Five Tips for Race Spectators

Spectating is not easy. You only have a few opportunities to see your runner pass by and don’t want to miss them. Despite having prepared for watching Matt run the Frederick Half Marathon, Mike and I realized we could have done even more to improve our spectating skills.

1. Determine Your Locations Beforehand

A few days before the race, study the race route online and decide where you can view your runner. When considering your vantage points, remember to keep in mind your own walking pace, your runner’s pace, street crossings (especially those closed for runners) and size of the race (if there are lots of runners, it may be easier to spot your runner later on in the course when it thins out). If you are taking photographs, more details can be considered such as side of the street you’ll stand on so that you’re not shooting directly into the rising sun.

For the Frederick Half Marathon, Mike and I decided we could realistically see Matt at miles 0.75 then cut over to 2.25. We’d then head up to wait for Matt at mile 7.5. We realized that if we wanted to be near the finish when Matt arrived, we wouldn’t be able to see him again until mile 12.5. But that gap allowed us to swing by a coffee shop and pick up breakfast and coffees.

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 7.16.23 AM

We created a Google Map with our walking plan for race day. This way, we could easily reference our map on our phones when we’re half awake at 7 am.

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 7.17.25 AM

2. Share Your Locations with Your Runner Before the Race

It helps immensely to have your runner looking for you too! During the Richmond Marathon, I knew where my parents would be standing so I would start waving to them as soon as I spotted them. It’s hard for spectators when they just see a sea of often tightly packed and neon wearing runners.

Spotted my parents around mile 8 of the Richmond Marathon

Spotted my parents around mile 8 of the Richmond Marathon

In addition, knowing where my parents would be standing was great motivation for me running the Richmond Marathon. It gives runners something to look forward to. We told Matt the day before where we’d be, approximately, so we could look for us. We also shared our Google Map link with him.

3. Have your runner wear something that stands out

With the popularity of neon running clothes, it’s tough to stand out wearing electric yellow or hot pink anymore. I find it’s easiest to spot runners when they’re wearing a specific hat or thick headband. Mike wears a red Nike hat for many races and it’s easy to spot him coming, even when he’s in a pack of runners. It’s easier to spot heads than shirts sometimes.

Mike almost always wears his red hat during races

Mike almost always wears his red hat during races

Matt was wearing his Nike orange t-shirt, which is an unusual shade of neon orange.


If your runner isn’t wearing something that stands out, be sure to pay attention to the runners around your runner. During the Marine Corps Marathon, we kept an eye out for a runner dressed as a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup because we knew Kevin was never far behind him.

Dunkin Donuts Runner

Dunkin Donuts Runner

4. Considering splitting up, if there’s two of you, and you want photographs

One spectator can stand farther up the course to keep watch for your runner while the other spectator stands farther down the course, but still in view. When the first spectator spots the runner, he/she can signal down to the other spectator, in position, to get ready for some photo-taking.

Mike and I missed Matt at mile 0.75 because the course was tightly packed, we were staring directly into the sun and we weren’t sure if Matt made it to his corral in time, after taking a last minute porta-potty break before the start. Luckily we caught him at the second viewing location but, by the time I spotted him, he had flown by us. We only got a couple of photos.

Flying by us!

Flying by us!

At viewing point 3, we adopted a new strategy. I stood about 50 feet up the course, up a hill from Mike and watched for Matt. Mike was sitting on the ground, with the camera ready, near a turn so he’d get photos of Matt head-on. Mike kept an eye on me for the signal and was ready to go with the camera when Matt ran towards him.


5. Decide on a post-race meeting location

For some reason, this important detail often gets overlooked, at least for me! With the excitement of the race, I usually just focus on the race itself and crossing finish line, and don’t usually think about what happens after that. Some races have family meet-up areas with giant letters on poles. But still, it’s good to all be on the same page that you’ll meet at the family meet-up area. If there isn’t an area, it’s a good idea to establish a meeting spot to reunite with your runner after the race.

For the Richmond Marathon, we never made a meet-up plan with our parents. Oops. This resulted in lots of confusion and frustration. After finishing, I was disoriented and luckily spotted my mom but Matt was still MIA.

Found my mom!

Found my mom!

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson. But after the most recent DC Rock ‘n Roll Half, Mike and I didn’t have a meeting place. I just assumed he’d be by the “L” but when he never came, I panicked and started going to all the emergency medical tents. Mike was waiting for me by the checked bag pick-up. Ooops. Luckily, the Frederick Half Marathon was small and we were able to spot Matt right away when he came out of the finisher chute.

Meeting Place Pre-determined at the Philadelphia Rock 'n Roll - by the "L"

Meeting Place Pre-determined at the Philadelphia Rock ‘n Roll – by the “L”

If you prepare well, spectating can be a lot of fun and stress-free!

What are some of your best spectating tips?


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