Sunday, November 13, 2011

Running as a Spectator Sport

Yesterday, JS was running the Last Chance Half solo, so J and I decided to come out and be her cheerleading squad, providing support along the course.  When we arrived at Eau Claire, we were suddenly let in on a really big surprise.  Not only was JS running the half...her hubby, Mr. JS, was running it as well - his first half.   How fun!

I knew several others who were running this race so I had plenty of people to cheer for.   As our twosome headed off toward 10th street, we grabbed some coffees and hurried to the bridge with our pom poms to cheer as they passed us.   Because it took too long to get those coffees, it was quite the hustle and I may have ended up covered in a geyser of latte.  But we were on a mission so we laughed and barely made it in time to catch them on the first pass!

Then we hopped into the Forester and headed east.  Just behind the zoo, we found a sheltered bench and sat down to wait for our amazing duo to reach us.  Most of the early start people were passing by and suddenly the elites from the main start blew right by.  The race was on!  I'll still never get used to seeing guys in singlets and shorts running in the cold of November in Calgary!

Before long Mr & Mrs JS were there and we waved our pom poms like mad - cheering them past!   Then, once they were out of sight, we hopped back into the Forester and headed for Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.   We had a bit of a wait, once we were there and the wind made it very cold so we shook our pom poms for everyone.  While we waited, suddenly Coach Cyndi (the other TNT coach) passed us.  The MR & Mrs JS came soon after and we walked with them a moment while they drank the water we had for them. 

The turn around was just a kilometre or so up the road so we chose to wait and cheer for the other runners until they passed us again.  Lucky that we did, because soon one of V's friends passed us and then Sue (from Sylvan lake) was not far behind.   The cheering part was becoming really fun - people watching and seeing how many people were running sans footwear IN NOVEMBER!!!!

Once Mr & Mrs JS passed us again, we headed for the sanctuary of the Forester and it's wonderful heated seats and booted it back to the parking lot behind the zoo once more.   I was so grateful that this was a porta-potty stop for the race ;)   We decided to set up shop on the elevated base of a power pole at exactly the 15K mark and cheer for everyone as they came down the hill.  Anyone who regularly runs half marathons knows that the 15K point is tough.   It is where the weight of the distance starts to weigh heavily.   The runners were losing steam and we decided that it was our duty to help perk them up a bit.  Between our bells, pom poms and encouraging words, we were greeted with smiles and waves.  So many people told us how appreciative they were that we had come out to cheer.   It was incredibly rewarding to both J and I.   We decided that even after Mr & Mrs JS had passed, we would stay to keep cheering.

Even after we acknowledged that we needed to hurry to get back, we wanted to keep cheering so we followed the race route as we headed back to Eau Claire - I honked the horn and J hung the pom poms and bells out the window for all of the runners we passed.  Poor girl nearly froze her hand off!   Because we had seen Mr & Mrs JS on the St. Patricks Island Bridge, we figured we still had time and hopped across the river to continue our car-cheering along memorial (sorry to all of the drivers who were caught behind this crazy lady in the blue Forester on Sunday - it was for a good cause).  Even as we drove - runners were waving and cheering back. 

As we were turning onto St. Georges Drive to get back to the other side of the river, we came right up beside Mr & Mrs JS (see above pic).   It was so fun to get to give them one last cheer to the finish!

Time was getting a bit crunched now so we booted back to Eau Claire and parked the car.  We made it in plenty of time, though, so cheered our little hearts out for everyone coming down the finish chute.  When Mr & Mrs JS arrived, J suggested we flank them with the pom poms as they approached the finish.  With the four of us laughing our way to the finish line - I took off to capture them crossing the finish line!  They finished strong in around 2:35!!!   The medals this year ROCKED, btw.   Much better than last year.  I am so jealous!

After congratulatory hugs and photos were done, they headed inside and I went back tot eh chute to see V's friend and Sue cross.   I ran Sue in to the finish and caught her crossing as well. 

I passed the comment over coffee, later, that it is a good thing I enjoy running races too, because the fun of being a spectator could quickly become my preference!   It has made me believe that we need to really bring running to the forefront as a spectator sport!

On course cheering at most of the races I have been in has been abysmal.   People just don't come out for it.  The vacant stretches of my marathon this fall proved that much.  Sure, we'll crowd arenas to watch team sport players bash each others heads in, but to cheer on someone who is out there, struggling to achieve a personal goal just doesn't seem to be as worthwhile to most.   As someone who has been in those arena crowds, I can tell you this.  Spectating a running event and cheering the participants on was a trillion times more rewarding.  No question about it. 

I think it should start with the running community.  Why not pick a race and set yourself up where you know other runners will hit a wall.  where your cheers will be most appreciated.  Don't be afraid to look foolish - they don't care how you look, but they do care that you were there!  Bring some of your stash of gels with you and a couple extra bottles of water - you might be able to help out someone who is visibly struggling.   You don't even need to be as mobile as we were yesterday - you can park yourself in one spot and get comfortable for a while.   Stay as long as you are able.   Make signs.  Cheer til you are hoarse or just shake your pom poms (c'mon they only cost a dollar at the dollar store).

Not my sign, but you get the idea!

Just know that it is appreciated and could improve the race experience for someone out there.  When I think back to my own marathon and how sad the last 10K were as all of the spectators who came for the half marathoners were gone and the marshals stopped caring and the water stations were being packed up...what I wouldn't have given for random pockets of cheerleaders.  The funny thing is that it isn't like this everywhere.  In the States, the big marathons are an experience where the spectators are as much of a draw as the race itself.

So, whadya say - are you ready to help start the movement for running as a spectator sport?  I know I'll be out there as often as I can be - whether I know someone in the race or not.  I'll even welcome people joining me so I'll be sure to let y'all know when I'm sitting out to cheer!

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