Marathons: If you can’t join them, watch and cheer them on

Oct 21, 2008 at 5:30 p.m. ET

With the cool weather of fall comes a calendar full of long-distance running races. After all, autumn is unofficially marathon season, as the low humidity and cool temps provide an ideal environment for covering many miles by foot. Chances are you probably know someone running a marathon this year. And if you do - or you're just curious to check one out - here are a few tips for watching a road race like a pro!


Ideal vantage points for watching marathons

Although a 26.2-mile race should provide ample opportunity for you to see the runners pass by, it's important to know the ideal vantage points for successful spectating. Some spots may get too crowded, others may be too hard to reach. And while most marathons run along major roads, some may send runners into the far reaches of parks or trails. So first, check out the race's website to find the best places to watch and how to use public transportation to get there if necessary (marathons often cause road closures, so getting to the race route can be tricky by car).


Then, if you are watching someone specific, ask her where she thinks she'll need the most emotional support. Usually, this is after the half-way point (13.1 miles) or around the 20-mile mark, when many marathoners hit the much-feared "wall" (the point where the mind and body begin to breakdown from the mileage). Seeing a familiar face at these tough times can give a runner just the motivation she needs to motor through to the finish line.


Marathon-watching must-haves

Watching the race can be a marathon in and of itself. Depending on where you watch, it could take hours before you see any runners pass by (the average person takes four to five hours to complete a marathon). Add the early morning and the potentially cold, hot, windy, or rainy weather to the mix, and you've got quite the adventure on your hands. So plan carefully: Wear layers that you can peel them off if the day warms up, pack snacks and water, and sip some coffee to keep you alert. You may not be running, but you'll need all the energy you can get!


And of course, don't forget your spirit. Runners need as much moral support as possible throughout the race – bring a big, colorful sign, cowbell, whistle, or just your hands and voice to cheer everyone on. Since many runners put their names or team names on the front of their shirts, you can even root them on in a personalized way – even if you don't know them!


Pace yourself with the runners' pace

If you happen to know a bunch of runners in the race, it may get complicated trying to see everyone pass by. To make sure you're at the right place at the right time, ask each runner what pace she's shooting for (she should know this based on the speed of her training runs.) Then you can figure out what time to be at a certain spot. Say she's running 10-minute miles – you should be waiting by the 10-mile mark about an hour and forty minutes after the start of the race. Again, most race websites will offer info on ideal spectating spots and times to hit them, so be sure to check it out before race day.


Head to the finish line

Regardless of the spot – or spots – you chose to watch the race from, try to make the finish line (or the final few hundred meters of the race) one of them. Even if you don't know anyone running, you'll still be amazed by the sheer determination and strength each finisher demonstrates as they fight their way to the end. You may be so inspired, in fact, that you'll want to start training for a marathon yourself. Don't say we didn't warn you!


To find marathons near you, visit The Marathon Guide.


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