What not to say during a race

  • This was printed in September of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 70th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

“You’re almost there!”

It’s a statement people yell to runners at nearly every race, from 5Ks to ultramarathons.

And it’s usually a lie.

I have been known to raise an eyebrow at spectators who yell, “You’re almost there!” at

Mile 3 of a (26.2-mile) marathon. Are you being serious right now? But then I realize

maybe they just don’t know what else to say to encourage runners.

Here’s a lesson in what to say if you ever find yourself cheering at a race:

“Looking strong!” and “Looking good!” work well. Even if — or especially if — the

runner you are cheering for looks like a zombie, telling him he looks great will make him

feel good. He may actually try harder to look good by fixing his form or speeding up.

Voila! You’ve helped someone run a better race.

“Way to go!” or “Way to push!” are also encouraging phrases mid-race. It makes a runner

think, I’m doing this right!

“Finish strong!” is the perfect thing to say if you’re standing within a few hundred yards

of a finish line. The runner, who has probably been glancing at her watch for the past two

miles in anticipation, already knows she is almost there. Instead of reminding her, give

instructions to the exhausted girl: finish strong, smile for the race photographer, start your

kick, sprint, etc.

If you can see a person’s name written on their shirt or typed on their race bib, cheer for

them personally.

If you don’t want to say anything, jingling a cowbell works just as well. Runners love


You can also hold up an encouraging or funny sign, such as “Worst parade ever” or “You

are beating all the people behind you!” or even a sincere, “You inspire me.”

Some runners appreciate interaction, like high-fives, or a sign that reads, “Touch this for

extra power!”

There are also two things you should never do at a race: 1. smoke near the course and 2.

cross a course right in front of a runner. Both are hazardous and downright rude.

I was pleased at Saturday’s Pincushion Hill Climb 1-mile race near Millerton Lake that I

didn’t hear “You’re almost there!” Not even once. I think it was because there were few

spectators, and all of the spectators who had hiked at least part of the 1,000-foot elevation

gain to cheer for the participants are — or have been — runners. When the climb is that

brutal, you know that yelling, “you’re almost there,” is just cruel.

(I did, however, appreciate the honesty of a sign posted at a fork in the trail. It read, “Not

even close!”)

Saturday at 7 a.m. hundreds of runners and walkers will toe the starting line at the

Wascally Wabbit Half Mawothon in Fresno’s Woodward Park. It’s one of the few 13.1-

mile races held within a short drive of Madera, and I encourage everyone to either

participate in or watch the race.

The course winds through Woodward Park (check out the map at thewascally.com) so

there are plenty of shaded areas for prime spectating.

Just please don’t yell, “You’re almost there!”


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