A Spectator’s Guide — How to Watch a Race

Type: Easy Run
Distance: 4.0 miles
Time: 32:30
Average Pace: 8:08 min/mile
Average Heart Rate: 155 bpm

I loved this run. I am going to admit to trying to kill it this week — I want to make some serious gains in my fitness levels. I am really putting some effort into my runs and bikes, and my legs are really feeling it right now. My legs are tired all day right now, so I know my efforts are paying off. My heart rate has come down during my workouts and my resting heart rate has come back down again. During my Ironman training cycle my resting heart rate was down at about 46 bpm and I would love to get it down in the low 50’s by the end of the year.

How to Spectate a Race


Hoss spectating a local race got to hang with none other than Bob Roll. What a stud.

If you have a loved one or friend who is coming out to spectate one of your races in the next six months, you owe it to them to let the read this article. They need to know what the rules of spectating at races are and what will be expected of them…

When you spectate or watch a race live and in person, there are different rules and etiquette than what you find, for example, at a football game. There is lots of cheering but no booing at a race, for example. You can give racers a high five, but slapping them on the butt can be problematic. Drinking beer at a race is alright.

Last year I took my six year old son to a sprint triathlon where we planned on spectating. We positioned ourselves at the swim exit and watched as the race leaders came out of the water. As the time ticked by, the racers got slower and were actually having more fun. I am an awesome Dad, so I gave my son a line to use on someone when I gave him the sign. An older, bald gentleman came out of the water and my son yelled, “Great effort, but I think you left your hair in the water!” Everyone laughed except for the racer. I think he was actually pretty mad.

Speaking of things you shouldn’t say, here is my list of things you might want to avoid at a race.

Hurry up! She is going to pass you! Runners all know their speed and I guarantee they can hear when people are about to pass them. They don’t need reminding of their mediocrity. Some guys really hate it when a girl passes them, which is also called “getting chicked”. Me, I love it when a girl passes me because then I have some pace booty. The problem is keeping up with pace booty once you get passed.

I didn’t know that spandex came in that size. Runners and other endurance athletes are very self-conscious about their body size. They are working out for their own reasons, but sometimes that includes weight management. Athletes come in all sizes and regardless of their speed, should be encouraged.

You don’t have much further. Nothing pisses a runner off more than when a spectator says this. I have actually wanted to punch people in the mouth when they say this during my race. It sound supportive, but what I hear when someone says this is, “You are all slouched over and are slowing down. You may actually make it to the end of this thing.” I know I have issues.

I could never do that! Just the opposite is true. While people who participate in endurance sports are amazing, getting to the same level of fitness is within the reach of anyone. It may take some time and effort, but you can do it. I was never an endurance athlete in college, but after my weight continued to creep up and it hit 240 lbs., I decided I actually needed to do cardio. Controlling my weight was the reason I started running. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the reason why I keep on doing it.

While the list I included is tongue in cheek, the fact is that racers appreciate spectators. I love it when kids are there and give me a high five. I especially love it when female racers smack me on the butt when they pass me, but that is a post for another day.

But what can you do to help  out your runner or triathlete? Personally, I love signage, seeing my family, and cheers from people I know. I love it when there is some empty space and my boy is able to run with me for just a little distance. It is cool when volunteers high five me and tell me how awesome I really am. I have really loved it when friends come out to races because it is a shared experience that we have. Seeing my friends and family at the finish line is especially awesome because each finish line is emotional for me.

So being there, even if you make some mistakes, is what spectating is all about. As athletes, we do love spectators who are supportive and loud — especially loud. So keep coming out to races and keep yelling lots. And if you see me at a race, make sure you slap me on the butt when I pass.

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...