I don’t run.  I have no desire to ever run a marathon.  But, I’ve been a race spectator since birth.  My father was a cross country coach until I was five.  Some of my earliest memories are cheering on the sidelines for runners.

This weekend the Akron Marathon passed through my neighborhood.  I went out to watch.  Here are some tips for how to make the most of your marathon viewing experience if you know nothing about racing.

Know Where You Are on the Course

You can usually look up the course on the race’s website.  The course of this marathon changed this year.  My viewing spot was right next to the 25 kilometer (15 mile) point.

Know When to Get There

Elite runners cover the 26.2 miles in a little over 2 hours depending on the course. If you know the start time and where you are going to be sitting you can judge when to get there. I showed up at mile 15 about an hour after the race started.

At this race they had a car with the race clock on top of it, right ahead of the front runners. This is when they got to me.  At this race they also have cyclists with signs riding next to the front runner in each division – men’s, women’s, master’s men (over 40), master’s women, male relay team, female relay team, and mixed relay team so you know who is winning at the time.  It is sort of mean though.  The runners look miserable and the cyclists are coasting alongside them looking at the crowd and the scenery.  I’d be tempted to knock them over. 

Make Some Noise

When I left my house and started walking to the marathon route, I thought that my neighborhood had hired a band for the race.  It turns out that I was hearing the music from the finish line that was 5 miles away as the crow flies.  I bet all the people trying to sleep in on a Saturday morning were thrilled about that but it is encouraging for the runners.  This isn’t golf.  You are encouraged to clap and yell and ring cowbells (honestly) when runners are passing you.  Some races have the runners’ first name large on the bibs so spectators can see them and yell personalized encouragement.  Making signs and waving them is good too.

Stay for the Regular People

It can be great to see the elite runners passing by.

Actual flying runners!


But the majority of people in a race are not running to win. Their reward is just finishing. They need the encouragement more than anyone. Sometimes with these runners who get to see costumes and funny shirts and signs and all kinds of entertainment.