watching races when you’re not running them?

Tell me one race spectator experience you’ve had in the comments!


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  1. I loved this! It’s so true, we forget how much our friends and family go through to spectate for us. I have definitely been the spectator before and it can be a lot of fun. I try to thank every spectator I see on a run and give every little kid a high five. They are making my run 100% better so if I can make their day a little better, it’s totally worth it.
    Jen @ pretty little grub recently posted…The Do’s and Don’ts of packing for EuropeMy Profile

  2. Great post! I love race spectators, they make all the difference. I have only spectated at smaller races but it is always a ton of fun!
    Betsy recently posted…Petbrosia Pet Food Review & Giveaway!My Profile

  3. I LOVE SPECTATORS! I run a lot of races and boy the crowds can invigorate you! When I finish I definitely try to stick around and cheer others in. And I love throwing high fives and thanking the particularly rowdy groups! Them and the volunteers make a lot of the race experiences special.
    Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat recently posted…Treat Yourself Tuesday #3My Profile

  4. I love being a spectator at races! Granted I’m always running them, so I don’t often stand on the side lines, but I do love it. I always thank spectators, high five them if given the opportunity, and try to banter with them some as I run by. My favorite thing was during my first triathlon; it was pushing 100F and the run course was down a private drive along the lake shore. All the people who lived along the route were blasting music and spraying everyone down with their hoses from the driveways. I love when the community gets involved and excited about the races too =)
    Courtney @The TriGirl Chronicles recently posted…Tri Talk Tuesday – 5 Tips to Survive the TaperMy Profile

    • I agree! PEople coming out to cheer is always the best, no matter how small the race. It makes you feel special even if you’re not one of the elites!

  5. I love spectating races if I’m not able to race myself! I don’t have a lot of family support when it comes to running, so I know how important it can be for a runner to have someone on course cheering for them, or with them at the start of the race for photo opps, or to greet them at the finish! My last 1/2 marathon PR, I had family at the race, but they got to their spot late so I had already passed them. They moved on to another spot on the course, so I was able to see them briefly at mile 11. I ended up PRing my 1/2 marathon time that day, but they didn’t come to the finish line, and instead told me they’d meet me at a restaurant for breakfast. It’s a big bummer to walk around the finish area of a race that you just PR’d, super elated, but to be doing it alone!
    Sheena recently posted…See Jane Run 5k – I’m a winner!My Profile

    • oh no! But at least you had a ton of other runners experiencing the same thing as well. I always tel my family to stick around because I also want race pictures ;)

  6. When are you going to review the diet plan you ordered?

    • I will be fully done with it next week – so stay tuned for a post probably on Tuesday or Wednesday :)

  7. Wow, that was an incredible story about the guy who ran with you at mile 21! Runners are so awesome. I’ve never stayed after a race but I think I’ll try that next time for sure!
    Kristen recently posted…Wednesday Wisdom: How to Deal With the Midnight (or Mid Day) SunMy Profile

  8. I love spectating and as a back-of-the-packer I try to stay to the very end. I love staying at mile 13 during Boston, and have done it for as long as I can remember!

    • This year was my first time to Boston and it was such an amazing experience. I really hope I can run it one day!


  1. […] This is one of the more important reasons for me. I’ve written about the running community a couple of times, and this is really one of the main aspects that I love. Whether a runner or a spectator, this […]

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