13.1 Tips on Spectating a Half Marathon

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of driving down to the beautiful Sarasota Bayfront to spectate the Inaugural Sarasota Music Half Marathon. With two marathons on the horizon, I had opted not to run this race this year, but knew I wanted to be involved somehow…especially when I saw how beautiful the weather forecast was!


So, on Friday night, I bought a posterboard and brainstormed some ideas for a fun “theme” for spectating…I looked through dozens of race sign ideas, but just couldn’t find THE right sign for the vibe I was going for, and that would go well with the race theme…when it came to me!

Wed-Aug-28-Just-keep-swimmingYeah, Dory! It was more than perfect, since I had just picked up a new pair of cobalt blue capris from the New Balance tent sale!

So, decked out in blue and yellow, and accompanied by little Dug, it was time to get to business…and after spending 5 hours in the gorgeous sunshine, something amazing happened: I discovered that cheering and supporting can be JUST AS FUN as running!

This list has been percolating in my brain for the last few days, so I am excited to finally put pen to paper (or…errr…fingers to keyboard?) to share some things I learned, and some advice I want to share about having the best spectating day ever!

  1. Stake out the race course map lucky for me, the course covers areas I have personally run in training, so I knew, realistically, where I could get on foot, and where I might see runners more than once (there were a few out and back portions, which made it fun to cheer double the amount of runners)! And after the last walker passed, I knew exactly how I’d be able to drive to the finish line…bonus!
  2. Personalize praise as much as possible – I am a huge fan of participants wearing their names on their shirts, because I know how good it feels to have someone cheer for YOU, but the same goes for team names – my favorites on Sunday were the FAB 50!
  3. Have a few key phrases ready – while calling out names is the best, knowing what you will say to big crowds is a great idea. Use positive language (“you got this!”, “looking strong!”, “you’re amazing!”) and  avoid the dreaded “you’re almost there!”
  4. Don’t be afraid to be a little goofy – there was live music on the course, which invited my signature dance moves to the party! I am a notoriously bad dancer…which made people laugh…which made other people smile…and anytime you can forget that you’re traveling 13.1 miles…by foot…for fun – I call that a win!
  5. High 5-o-rama!! – I LOVE high-5’s! Dole them out liberally. Watch smiles appear on runners faces.
  6. Make friends – while I was solo for most of the morning, I chatted it up with other spectators and volunteers, and even walked a little with a few walkers that passed me to keep it fun. Positivity is contagious!
  7. Have a noise maker…other than your own lungs– inevitably, your voice will start to go out…so for those moments, have shakers, a cowbell, vuvuzuela…whatever. Make noise! Spread energy.
  8. SMILE – some runners and walkers look pained for their entire race…and while sometimes, that just means they’re digging deep for a PR, it’s nice to see smiles run by too! SO SMILE! It’s great to get one in return.
  9. Bring a pal – mine had four legs. And he also was a noise maker…and gave high-5’s with his puppy paw…and made people smile. So basically, Dug had it all down! 🙂 But really, whether they’re pets or people, invite them to join you!
  10. Stay hydrated – I had a coffee to start with, and water throughout (one for me, one for Dug). Although you might not be traversing a half marathon, you still need to stay on the top of your h20 game!
  11. Bring snacks – along the same lines as being hydrated…being hungry makes me cranky, and ain’t nobody wants a cranky cheerleader, so keep your tummy in check!
  12. Protect your eyes and skin – SUNSCREEN. Remember that Baz Luhrman diddy? Well, do it. And sunglasses, too.
  13. Encourage EVERYONE – from the winners, to the midpackers, the walking groups, to the enthusiastic participants, to the ones who have that, “I have no idea why I am out here” look on their face – cheer them all. Some may acknowledge you, some might not – but know that your being there genuinely means something and is appreciated.

13.1 Stay as long as you can – I saved the best for last, because honestly, I think it is really the most impactful. I knew I had my morning free and clear to dedicate, and was committed to being there as long as I could – and with a 4-hour course limit, that was no easy task – but I knew how good I’d feel to be able to cheer those same participants that had passed by before, and knew how great it’d be to see each of them have their moment at the finish line. It was that simple!

What I didn’t realize: how much people would NOTICE!! 

Yeah, yeah, how could they NOT notice the girl decked out in bright blue and a sparkly skirt, but honestly, I was floored at the amount of people that came up to me at the finish party and thanked me for cheering them on – there were countless hugs, smiles, and kind words – and all I could do was thank THEM for the opportunity, and express just how much fun I had being out there!!

While this certainly was not the first time I took the sidelines to support, this was the first time that I stayed out until the course closed – and until the very last walker crossed that finish line. It is hard to describe that feeling, but to me, it was just as powerful as crossing it myself.

I’ve made the decision that whenever I have the time to do so, I will be out there once again, cheering as many people as possible, and spreading the love – because after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

What tips would you add? Are you a fan of spectating?


  1. I LOVE spectating and volunteering at races! Not only is it as fun as running, but it can be exhausting (those “my arms are tired from holding this sign” signs are no joke!).

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