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NYCM Spectator Tips: Views from the Sidelines

Spectating can be hard work, particularly at a race that’s as big as the New York City Marathon. You have crowds to contend with, lots of runners on the course to scan through, and nasty cops whose anger at life has made them so annoyed by your cheering that ruining your day becomes their sole goal (okay, maybe just me). When Becky and I cheered during the Boston Marathon last April, we relied heavily on text alerts and social media to let us know when our runners were coming. But in New York City, I had neither – text alerts cost money and Twitter wasn’t loading on my phone. So we had to improvise.

Fortunately, I spent the weekend with a rock star team who came prepared to cheer in style. And although all three of us experienced extreme runner envy on Sunday morning, I think it’s safe to say that we had a blast being on the sidelines.

In order to ensure that you also have a fun and successful marathon cheering experience, here are a few tips to spectating, {ontherun} style.

1.) Get pumped up

The morning of the race, Ali and I went for a run through Central Park to soak in a little bit of the glory that is the NYC Marathon. We got the idea in our heads that it would be great to run the last couple miles of the course, just to see what the runners would be experiencing when they entered the park in a few short hours. A great plan in theory, but we weren’t really counting on volunteers who were actually doing a great job of keeping people out. I don’t blame them – if you want to experience the NYCM finish, you have to run the entire race first. Guess I’ll just have to wait until next year.

Even though my knee started to give out on me around mile 5 (reminding me that I am not, in fact, super human…despite what I sometimes delude myself to believe), and I had to bail early, that run through the park was the perfect way to start off a day that celebrated running to the fullest.


2.) Hydrate

Spectating requires you to spend hours on your feet, yelling at the top of your lungs. If you want to keep yourself going for the entire race, you’ve got to keep yourself hydrated with some choice beverages.

Question: how many runners does it take to open a bottle of champagne?



Running we can do. Opening bottles? Not so much.


3.) Schedule your time wisely

The New York City Marathon uses a wave start. Elite females go off at 9:10, elite males and the first wave go off at 9:40, and the second wave goes off at 10:10. To increase your chances of spotting runners on the course, find out when each runner that you want to see is going to start, and schedule your time around that. Lucky for us, our weekend hostess lives steps away from the course, which gave us plenty of time to watch the elite and wave 1 starts before heading down to the street to cheer.

dsc05579.jpgClearly I get very excited about marathons

4.) Never underestimate the importance of your outfit

Runners are probably going to have an even harder time finding you in the crowd then you will finding them. So it’s important to do anything in your power to not blend in. The brighter and flashier your spectating outfit is on race day, the better.

AEL_NYCMspectatingTeam Sparkle skirts, leg warmers, Sparkly Soul headbands and I {heart} Sweat shirts = perfect combination.

5.) Arrive early to stake out your spot

Ali, Emily, and I all really wanted to see the elite men and women run by. Because when else do you get the opportunity to be so close to greatness? So even though runners had to get through 17 miles before they saw us, we went down to the course nice and early to stake out our spot. The plan would have worked, too, if the aforementioned cop hadn’t made it her day’s goal to get us off the course. By the time the elites had passed and the runners we were hoping to cheer for ran through, we had been squished into the crowd, and were fighting for any small sliver of territory we could get.

But at least we got to be front and center early in the day, as greatness ran by.

Mary Keitany – who went out at a blistering pace and had a two minute lead on the other elite women when she passed us after Mile 17.

NYCM_MKeitanyI may have geeked out a little a lot by the fact that she’s wearing my shoes!

The second pack of elite women, including Ethiopians Firehiwot Dado (the eventual winner) and Buzenesh Deba (2nd place finisher).

NYCM_2packelitesA woman with “Fire” in her name is destined to be a marathon champ.

The inspiring Lauren Fleshman, who ran her first ever marathon on Sunday to help herself get faster for her main event, the 5,000 meter.

NYCM_lauren fleshman

And the men’s lead pack, including Geoffery Mutai, who not only ran the fastest marathon in the world last April at Boston (sadly it doesn’t count as a WR), but then came back and smashed the course record for NYCM by over 2 minutes! In fact, all three of the top finishers in the men’s field beat the course record on Sunday. Talk about an amazing race.

