10 Tips for supporting a runner during a marathon

I am one of the very fortunate women to have a husband who goes out of of his way to support my running lifestyle. Oftentimes I have to ask him “are you sure you want to come to yet another race?” The answer is always, “yes, let’s go”. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the rare times I will leave my kids overnight. I think he likes a little kid free trip from time to time. He has many of his own passions, one is writing at his blog. He is a very deep thinker and has incredibly interesting posts on a variety of topics. Check him out right here at Underwater Samurai.

He has been supporting me now for so long he has become quite the expert on how to help me along the course of a marathon. I feel like he is a magician showing up at spots along the course, handing me fuel, fresh water bottles and many cheers of support. I have always been so curious as to how he does it, so I asked him if he might want to write a guest post. He was happy to. So, here are Rob’s 10 tips to support a runner on race day:

Runwiki getting ready to start a trail race in Malibu.

To be clear, I am not a runner — I just support one.  As the husband of Runwiki,  I’ve learned a lot over the last year about how to support my runner.  This post shares those lessons and I hope that all of the other runner support staff out there will chime in with their own tips and stories.

Ready?  Here we go!

1. Learn the Route.  Runners need stuff — food, water, Gu, encouragement.  To give them that stuff, you need to be on the course.  But, when you’re not running, being on the course is a bit of a challenge.  You’ve got a lot of considerations:  parking, intercept routes, water station spacing, and more.  It takes a plan — and the first step in making this plan is learning the course.  Most marathons make it easy for you, and have a race map.  But, even so, you might want to scout ahead when in a new area.  And ask around about particulars for the start and finish — especially parking.

2. Find Two Restaurants.  That’s right, two!  The first is for the pre-race dinner, the second is for the post race crash.  If your runner is like mine, the first restaurant will be a pretty nice one with a good source of carbs (Italian or Mexican), the second will be some kind of horrible fast food (we’re partial to Hardees/Carl’s Junior for the post-race feed).  Regardless of your runner’s preference, be prepared.  Reservations recommended!

I needed to wear skates to keep up!

3. Pack for Speed.  You may not be RUNNING, but you will be running, know what I mean?  It’s surprising how much you have to hustle to keep up with a marathon runner on the course.  I highly recommend running shoes and athletic clothes.  As a matter of fact, on the Shamrock Marathon I wore my rollerblades!  Also, be sure to have a comfortable backpack that can hold some stuff.  I use a Maxpedition Monsoon Gearslinger bag.

4. Be Noticeable.  Since we’re talking clothes, be sure to dress in something noticeable.  A bright colored shirt, or one with a unique emblem or something.  At the bigger races there are thousands of people — make sure your runner can find you in the crowd.

5. Pre-Race Prep.  Before you go to sleep the night before race day, get your gear in order.  Pack the bags, have the drinks in the fridge or freezer, food organized and in the pack, and have your clothes laid out (make sure she does, too).  These races always start at O’dark-thirty, so prepping before hand makes sure you don’t forget anything and you get on the road quickly.  The goal is to be up and out the door quickly while forgetting nothing.

6. Comm Check!  A smartphone is absolutely essential!  It’s got all of your social media, phone, web browser, GPS, stopwatch — it’s an all-in-one!  It doesn’t matter which make or model, but have one and keep it with you.  More and more races are transmitting splits via Twitter or MMS, you can download the course map to the phone, plug in specific coordinates to the GPS.  And with the camera/social-media combo you can keep everyone back home informed of your runner’s progress.

7. Record for Posterity.  Runners spend a lot of time and training on a marathon — it is a huge, life changing event, especially the first one.  I’ve heard it compared to a wedding or the birth of a child — it’s that huge.  Take pictures!  Get it all, everything from the pre-race dinner to the grand finale.  And, if your runner is female, make sure you get pics of them in their running outfit BEFORE the race starts when they’re all made up and smiling.

8. The Right Place at the Right Time!  Domino’s may have 30 minutes to deliver, but you’ve got a much smaller window — make sure you are there!  During the race, your primary responsibility is to be at the right place at the right time with the right food.  Go over the course map with your runner and plan out the food/drink drops.  Make sure you have both salty and sweet foods in your pack, your runner might change their mind during the course.  Have your drinks made and, if necessary, labelled.  Some runners want different mixtures at different points in the race, so discuss ahead of time with your runner and be prepared.

9. Finish Line Prep.  Runwiki makes up a separate bag for when she’s done with the race.  Fresh clothes, recovery drink, snacks, massage roller, and shoes.  Find out what your runner wants, and make sure it’s there waiting.  When the race is over, half the time the runners aren’t thinking straight, they just need their stuff.  Make it easy for ‘em.

