People say that runners are a different breed and I wholeheartedly agree. However, there’s an even more puzzling animal out there known as the race spectator! Who are these people? Unfortunately, after the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, we’ve gotten to know more about them. In the Runner’s World tribute issue, there was an amazing article titled Standing Ovation by Mark Remy about what a spectator means and it got me thinking. I know, a rare occurrence so bear with me.
At more then one race, I’ve often thought it odd that people will line the streets and just stare at the running mob passing them by. It kind of makes me feel like a circus freak. And, if you happen to run in some questionable neighborhoods during a race, it can get even weirder. Is that a word? Probably not but it perfectly describes the feeling. I usually think that if these people had one of those cartoon bubbles over their head it would say: “What the hell is wrong with these people?” or “Shit, I didn’t know there was a stupid race today! Now it’s going to take me and extra 20 minutes to get to Aunt Martha’s house!” Yep, we’re trouble makers.
Luckily for us, cops line the way or are at major intersections to ensure our safety. You will see lines of cars just waiting to cross the race route with the stoic cop blocking the way. I once heard a driver in such a situation arguing to a cop that he needed to “get to the methadone clinic, now!” I almost wanted to stop to hear how that ended. Almost.
Speaking of those who protect and serve, they usually stand there, stone faced. Some runners thank them for their time (I usually do until I run out of breath and can’t even muster a thank you) and the officer usually politely nods or offers some other discreet acknowledgment. Except for this one time…
It was at the same race where I overheard the “methadone clinic” remark. There was a cop around mile 10.5 of a half-marathon (13.1 miles total) who was cheering. Loudly! And he was hot. Talk about motivation!!! Holy shit. And not just the run of the mill “good job, way to go” crap, this guy knew his stuff. He was shouting things like “great pace!” and “most people couldn’t run one mile at this pace, be proud!” and “down this hill and then you turn onto Main Street and it’s less then 2 miles to the finish!” Was he a mirage? WOW. I have never before or since seen a police officer do that. Thank you officer hottie. You are an awesome spectator and, I’m guessing, a runner.
Another great thing you spectators do is hold signs. The best one I ever saw was at a half-marathon in Hartford: WORST PARADE EVER! OMG. Hilarious. In that same race I also had someone yell at me “That Mexican girl runs like a rabbit.” Well….thank you? But I’m not Mexican. I’m Cuban. And Italian. I get it, but really?
Here’s some other gems:
I’ve looked into the faces of total strangers with an overwhelming-on-the-verge-of-tears gratitude for spraying me with cold water from their hose on a particularly hot race day. Or to the kids who set up thier own water stations and get so excited if you take a cup. Or the people who blast amazingly motivating music! Even if it’s the Rocky theme for the 110th time, I still love you for it!
And then there are the spectators who are there for US. The moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, husbands, kids and every other possible relationship you can have with another person. Knowing that they are on the route or will be at the finish line is a feeling I don’t think I can put into words. There have been countless times in countless races that I’ve thought to myself (insert name here) is at the finish line waiting for me. Or, so and so will be at mile 20 so all I have to do is get to mile 20 and she will lead me to the finish! My personal fans have suffered along with me though all kinds of weather. The year I ran the Boston Marathon (2007) there was a freakin’ Nor’easter and they almost didn’t run the damn thing. Was my family out there in it? You bet they were! My dad even ran up the sidewalk with me on Heartbreak Hill and it’s a moment I will never forget! I think he almost had a heart attack and my step mother was screaming at him to stop but it was definitely worth it!
In another love I have, pro football, there is a saying about the crowd. They liken themselves to be the 12th “man” on the field. That’s the way I feel about specators at races. They don’t know me and I have no clue who they are, but they cheer me on, they encourage me and they absolutely help me to the finish line.
So, for all my “fans” both who know and love me and only know me by a number pinned on my race bib – THANK YOU!!!! I appreciate the hell out of you!
How do you feel about spectators? What’s the best sign you’ve seen at a race? Do your family and friends come to watch you?