NCYM_men elite pack

6.) Make a plan, and stick to that plan

Before the race, Ali had emailed some of our favorite runners to find out what they’d be wearing and what their expected pace was. We then told them all the exact spot we would be in on race day, to help them find us. But when things started getting crazy and we got swallowed up in the crowd of people, I started panicking a little bit. Convinced that no one would ever spot us, I told the girls we should probably cross the street and stand where it was less crowded so that we’d have a better chance of being seen. Fortunately, Ali stood her ground (not to mention the fact that we couldn’t quite figure out how to get Emily and her crutches across the street fast enough to avoid collision with a runner). Even though it was packed, we were able to spot all of the runners we knew who had started in the first wave. They were all running on our side of the street – which means we probably would’ve missed them if we had crossed.

nycm_AEL cheering

7.) Scream at the top of your lungs, until you lose your voice and can’t scream anymore

Nothing annoys me more than spectators who stand right up front and don’t cheer for anyone but the one runner that they are looking for. Marathons take hours, and chances are that one person isn’t going to come by for a very long time. So support the other runners that are out there – you know you’d want them to do the same for you.

I will admit that our cheering squad was probably borderline obnoxious on Sunday. But we were there to motivate runners. And when I woke up Monday morning feeling like I was getting sick because my throat hurt and my voice was fading, I knew I had done my job.

NYCM_AEL cheering 2

8.) When your voice is exhausted, return inside for nourishment, DVR’d marathon coverage, and race registrations

The one downside to cheering is that although you get to see the elites run by in person, you don’t actually get to see how the race went down. While we were out on the course, we had heard all about the exciting women’s finish. I was very thankful for a DVR that let us see the race for ourselves.

The rest of the afternoon was spent coming up with race plans for 2012, including Emily’s Great Comeback Marathon, and of course, the 2012 New York City Marathon. When I left for a weekend in NYC, my Dad made a bet that I’d be itching to sign up for the marathon as soon as I started seeing those first runners come by. I can only say that my family knows me all too well. Thank goodness for guaranteed entry.

See you in 2012 New York!

Congratulations to every single one of you who ran the New York City Marathon on Sunday!!

27 Responses to NYCM Spectator Tips: Views from the Sidelines

  1. Sunday I was retracting my – I don’t want to run NYC till I am 50 statement :) Maybe #teamwatermelon can rock NYC together next year???
    Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal´s last post ..A Year Ago Today..

    • Yes!! I’m telling you – even with all the crowds, I think you would love this race! 2012 is going to be an awesome year for #teamwatermelon.

  2. Great post and great photos! It is amazing how much air the elites get…as if they are flying. Wow.
    Jessica K (@irun26at8)´s last post ..Week 14 – Training Summary

  3. Come back. I won’t let mean lady cop bother you. I promise.
    Ali´s last post ..Being Pushed

  4. Seeing you all on the course was one of the best parts of my day. Thank you so much for cheering. It meant so much to me and helped me keep going. xo
    Meggie´s last post ..Get Picky With It

  5. Mean cop sounds scary. But it sounds like you guys had a fantastic time, I wish I was with you!!! Thanks for such a detailed recap- isn’t NY so inspiring?! I love that race!
    LIZZY´s last post ..Making Plans with some BIG NEWS!

  6. I’m so jealous of you three! Looks like an awesome weekend and reading this makes me want to go spectate a marathon now!
    Shannon @ Mon Amour´s last post ..Dealing With Injuries: Part II

  7. I’m very jealous of your guaranteed entry to NYC marathon next year. I totally want to sign up for the lottery, but since I’m graduating college this year, all my 2012 racing plans after May is up in the air.
    Rena @ milehogger.blogspot.com´s last post ..Week’s Recap

  8. Sounds like you ladies had a fun weekend! You three will have a blast at NYC 2012 :)

    Carly & I spectated Austin 70.3 a few weeks ago and there were tons of people there who weren’t cheering. It was driving us nuts! We screamed our lungs out for every single person who passed by us, and pissed a lot of spectators off in the process I’m sure. But I know how it feels to be on the OTHER side, and during a race all it takes is a little cheering to keep you pumped up and hauling ass!
    Melissa´s last post ..Post-Marathon Revelations

    • Exactly! There were two girls who pushed their way in front of us on Sunday and then just stood there, silently holding their huge sign and scanning the crowd in front of them. They cheered ONLY when the two runners they were looking for finally came by. The rest of the time they just stood there and chatted. It was so frustrating, partially because they were blocking everyone else behind them who WERE actually trying to cheer and also because like you said – I’ve been on the other side, and I know the difference a little cheering and encouragement from the sidelines can make.

