The Complete Spectathlete’s Guide to Cheering Like a Champ

I’ve mentioned before that Ironman Wisconsin (next weekend!) takes place on my home turf.

This means lots of friends and family members have told me they’ll be venturing out to Madison to cheer me on. Some I haven’t seen since high school, which is kinda cool. And some of you amazing readers are even saying you’ll be making it out to the race…which makes me feel really special!

It’s also quite petrifying. Seriously. I do NOT want to let anybody down.

Why we call them ‘spectathletes’

Spectators often have just as much at stake as the person doing the actual race. Most of you probably have friends and family members who have bent over backwards to support your training.

Perhaps they’ve said “Go ahead and do your long run, honey — I’ll watch the kids this morning.” Maybe they’ve been understanding when you’ve departed from Girls’ Night Out at only 8 PM, since you have to rest up for your early morning run. You’ve probably canceled plans with them in favor of training, racing, or recovering.

It’s likely they’ve seen you at your sweatiest, your hungriest, and your grumpiest.  And yet, they’re still there.

They deserve that finishers medal just as much as you, and that’s why they’re called “spectathletes.”

Don’t be surprised…

If your spectathletes are gearing up for race day just as much as you are.

Spectating, though, can be confusing or overwhelming for first-timers. If they could, they’d drive behind you every mile of your race, cheering you on with airhorns and cowbells. Some might not understand just why they can’t do just that.

Others may be bummed they only saw you once or twice on the race course, or become frustrated when they can’t find their racer in the huge mass of humanity known as the Finishing Chute. Print this article out and share with your incredible spectathletes to make race day just a little bit easier for them (and you).

Before the Race

Know the route. Most race maps have a website which provides information on the course. Select one (or, if it’s a longer race, two or three) spots where you want to watch your athlete. Some races even have guides specifically for spectathletes!

Ditch the car if you can, and follow the rules of the race. If you plan on traveling to multiple spots throughout the race, make sure you are aware of any road closures which may impede your ability to get to those spots. Always, always, always pay attention to the police officers directing traffic, and never move the barricades, even if “just to squeeze through.” No. No. NO.

Get your plan together. Coordinate with other specathletes for day-of-race logistics. Facebook is a great way to do this, as you can just create an event and invite your friends and family…it’s all in one place!

Build confidence. As someone preparing for a race, the worst thing anyone could say to me right now is “You’re going to be so FAST!” I know for a fact I won’t be fast at this Ironman. It’s my first. My only goal is to finish. I have 16 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds to get to the end, and if I need to, I will milk every last second of it. Most racers have the same goal, so unless your racer is in the elite top 1 percent of athletes vying for a medal, find other ways to boost your athlete’s confidence.

Offer to buy him something special, like a pair of special “race socks.” Make a sticker for her to put on her bike handlebars to inspire her. Write your athlete a letter or leaving notes in his shoes, SPI-Belt, or gear bag. Some suggestions:

  • “You’re such a stud/studette!”
  • “I am so proud of you.”
  • “You make spandex and sweat stains look sexy.”
  • “You are so strong/focused/athletic/amazing/(fill-in-the-blank…)”
  • “You can do this.”
  • “There are cupcakes (or beer/tacos/favorite food) at the finish line.”

During the Race

Carpooling is your friend. Race days are usually chaotic, especially at the start and finish areas. The fewer vehicles you have to wrangle together, the better it is for everyone.

Prepare for a lot of downtime. Spectating can be incredibly boring if you don’t prepare for the downtime. Bring things to do…especially if you’re going to be waiting for a long time for your racer  to come by. With Ironman competitions, it’s not uncommon for spectathletes to have tents with lawn chairs, charcoal grills, and beer. It is an all day event, after all!

Stand out from the crowd. It’s easier for your racer to spot you if your crowd has something to distinguish themselves from the rest of the beer-guzzlers. I’ve asked my cheering contingency to wear No Meat Athlete t-shirts on race day. (So if you see a bunch of crazy people wearing running carrots in Madison, WI September 12 — they’re with me…and I couldn’t be prouder!)

You also can make signs in a specific color scheme, but be aware there might be other spectathletes behind you — make sure you aren’t blocking their view. Sidewalk chalk messages on the race course, where permitted, can also be a great pick-me-up for the racer.

There’s more than one way to support racers. One of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me in a race was hand me a Kleenex. It was one of those crisp fall days where everyone’s noses were running, and mine had been dripping for miles. That Kleenex was a lifesaver.

I’ve also had people hand me washcloths with ice water on hot days and Vaseline on plastic sticks at mile 20 of a marathon. If you live on the race course and it’s warm out, consider running a garden hose with a sprinkler on one half of the road for hot racers to run through (a popular spectathlete move here in Arizona) or a table with mini-cups of beer and Bloody Marys (almost every race in Wisconsin has at LEAST one of these).

After the Race

Get sweaty. Most racers really want a hug and a kiss at the finish line, but don’t want to gross you out. The best thing you can do is smile, wrap your arms around your racer, and be proud to wear some of the sweat that rubs off on you. It’s the smell of greatness, people!

Make it memorable. The finish line is a place where people feel amazing. They’ve just accomplished a goal, and they’re riding a remarkable high. You can make it better with something special — tell your racer you love him, surprise her with something special or unique to mark the occasion, or share a touching sentiment or inside joke to make the event that much more meaningful.

