My first race was Saturday Oct 1, 1971 - four days after my first run. I was 12 and it was a terrifying 1.5-mile cross-country race at Arnold Park in Vestal. I remember a few things from that blur of a 10-minute run. One of those memories is the spectators. If you’ve ever been to a high school XC race you know there are plenty of spectators screaming and cheering for you, for everyone, as you push yourself along the trails.
Fast forward to March 7, 2015 and Confluence Running's Parade Day Mile. One mile up Court St to Main along the parade route, lined with thousands of screaming spectators. Those people have no idea how much they motivated me. When I was getting tired their encouragement kept me going. It was like I didn’t want to let them down, though I didn’t even know them and most of them didn’t know me!
Whether the runner passing by is the first or the last, competitively fast or simply seeking a personal record or to just finish, you spectators motivate us to keep going, to keep pushing. You give meaning to the training runs before or after work, the hard workouts when we runners just want to sleep in or stay home and watch TV. Yes, you are an important part of the race.
I don’t run, train, and race because there will be spectators, no one really does. But on race day, when people are cheering for me(!) I can’t describe how much I truly appreciate you being out there. I mean, look at this - you are out there in the rain, the cold, the snow, the wind, the heat and humidity. You’re probably thinking how crazy I am for being out there running. But guess what - I am just as impressed that you’re out there supporting me.
There’s this thing about the loneliness of the long distance runner - the inner battle when I race; the voices in my head telling me to slow down and take it easy. You, the spectator, are a louder voice and you keep me going.
You keep me going when I’m having a great day and I’m with the leaders. You keep me going when I’m having a bad day and I’m further back than I want to be. You keep all of us runners going all along the course and especially (at least for me) at the finish. There is an incredible feeling coming into the finish of a road race, the course lined with spectators, feeling so tired and physically uncomfortable, as you cheer for us to keep us going for a few more steps to the finish.
If it was a great race, you’re cheering my accomplishment, if it was a bad race, your cheers are consolation. No matter what, your cheers make the training and racing worthwhile.
But you know what?
Your cheers help, not only the leaders, not only the middle of the pack age group aces, they help (and maybe this is where you help the most) the runners at the back of the pack- the last runners to finish. Remember, they didn’t lose the race, they won their own battle with the same demons telling them to slow down even stop; and, they struggled for a longer time.
The Greater Binghamton Bridge Run Needs You!
One of the major area races is coming up May 3rd , the Bridge Run. Thirteen-point-one miles (there’s also a 5K) around Binghamton. It’s a long way to run and we need help. Yes, some runners can finish a half marathon in less than one hour, but most of us are out there longer. Some of us are out there for two hours or even three or more. In a marathon they might be out there, running, for four or five hours. You, the spectators, help them just like you help the leaders. You keep them going all the way to the finish.
So get out there! Get some family, friends, and neighbors. Make some signs and cheer for every runner. Show community spirit, make your neighborhood the loudest most boisterous one out there. Have fun with it! Throw a race-watching party! Go to the finish line and watch the winners win but stay and watch everyone and cheer real loud to drown out the voices telling them to stop. Take in the scene as people celebrate their own little victories. Be inspired while you inspire others! Who knows, this might motivate you to be one of the runners someday.
If you’re a spectator you may never know how much you’re appreciated and how much you’re needed. But you are just as much a part of the race as the volunteers, the race director, the timing system, the awards, and the food and drink after. Let's make this a great race, together!