From 5K to marathons and beyond, running races is a challenge – that’s why we do it! But the next best thing to entering a race is arguably cheering at one, and the importance of showing your support on event day should not be underestimated.
Long distance running can be an emotional rollercoaster and seeing a familiar face in the crowds will lift the spirits of even the weariest runners. Your mere presence can have a profound impact on your runner’s entire day and turn their race from a slog to a skip.
It’s also good juju to support your friends because when it’s your turn to race, your loved ones are more likely to return the favour. But cheering is about much more than just shouting in the street. It’s an endurance sport in itself and not for the faint-hearted. Want to get the best out of your cheer squad? Follow our guide to mastering the art of cheerleading...
Preparation is key
If you’re preparing to cheer a friend or loved one across the finish line of a long distance race, similar to flying when aeroplanes advise you to put the oxygen mask on your own face during an emergency before tending to others, don’t forget to think about number one.
Cheering is an endurance sport and you’re not going to be much use on the side lines if you’re hungry, tired or underdressed. Make sure you eat a hearty meal before you head out the door, and bring drinks, snacks and sweeties for yourself as well as your runner so you’re prepared for any eventuality.
Get kitted out
If you decide to spend the day cheering in one spot, bear in mind that running events invariably involve closed roads, ineffective public transport and lots of time on your feet. Wear your comfiest footwear and come prepared to spend all day standing up (and dancing, obviously).
If you’re not used to standing for long periods and you're supporting a marathon, bring a picnic chair so you can take a load off. Before you leave the house check the weather and bring suitable clothing for any occasion, and don't forget to wear your happy face.
Choose your spot
If you’re cheering at a big city race it can be hard to spot your runner in the field, so choose a particular mile or famous landmark in advance. It’s also worth selecting a side of the street; you’d be amazed how many runners miss their cheerleaders by scanning the wrong side of the road while they whizz past. Then let your runner know exactly where you plan to be to give you the best chance of spotting each other in the crowds.
The final mile
Some events have multiple spots to view the running field, but resist the urge to try and be everywhere at once. Dashing between different mile markers will take its toll, and don’t forget to factor in time to make it to the finish line before your runner does.
The last mile is almost always the best place to be part of the crowds and cheer in your intrepid runner, but the quieter spots en route will also be the ones where runners need the most encouragement. Opt for three viewing spots at the most and remember your runner is probably travelling quicker than you by foot.
Timing is everything
Take note of your runner's estimated finishing time, and use this to work out what time they’ll make it to your cheering spot of choice. However, race day has a tendency to make runners speed up and slow down in unexpected ways, so allow for extra time either side and remember, even if they are HOURS behind their expected time, you should always, always offer strong words of praise and encouragement.
Save your voice
If you’re cheering at an event upwards of 5K, you will soon discover that shouting, clapping and waving your arms about for any length of time is utterly exhausting. This is why it pays to come prepared. Bring instruments, microphones, kazoos, tambourines and anything that makes a loud racket. This way you can make the maximum cheering noise and save your voice for when it really matters, the 0.3 seconds when you’ll get to see your pal whizzing past...
Dress for the occasion
Loud noise will make you stand out from the crowd but equally so will fancy dress and jazzy accessories. Wear something fabulous, make a huge banner, or fill the sky with balloons. This way you will be easier to spot for your runner, but you’ll also add a dose of cheer for all the other weary runners in the field.
Long distance running is a mental battle as much as a physical one, and an enthusiastic crowd can completely transform a runner’s dwindling mood, so dress to impress for the running community.
Obviously you’re there to cheer specifically for your friends, but try not to just stand and glare at the running field and only make a noise once you spot your mates. Being stared at by strangers can be a little disheartening for the other runners. Plus cheering is proven to enhance your own good mood, so holler at some strangers and see how fab it makes you feel!
If you don’t know what to say, shout their name if it’s on their t-shirt, or opt for wooooooo! But resist the urge to tell runners that they’re nearly at the finish line; especially if they still have 10 miles to go.
Still not sure? Our 6 great reasons to cheer at a race should convince you.