10. Post Race Processing.  Marathons are tough!  Mentally, physically, and emotionally.  And if your runner is competitive, that quest for the PR is a huge deal.  Time, pace, place, qualifiers — it’s all an emotional roller-coaster.  Be ready for anything!  The important thing at this part of the race is to have empathy with your runner – if they’re happy because they got their time, be happy and enthusiastic.  If they missed their goal, be supportive.  Now is not the time to be analytical about the race and problem solve — do that later.  At the finish line, just be there.  With the finish line bag — best not to forget that…

There’s my words of wisdom, what tips do you have to add?

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Comments

  1. Wow! I never realized how much goes into runner support! This is very helpful…of course I’m almost always the runner but this is great for the occasion that I cross over….

    • I was thinking the same thing.. I hope I can pay it forward someday!

    • Hey, it’s tough out there! The Shamrock race was kind of easy, as it was a dual loop, but the Lehigh Valley race was a linear course. It took some doing to be where you needed to be. Which reminds me — if you’re driving the course, make sure you have spare change for parking meters!

  2. Such a sweet, awesome post! We have amazing support systems…so very lucky.

    • Yes, SO very fortunate! I feel blessed to have such a great guy. Really could not do it without him.

  3. Rob you are still as awesome as I remember! I’m getting ready to finally marry June 2nd and I hope my husband and I are as happy as you and Lizzy have been all these years! You guys are my heroes 3 kids(twins) marathons, blogs, writting a book, protecting our country! You guys are like a pair of super heroes! xoxo

    • Rosy, Congratulations! I am so excited that you are getting married, can’t wait to meet your man. I hope I have not painted a perfect picture of our marriage, it is far from it. It can be difficult, much like a marathon there are moments when you feel like giving up and ask yourself “why am I doing this?” but you persevere and take it one step at a time. There are highs and lows and I would imagine that when you cross the finish line there is no better feeling. I love you sweet girl and cannot wait to give you a big hug, be near you again and go for a long runs together. xoxo

    • Thanks, Rosy! Congratulations!

  4. I love this! Ward and I have taken turns supporting each other for marathons.

    • So great that you support one another for marathon, I am sure you have so much empathy for one another after crossing that finish line and hopefully get a few training runs in together.

    • Jen,

      Sounds like the ideal situation! As a non-runner, it’s was harder for me to understand the full impact a marathon has on a person. But, if you’re both runners, you have a much better appreciation for the other is going through. Good luck with your races!

  5. My husband isn’t a runner either. He has taken on the task of being my personal photographer, sherpa and the “single” parent while I’m training or running a race. The support crew doesn’t get enough credit. So here is a big THANK YOU to all the support crews out there!

  6. Love it and love that you have such a supportive husband!!!!

  7. What a great guy–he is in 100%! I love all his tips and the one about finding that second, “bad” restaurant is excellent! Yes, we do like to reward ourselves with bad food (and I like a beer too!) after the effort. Most importantly, though, is the empathy tip. Yes!

    • I kind of helped him with that empathy thing… he has been known to try and “fix” things that cannot be fixed at the finish line. He’s got it down now! I am very fortunate to have such an supportive guy!

    • Beer sounds good!

  8. Great post! My hubby is also my #1 support and he has to do these things while wrangling our energetic children. So funny about the after race food; after my 1st marathon, all I wanted was a cheeseburger, fries and a frosty from Wendy’s! #10 really struck me, too–that’s exactly what we need when we’re done. As the wife of a newbie runner, I’m trying to remember to do the same thing for him!

    • Thank you! Sounds like you guys make a great team. Juggling all of this with children is not for the frail, but then again marathons aren’t either. Happy running Anne!! xo

    • We’ve only done a couple of short races with the kids, with my main duty to have them at the end to cheer Mommy as she crosses the finish line. For Marathons, we leave the kids at home with their grand-parents and make a “running vacation” out of it.

  9. Love this post! Sound like you’ve got the best crew out there! The restaurant one is totally me, a decent place for dinner the night before and there terrible junk for for right after the race!

  10. Amazing post! What great tips to share with us! Thank you!

    Your support is awesome! Love the rollerblades :)

  11. Oh I love this! My husband is a runner and triathlete but he spectated for my first 2 half marathons and did an awesome job. And it really is more complicated than it sounds.

    • Thank you…How nice to have your hubs not only support you at your races but run with you as well!

  12. I love this! My favorite is #10. I totally agree that at the end all you want is someone to be there to support you in however you feel. You are not ready to coherently deal with any issues.

    Thanks for sharing! I’m forwarding this to my husband. :)

    • Thank you so much Karen! It is truly like giving birth, you don’t want to talk, just cry and hug. :) such a big moment

  13. I love #10 the best. :)

    Great post!! Love it! Such a great perspective!