  9. Looks like you guys had a blast! Love the outfits! Come back to nyc though so we can meet and hang out!!
    Celia´s last post ..no 2011 nyc marathon for me

  10. Looks like you all had so much fun! Spectating can be almost as fun as running. I hope to run NYC in 2012 too, if I finally get in via the lottery. Hoping 3rd time’s a charm! :)
    Jen´s last post ..Comment on I can wait by runnerstrials

  11. I’ve loved reading all three of your spectating recaps! Spectating def pumps you up for your next race. NYC 2012 baby!

  12. Looks like you guys had a blast!!! I want to run it after just watching on TV, I can only imagine watching in person!!
    Lauren´s last post ..Perseverance- Breaking 2 Hours

  13. I am obsessed with every part of your spectating outfits. So much so that I think I need to give in and buy a sparkle skirt of my own. Glad spectating was so awesome- I had fun from my couch so I can only imagine the excitement of actually being there!
    Carrie Shaw´s last post ..The Food Lover’s Challenge: Colorful Meals

  14. Lauren! Seeing you guys out there cheering was SO AWESOME. I think you transferred some of your energy to me, which I needed. THANK YOU!! I loved your outfits too :) I almost wished I was spectating instead of running…

    Loved meeting you for 2.5 seconds! the next time you visit NYC we are hanging out. And I’ll definitely be running NYCM in 2012 too – it will be a party.
    Kelly´s last post ..2011 NYC Marathon Race Recap

  15. You’re an awesome cheer leader! Even though I didn’t spot you, thanks for representing! The feeling of thousands of absolute strangers shouting out loud and proud “Kristin! GO Kristin!” was unreal. Mile after mile, these strangers helped keep my dream going. Thanks for your efforts!

  16. Oh Lauren, didn’t you learn anything from your mother? The BEST way to cheer for a marathon is to scream your lungs out while simultaneously ringing a cow bell! You make oh so many friends on the sidelines too! Who doesn’t like the sound of a cow bell???

    • I know, I know! I’m sorry I let you down. We actually HAD a cowbell. But in all the excitement/rush to get out there in the morning, we completely forgot it. Good thing our screams were obnoxious enough to make up for our lack of clanging.

  17. Thanks for cheering and sorry we didn’t get to hang out! I was looking forward to seeing the I <3 Sweat cheer squad pretty much from around mile 10…I'd kept thinking "only an hour until I see them!" It seriously helped keep my spirits up during the race!

    NYC is an amaaaazing race and I can't explain how great the crowds are and how fabulous the energy in the runners is. It's a tough course, no doubt…but so much fun. Definitely register for next year…especially before they change the guaranteed entry requirements to a sub-3 marathon since we need to target 3:10 before we target sub-3…but one day. :)
    Susan´s last post ..2011 New York City Marathon Race Report

  18. Oh man, I think I actually remember seeing you guys on Sunday!!!! Thanks for coming out!
    Kim´s last post ..ING New York City Marathon 2011

  19. you guys are obviously NYCM’s #1 fans – i wish i had raced, so that i could have experienced your cheering awesomeness :) reading this is getting me excited about Boston!!
    Megan (The Runner’s Kitchen)´s last post ..My rest day m.o.

  20. What shoes do you and Ms Keitany share? I am curious :)
    Krissy @ Shiawase Life´s last post ..wordless wednesday.

  21. You have spectating down to a science. I don’t think I’ve ever read a spectating recap. Love it!

    See you at the NYCM 2012!
    jill conyers´s last post ..PINspiration Wednesday || Clean Eating

  22. These are AMAZINGLY AWESOME photos!!!!! Wow, the elite peeps look like they’re flying!!! Nice job! And I love your outfits with the sparkly skirts, very cute.

    For me, I felt it was pretty easy to find the spectators… I had a couple friends on FB post where they would be cheering. Hadn’t seen either of them in over a decade but I was able to spot them both on the course – was very proud of myself 😉

    Looks like you guys had a great time. I *loved* running NYCM but I think someday I’d love to spectate, too. 😉
    Audrey´s last post .."THIS AIN’T A MARATHON, IT’S A BIG PARTY!"

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