Written by guest contributor, 2016 Ambassador, Liz Foster.
Before cheering on runners in the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon on Nov. 12, you need to train. Thankfully, training to cheer doesn’t take nearly as long as training to run.
For the first time since 2012, I will not run the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon (formerly known as Thunder Road). Because I’m injured, I’ll be cheering for the first time. So instead of pounding the pavement, my preparation looks more like studying.
Pick your spot
The first step is deciding where to go. There are advantages to staking out a spot and cheering as runners pass by. You can stake out a spot or you can join an official cheer station.
These cheer stations, registered with Run For Your Life in October, compete to be the best, just like the runners. In addition to bragging rights, the top three cheer stations, voted on by the marathon runners, get money to give to charity.
Cheer stations can be as simple or as complicated as the organizer desires. One of the most popular cheer stations surrounds the infamous wall in NoDa.
When the wall first went up in 2008, it was at Mile 20, the traditional spot where runners are said to hit “the wall.” After route changes, the wall will be around Mile 17 this year. Marathon runners look forward to reaching and running through the wall, no matter where it’s located on the course.
Another must-see cheer station is in Plaza Midwood. Runners pass through this popular neighborhood around mile 19.
Those spots and many others along the route turn into a party for the ones who are cheering. If you join a cheer station or just stake out a spot, be sure to dress appropriately for the weather, bring chairs and blankets, snacks, music, noise-makers and posters.
Cowbells are a staple along the route. They are given away for free at the Marathon expo, this year scheduled for Friday, Nov. 11. The expo, at the Charlotte Convention Center, is open to the public, or your runner can grab a few when they get their packet.
If you make a sign, feel free to get creative. Inside jokes between you and your runner won’t help the strangers around you, but will mean a lot to the athlete you’re supporting.
Try to avoid the typical marathon cliches, such as “Almost there” or “Worst Parade Ever.” Experienced runners will just roll their eyes at signs they’ve seen before.
Sign ideas: CLICK HERE!
And prepare to get chatty as you wait. It takes a long time to run a marathon.
“When you are waiting for your runner, you have no idea when they show up. I always talk with the people standing there,” said Kitty Muccigrosso, who came out to cheer me in 2013 and is running her first Charlotte Marathon half this year. “We talk about music or the runners we’re waiting on, the weather.”
By sticking to one spot, your runner knows exactly where you’ll be and when they’ll see you. It’s easier to work out details with your runner, especially if they need you to take their warmup sweatshirt, other extra clothes or provide some runners’ fuel.
But be prepared to exude high energy the whole time.
“When I cheer, I don’t just go, ‘I’m waiting for my runner.’ I try to cheer on everyone who’s passing me,” said Matt Phipps, who has run several marathons and is taking on Charlotte’s 26.2 for the second time. “Even if they don’t know me, I want to give them some motivation. I’m out there screaming, having fun and giving them something to laugh at.”
You can yell just about anything and freely give out high-fives to those who want one. But you can also say the wrong thing and zap the runner’s motivation.
“I don’t like when they say you’re almost there. If I’m not 10 steps away from the finish line, I don’t want to hear it,” Muccigrosso, who finished her first marathon last fall.
The most important part is picking the right spot. Check out some of the bright spots along the course here.
As you study out the map, keep these tips in mind:
- The starting line is as crowded as I-77 North on the Friday before Memorial Day. You’ll probably miss your runner in the mass of humanity. Head to a spot a few miles in and you’ll have a better chance to see your runner.
- Roads along the route are closed for the race. Arrive early enough to not miss your runner, but don’t park in a spot where you’ll get trapped by everyone else. Check out PAGE 2 of the marathon course for details on which roads are going to be impacted at what times by the runners.
- There are lots of people cheering for the half marathoners. The second half of the route gets mighty lonely. Picking a spot there may mean a longer wait and fewer runners, but your efforts will mean more for the runners you encounter.
Another way to really show your support is to show up more than once. You’re already uptown and ready to cheer, so why not pop around the city and surprise your runner in more than one place?
Phipps’ strategy during last year’s Thunder Road was to drop his wife, Christa, off at the starting line and grab some breakfast at The Original Pancake with his two daughters and Christa’s mom. The timing worked perfectly to see Christa, her best friend and her sister between Mile 3 and 4. The family then jumped in the car and popped in several spots along the route to cheer. They even stopped in at Amelie’s before cheering in NoDa.
Phipps used technology to plan all the spectator surprises. By using Find My Phone, he always had a general idea where Christa was along the course.
If your runner doesn’t carry a phone, a conversation may be necessary before the race to figure out the timing. Ask them their planned pace and calculate how long it will take to get to a preplanned spot on the map using that pace. This pace map will let you know how long it will take the runner to get to each mile marker, which you can find on the course map.
For even the speediest of runners, a full marathon takes a few hours. After cheering along the route, consider waiting out the rest of the race in Finish Line VIP Tent and Photo Veranda. Open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the lounge offers views of the finish line and a private veranda to capture your runner’s achievement.
Tickets are $25 for adults, $10 for students and $5 for children 5 and younger. Entry includes the new VIP tent, a private spot to take photos with your runner, heated bathrooms, food, and finish line views.
No matter where you go, cheering is fulfilling for those on the sidelines, too.
“I always enjoy watching the other runners and cheering those runner, too,” Muccigrosso said. “Marathoners are amazing.”
Congrats, in advance, to those who are participating in all distances on Saturday, November 12, 2016! Be on the look out for our Post Race Blog brought to you by the founder of Running Works, Meredith Dolhare.