    • We learned #10 by doing the opposite a few times, but he has it down now.. tee hee.. thank you Ashley!

  14. I need to send this along to my husband. I have my first marathon in a week and a half. He is such a huge support but never been on the course for a big race like the marathon. Great post!

    • Tina, Good luck on the 26.2 that will change you forever! Such a big day.. seriously I may be dramatic but I have the chills for you right now. Knock em dead lady!

  15. Such great tips! My husband is a huge support too, although we’ve never tried having him meet me along the way with food, drinks…that’s a great idea! I’ll have to share this with him. Way to go, Rob!

    • Thank you Laura.. the supporter often times goes unnoticed! love my athletic supporter..arh, arh

  16. Wow! What an awesome supporter you are for Runwiki! I think I need to start utilizing my husband for more than just kid corralling!

  17. WOW!! This is amazing!! I think I will keep the link to give to future race supporters! =) I especially loved #10! At the end we just need emotional support and someone to be there…at the end of every race I was missing one thing-and someday I’ll have that support at the finish line-I hope. Does your hubby have any equally amazing friends? ;)

    • As a matter of fact.. he does! YOU will have support someday..never give up hope, just let go of “when” allow him to walk into your life… he will. Not sure they are good enough for you though gorgeous lady!

  18. That’s a LOT of support and your husband is awesome for being so into it. Honestly, I was just happy my wife and kids were there at the finish line to make me smile – I was feeling so horrible and they really helped wipe that feeling away just by being there. Beyond that, a decent marathon has plenty of water stops often with Gatorade – and Gu (or whatever your preferred energy booster) is easy for the runner to carry him/herself. As for post-race food, I didn’t feel like I could keep anything down after my marathon and was happy to just have water and my recovery drink! Even the free post-race banana and bagel were off-putting so I gave them to the kids. Didn’t really eat until about 4 hours after finishing.

  19. This is a great post with fantastic advice! Clearly you have an awesome support system in your husband! I’m happy to say I’m lucky enough to have a very supportive husband as well – does make things easier!

  20. This is awesome. Your husband has just set my dating standard for race support! As a single mom, racing is tough, especially trying to be there at the finish line for the kid, who is faster than me. I have not figured out how to race and be at the finish line. In fact, it is always him that comes and runs me in. What is awesome is that the more intwined we have become in the running community, they help. My son is always (thus far!) taken care of at the finish line.

    • Jen, that’s cool! I am looking forward to the time when I am ready to let my little guy run a race. The cool thing is, like you said, the running community becomes pretty tight and we begin to know each other, at least at the smaller local races!

  21. Hi! It’s Christine, the German girl from the RRCA class! I like your blog and above list is perfect! My boyfriend is an experienced supporter and agreed on it as well :)

    • Christine, It is so very nice to hear from you. Thank you for reading my blog. I am so glad you enjoy it. We should get together for run before I leave for California in July. Would love to see you again.

  22. This is SO awesome! Thanks so much for sharing! I’ll have to send this to my fiance for when he supports me this fall in my first marathon!

  23. janice ellis says:

    I support a runner. he started out with running just 5k’s or 10k’s and all I had to do was take photos. Now he normally only runs marathons and ultras. Talk about a long day chasing him on an ultra run. I agree with everythng said, but to also remember to bring along food for yourself. (i am always hungry!) Also, when I take photos, I take 100′s of photos. (thank goodness for digital cameras) I take pictures of everyone coming past because everyone loves photos of themself, especially if it is a trail run race and I find a secluded spot in the woods to get the photos. He then posts the photos of the race web page, facebook page, or the sponsors web page. Nothing like good fun publicity.

  24. This was such a great post! Sharing! Erin

  25. Love this! I think that many people underestimate how much goes into spectating and supporting a runner during a big race like a marathon. #3 is SO true! When I ran NYC, my sister and cousin literally raced all over the city to meet us at different points. I don’t think that they expected to get as much of a workout as they did. haha. And don’t forget to cheer loudly!! :-)

  26. Love this. Think i’ll send it to my hubby…and my mom, sister, brother..well just about every one in my circle. I’m the only runner. :(

  27. This is such a pertinent post! I must have thanked my husband 100x yesterday for all he did for me on Saturday and Sunday. Even little things on Saturday like watching the kids for a bit more than usual pays dividends on race day.
    SO much goes into spectating. and I think Rob captured ALL of it! =)

  28. i feel like you made this post for me, yes? Except when it’s an ironman, you need multiple coffee shops, toilets, a gps, and back stage pass. LOL!

    LOVE YOU!

  29. This is great! I need to share with my husband!

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  1. [...] head to cheer Brian on for the Boston Marathon and the cheerleaders are READY!! I came across this Runwiki blog post and it made me smile. Since it’s only a dream to be able to complete a marathon, the next best [...]

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