October 17, 2014

When Good Spectators Yell Bad Things

It wouldn’t be fall marathon season without some sort of controversy surrounding the races, would it? Many seasons it’s a marathon that’s canceled where runners don’t get a refund (in fact, that happened in Boulder this year); other times, people are up in arms because someone dared to take pictures along the race route instead of running her fastest. (Um, I think you all know where I stand on that.) This weekend, though, the Baltimore Marathon organizers had the audacity to suggest that spectators refrain from using the cheers “almost there” or “not far to go” unless they were actually at the stadium where the race finishes. Deadspin has this latest story, titled Baltimore Marathon Is Very Specific About Which Cheers You Should Yell. The nerve!

I think anyone who has ever run a marathon has experienced cheers like that. A well-intentioned spectator thinks that since you’re 21 miles down and there are “only” 5 left, it will be encouraging to say “you’re almost there!” Because by the math, you are more than 80% done, so surely, that’s like being close to the end? However, the world of long distance running is a place where math ceases to be useful; where you divide the race up into “equal thirds” of 10 miles, 10 miles, and 6.2 miles. After running so far, the last few miles seem to drag on far longer than those before – and indeed, they may take longer in real, clock time too if you haven’t adequately trained and start slowing down.

So when an onlooker yells “don’t give up; you are so close!”, your first exhausted reaction may be to snarl at them and yell back “No, I’m not! Stop saying that!” But take a deep breath (okay, or lots of short shallow breaths since that’s probably about where you are physically), and relax. They aren’t saying it to piss you off; they’re saying it because they genuinely want you to succeed and they don’t realize that saying “you’re almost there” might not be as motivational as they think.

Personally, I found this sign that was 0.2 miles into the Rock N Roll San Diego Marathon to be plenty entertaining.
Personally, I found this sign that was 0.2 miles into the Rock N Roll San Diego Marathon to be plenty entertaining.

Aside from the frat boys handing out cups of vodka disguised as water, spectators aren’t out there to make the marathon harder for you. In fact, it’s pretty darn awesome that they’re out there at all, whether they’re serving up oranges and Gatorade at their own impromptu aid station or just stopping to stare and clap once or twice before continuing on down the street to wherever they were going before your race got in their way. And PS – if you think they’re “lying” to you by saying you’re almost there, then I hope you take equal offense at anyone who tells you that you’re “looking good!” 🙂

Sweat Like A Pig
Next thing you know they’re going to be telling me I’m not foxy when I’m sweaty and running a marathon.

With all that said, I actually think it’s pretty nice that Baltimore Marathon organizers put that guideline out there. Sure, it’s a free country and you can yell whatever you want no matter where you’re standing, but a lot of people just haven’t stopped to think about what is and isn’t helpful to runners. (And why should they, if it’s not their thing?) In my opinion, the Baltimore Marathon organizers put out those “guidelines” in a pretty non-inflammatory, polite way. As a result, there might be a few would-be spectators who read them and think, “huh, I never realized that was bad.” So is it really that terrible that the organizers tried to provide a little education?

Another example of a sign that's not exactly motivational but IS spectacular.
Another example of a sign that’s not exactly motivational but is pretty darn spectacular. Variants include “Chuck Norris already finished this marathon. Twice.” and “Chuck Norris ran this marathon backwards, barefoot, and in the snow.”

In the end, everyone just needs to relax. Runners, you know better than to rely on a spectator’s cheer of “almost there” rather than the Garmin that I know you are checking every 0.02 miles to see how much closer you’ve gotten. And spectators – just keep cheering us on, no matter what it is that you’re yelling. (There’s a good chance our run-dumb brains aren’t comprehending it anyway.) We love having you out there to encourage us, and while our faces may not express it at the time, we are really grateful for your support.


12 thoughts on “When Good Spectators Yell Bad Things”

    1. Haha I have never actually seen it, but I have heard it joked about a lot as an example of a cruel practical joke on runners 🙂

  1. I don’t like to hear that I’m looking good when I feel like a train wreck. It may be a well-intentioned lie, but if I know it’s a lie it doesn’t help.

    I know the guy with the “only 26 miles to go” sign. He’s a bad-ass ultrarunner who does Badwater and 6 day races. It’s cool that he gets out and cheers for the average runner when he’s not racing.

  2. Hi Laura! I discovered your blog through a Pinterest pin. I have to say I was inspired by your goal of running 50 marathons in 50 states by 25! What an amazing accomplishment 🙂

    I think it is just great that spectators are out there for us. It is great to know that complete strangers can give you that push to go faster/harder. I never even thought of how “rude” these sayings could be to runners. Great post!

    1. Aww, thank you so much Heather! And yes, I think it is so cool that strangers are cheering us on. That’s a big part of what makes running so awesome: the amazing community.

  3. I have to admit, I very nearly snarled at a well-intentioned spectator in May. I was at the 32km mark of a 50k race. No, I am NOT almost there 🙂 Lucky for her she had a minor with her and I didn’t feel it appropriate to swear in front of a child. ha!
    I totally understand the mean well, but I’m not always at my finest when I’m stinky, sweaty and tired.

  4. Laura!!
    I finished my first half on Sunday!!!!!!!!!! I can’t say that it was at lightening speed, or probably all that pretty…but I finished and ran the whole way!!!! Maybe it was just cause I was so focused on not stopping, but I don’t think I even heard what people on the sidelines were cheering, I was just glad when people were there. I do remember particularly appreciating it when people would read my name on my bib and call out words of encouragement to me, specifically. That definitely gave me a little extra pep in my next few steps!

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