Celebrate! Your athlete may or may not feel like eating or celebrating immediately after the race, but you can bet later that day or the next morning there there will be a meal of epic proportions on the agenda. So toast the occasion with a special meal — and don’t forget to order dessert! Racers and spectathletes alike have earned it!

Thanks to all the special spectathletes out there. You guys are a truly amazing breed of athlete.



Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

The Nutrients You Need (With Nothing You Don't)

complementNo Meat Athlete has helped develop Complement™, the perfect nutrient formula for plant-based athletes. Complement brings together, in one place, the three essential nutrients that are missing from a reasonably diverse, whole food plant-based diet:
  • B12
  • D3
  • DHA/EPA Omega-3s
It's everything you need to complement your diet, and nothing you don't.

Click here to learn more.


  1. this is an amazing post.
    i might attach it for my friends to read before they come out to cheer me on for my first marathon.

    ive seen ur name float around ur blog world, but never had a chance to come over here and say hello. so HELLO!

    i love the blog right away!
    gonna become ur latest follower! 🙂

  2. Great post! I love it. I was comparing the recommendations to when I was a spectathlete last year at a friend’s marathon run.

  3. Hahah great way of putting it with the term “spectathletes”. Something I’ve noticed is that with anything involving physicality, a lot of the time it’s a mental game. And when you HAVE those people behind you cheering you on and acting as your support, you’ll go farther than those who lack those cheerleaders.

    Good luck and hope to hear some stories from you once you finish!

    • Exactly. I think a lot of us would say our best races are those where we had someone (or a group of people) there specifically to cheer us on. It’s accountability and inspiration and motivation all rolled in one.

      If I’m alive after the finish, you can bet you’ll hear from me. 🙂

  4. One of my favorite race memories is having my parents come by to cheer me on. It was only a 5-miler but it was a hot day and a hilly course. There were right around mile 3, exactly when I need them. We had planne ahead of time where they would be so I wouldn’t miss them. Just seeing them wave gave me a burst of energy. Oh! and my dad was able to drive us to the start line….getting to the start on time is always an anxiety of mine so that extra help was greatly appreciated.

  5. I absolutely think spectathletes are essential…they don’t know how much they are appreciated!!

  6. great post! behind every great athlete is one or more just-as-great spectathlete.

    good luck on your IM! i just signed up earlier this week for my first IM (canada). eek! i already know that having a great support system is going to be just as crucial to me finishing as my training will be.

  7. Nice post! I have been so grateful to spectactors, particularly during longer races (half and full marathons) When running the Chicago marathon I had my initials (JL) on my t-shirt. Around mile 21, fully slamming into the wall, I was shuffling with my head down and I heard “you look great, JL” I grinned at her, gave a thumb’s up, and dug deeper. I heart spectators! (and love being one!)

  8. Another great post, Susan. GOOD LUCK @ IMW!

  9. This was a great post with lots of useful information. Last year my husband ran the Marine Corps marathon and my daughter and I were his cheerleaders. Race participants (my husband included) love to see a friendly face; it really energizes them, especially if things are getting tough. My daughter and I able to spot him on three different occasions, but it took some pre planning and an all-day Metro pass. By the end, I think we were as worn out as he was!
    Thank you for this great article!

  10. Hey Matt, Great Blog! I’m very new to the blogging world, and it’s great to see other guys out here blogging! Would you have any recommendations for other blogs I should check out?

    • Hey Nick. Your blog is a cool concept, I like all those ideas about creating change. Since your blog isn’t solely health and fitness related, I’m assuming you don’t necessarily mean health blogs? Two other (non-health) blogs, both written by males, I’ve been reading recently are and And check out too. Then just follow a few links there and you’ll find tons of others. Good luck!

  11. I just sent this to a bunch of family and friends who plan to follow me through the Marine Corps Marathon next month. They might not have to put in as many hours on the road, but watching a family/friend/bf/gf train for a distance run can be just as tiring as doing it yourself! I know they are tired of listening to me talk about running all the time…

    • I snorted my coffee a little bit when I read that last line. I KNOW my friends and family are tired of hearing me talk about Ironman…I’ve promised many of them quality Susan time where I won’t mention anything about triathlon, won’t whine about being sore/tired/hungry because of training, won’t limit myself to JUST one beer, and won’t fall asleep before 8 PM. I think they’re looking forward to it.

  12. Hi Susan,

    I just wanted to wish you the best of luck on your Ironman. I am sure you will do great. I’ll be thinking of you! Hope this doesn’t come across as sounding weird :0

  13. Hey there. I just finished cheering a runner in 2 halfs (halves?), decided to become a vegetarian and take up running myself, then stumbled on your site. As a result of the cheering experience I had, I wrote a little post of my own with the cheers that really got the runners smiling. Or laughing at us. Either way…

    Hope it helps add a few more options for “spectathletes” out there!


  1. […] A Spectators Guide From A Loving Wife – And The Realities of Caring For Kids (Download PDF) Spectathletes Guide To Cheering Like A Champ A Good Guide In Map Form With Commentary A Spectator’s Personal Narrative & […]

Leave a Comment