The Right Way to Spectate

This is how you should cheer on your favorite marathoner.

During her 12 consecutive New York Marathons, Equinox trainer Margaret Schwarz has seen her share of sideline spectacles — from drum circles in Fort Greene, Brooklyn to throngs of spectators vying for a glimpse of runner Sean Combs in the Bronx. For the marathon enthusiast in every city, from Chicago to Boston to London and back again, she shared insider tips for supporting such an incredible accomplishment. 

1. It's much easier for runners to find spectators than vice versa.

"When people are watching a marathon, their eyes get crossed because they're looking so hard for their marathoner," says Schwarz. She advises spectators to tell runners not only which corner they'll be on, but which side of the street. The more specific, the better: Your runner should conserve energy for the task ahead, not use up valuable strength ping-ponging from sides of the street in search of your high-five. 

2. Fine-tune your cheering M.O.
What's the worst thing to cheer? "Don't yell 'you're almost there' — because usually, you're not," says Schwarz. While it's nice to cheer on a stranger, screaming his or her name can be jarring and startle the runner. Instead, use runners' numbers and give them words of encouragement (i.e., "looking good, 32" or "looking strong, 29") in a calm, steady fashion. Schwarz is also a big fan of carrying signs or balloons, since they make spectators stick out from the crowd.

Don't yell 'you're almost there' — because usually, you're not! – Margaret Schwarz


3. Pack wisely.
Schwarz swears by the SPI-belt, a fanny pack-esque contraption that's just big enough for an iPhone and sits tight against the body to prevent chafing. Spectators, meanwhile, can arm themselves with extra shirts, socks, power gel and Aquaphor lip balm in case the runner needs them during the race.

4. Go digital.
Social media has changed everything, including the cheering process. Most major marathons now offer digital tracking via their proprietary apps: Simply plug in your runner's bib number and you'll be alerted as he or she crosses timing mats at regular intervals, usually every 5k. Be forewarned: The alerts may sometimes lag so if you're anticipating your runner, build in some buffer time just to be safe. 

5. Prepare your exit strategy.
"It's one of the hardest things to meet your party at the end of the marathon," says Schwarz. Most races designate family meeting areas, organized alphabetically. Bring a warm sweatshirt or a blanket for the runner and don't forget metro cards, since getting a cab can be a nightmare. (Schwarz suggests that Equinox members go to a nearby club, where runners are usually greeted with applause — not to mention hot showers).