Monday, December 19, 2011

Long Race Etiquette: A Spectator's Guide

First, a retraction. Contrary to what I posted in my CIM race report, I have been informed by knowledgeable sources that San Francisco runners do, in fact, experience hills on the course. Fair enough; I guess I just didn't notice most of them because a) in my mind, I had built them up into these massive heart-breakers, so they seemed extremely tiny & short by comparison, and b) the course was flatter than anything I run in San Francisco, except the track. So, sorry if you thought it was really hilly; I wasn't actually trying to be a dick. I was just really happy that it felt so much easier than I'd been afraid it would hill-wise.

On to business. Today's topic is race spectating etiquette.

Overall, I have to say I really enjoyed all the cheering & crowd support at CIM. Some stretches had fewer folks spectating, but especially in the second part of the race, I felt like there were always at least a few small groups hanging out to watch & cheer.

I know that standing around outside for hours and/or driving to various cheering points to support the runners involves a lot of time & energy, especially when you factor in travel time & sign-making & what have you, and I am so grateful for the people who do it and the people who were out at CIM cheering us on and/or congratulating us at the finish (again, big shout outs to Jana, Karin, Layla, & Don -- you were all shining examples of doin' it right).

That said, there were a few folks out there just plain DOIN' IT WRONG. Now, I am choosing to take the charitable view & assume their intentions were good, their poor behavior due to a lack of instruction on the finer points of spectating. In response, I offer the following Spectator's Guide to Long Race Etiquette. Feel free to pass along as needed.

I. Signs

doin it rightDO:
  • make witty and/or inspiring signs to encourage & inspire friends, loved ones, & strangers
  • personalize your signs if you are so inclined to help your runners more easily identify them and/or feel extra-loved

  • write a dissertation on your sign. Some of us are slow but very few of us are slow enough to read an entire novella as we pass by you. If it's later in the race you're lucky if we have enough blood sugar left to remember how to read at all. Eight words max. Short words, preferably.
  • brandish your sign at passing runners like a weapon. We see you. Please don't hurt us.

    II. Cheering

  • clap & generally make happy/encouraging noise ("WOOOOO!" etc.)
  • ring cowbells
  • shout compliments & encouraging remarks ("Good job!" "Looking strong!" "Go [so-n-so]!" "You can do it!" etc.)

  • make weird/jarring noises not traditionally associated with cheering (blaring bull horns, moose calls, etc.) I shit you not. This happened. The weird moose call thing was particularly disconcerting, especially with the lack of any other type of cheering from the completely straight-faced moose-caller.
  • shout commands ("Pick it up!" "Run faster!" "Come on, RUN!" [to people walking] "Focus!" etc. Seriously - there was this woman at the last real hill at ~21.5 with a bull horn yelling in cadence, "FO-CUS!" [HONK, HONK] "FO-CUS!" [HONK, HONK]. You know how you are at that point in the race. I was utterly horrified & actually ran a little faster for a while just to get away from her.
  • shout "You're a quarter/third/halfway/etc. there!" Yeah; we know. There are mile markers. They're big. And we can do math.
  • shout "You're almost there!!" at any point before the finish is actually in sight. As Jon Stewart would say, you're not helping. 15 miles is not almost there. 18 miles is not almost there. Neither is 20, 22, or 24. (The same applies to miles 9, 10, & 11 in a half.) 25, maybe. (In a half, maybe 12.) It's really best if you just don't do it at all, though, particularly if you're spectating a distance you've never run & don't actually know what that point in the race feels like. Again, there are mile markers; we know how much farther it is. (There is one notable exception to this - see below.)

    III. Making Physical Contact With Runners

  • stand on the side of the course and hold out your hand to high five passing runners
  • arrange to meet your runner at a specific point on the course for a pick-me-up hug / smooch / whatever (but do make sure that your runner knows what side of the course you will be on so that s/he doesn't end up having to dart across the course to get to you)

  • brandish your high-fiving hand at passing runners as if you're attacking them. Again, once our blood sugar reaches a certain point, we lose the ability to understand & interpret unexpected events and become easily frightened. I shouldn't have to change my trajectory in order to avoid running into your hand. (Also remember that some runners just aren't into high-fiving strangers. It's nothing personal.)

    How dramatic it felt:

    grabby hands

    How dramatic it actually was:

    Not that dramatic. But still.

  • dart out onto the course to hug / smooch / whatever your runner. This happened. A 10-12 runner pile-up was narrowly avoided.

    III. Costumes

  • wear silly/goofy/amusing/etc. costumes, if you feel so inclined.
  • wear witty costumes with appropriate signage (at appropriate points in the race -- this is key. There was a dude in a monk costume at ~25 with a sign that read "THE END IS NEAR". This is the one exception to the "Never tell the runners they're almost there" rule. I give it a pass because it was incredibly witty & the end was in fact relatively near).

    CIM monk

  • wear a grim reaper costume at mile 20. In what universe is this not a total dick move? I think this person was actually associated with the race, but still. Someone having a pretty good race might find it mildly amusing; to someone who is really not, I can imagine it being utterly demoralizing.

    grim reaper not cool

    IV. Navigating the Course

  • try to plan your day so that you don't need to cross the course.
  • if you must, try to plan your crossing at a time & place when it won't be packed with runners.
  • wait for a reasonable gap between runners before crossing.

  • dart into the middle of a pack of runners (again, this happened, more than once, and huge runner pile-ups very nearly resulted)
  • attempt to skateboard across the course (!). Yep; this happened too.

    So go! Spectate! Cheer your heart out! And when you see people doin' it wrong, be good-spectating ambassador & free them from their ignorance.

    1. Love your sign! We need more spectators like you!!

    2. Lol....I wish I could take credit, but that was all Jana, Karin, & Beth! :)

    3. lol, this post is hilarious!

      And I literally was laughing to myself reading your comment about the USC and UCLA cheerleaders haha