What I Learned as a Spectator at STWM

On Sunday I went to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon race day for the first time in a long time as a spectator, watching and cheering some friends in 5K, Half and Full and I learned (or relearned) a couple things that I had forgotten about spectating.

1. Spectators Move.  A Lot.
I mapped it this morning.  I did at approximately 12K of walk/jogging to cover the course yesterday.  I saw the 5K runners at the 4K mark and then went and saw the half and marathon runners at 6K and 18K, and then booted it over to the circle around 39.5K of the full (catching them at 22 and 26 in circle as well, but I was on the finishing side of the course).

2. Spectators have to help figure things out on the fly
My friends doing the 5K were taking a cab to the start, so I decided the day before to hop in instead of finding my own way down.  When we got in, I soon discovered that no one really had a game plan for the day (Me: Your starting at Direct Energy Centre, right? Them: I think so?  Maybe?) or how to get there with the road closures (we tried to follow the instructions on the STWM site, but it didn’t work for us).  Long story short, there was some walking involved but everyone made it to their start, maybe just a little colder than they would have liked 🙂

3. Race Staff, Volunteers, and Police Officers deal with a lot of crap
Waiting around the 4K mark of the 5K (Bay and Front) I saw the most amazing group of volunteers and cops dealing with the rudest people.  I understand that a race is blocking were you are trying to go and you are annoyed that you have to take a detour around, but yelling isn’t going to help.  I have a line that I like to tell myself under my breath when dealing with people at work that applies well here: your exception is not exceptional.  I saw a man super close to punching a cop because he was trying to get to his office on the other side of the street.  Dude, if your office is at Bay and Front, there have been signs up for WEEKS that this race is happening – this is your fault that you can’t get to where you want to be.

I’d also like to applaud the lady who was in charge of all the marshals up Bay.  That girl was organized and had everything working like clockwork.  Alan Brooks, that girl needs a raise. Or an extra finish line banana at the very least.

4. Spectators should have a game plan
I had the first part of my day worked out pretty well up to the 18K mark.  Originally, I was going to head home here, but it was a nice day and I had a lot of clothes on (more on this below) and I was having fun cheering, so I decided to stay and catch the marathoners again.  Luckily, I was on the right side of the road for this decision (if I had been on the other side, I would have been stuck) but if I had thought ahead, I would have brought my bike.  There was a little bit of offroading involved.

5. Be Prepared
This is different from the game plan.  This is what you are going to need to get through the day.  I’ve decided that picking clothes is way harder as a spectator than as a runner.  Spectators aren’t moving as much, so they don’t warm up, and the weather changes just as much for us as it does for the runners; for example, it was way colder standing along Lakeshore than it was on Front.  I was pretty good and had extra clothes just in case, but I could have used more snacks. An external phone charger would have been good.  You are essentially camping for the day – bring all the things you may think you need.  You’d rather have them and not use them rather than wish you had it.  In hindsight, I wish I had brought some sunscreen; my face is a little bit pink today 🙂

6. Holding stuff is hard
This sounds stupid, but its true.  I spent my day holdings signs, but its hard to hold a sign to check your phone to track someone you are looking for at the same time.  Even harder if you have to take your gloves off because your touch screen and your gloves don’t communicate!  There is a lot of coordination involved!

7. Cheering is awesome
I love the CRS puts the names on the bibs bigger than the race numbers.  Not only does it let us cheer for people by name (which was a big booster), it helped me ID people I follow on Twitter (mostly the race digital champions) that I probably wouldn’t have picked out otherwise.  I know I for sure cheered for Kenny, Mike, Jodi, JP, Christa, Andrew, Petja, and Alyssa and I know I did yell at almost everyone else because I called almost everyone out by name as they ran past while I was out there at 39.5.

8. There are a lot of emotions
Especially towards the end of the marathon, spectators see it all and feel it all, right along with the runners.  They aren’t the ones running the race, but if you have a spectator out on the course, chances are, they went along on at least part of this journey with you.  They celebrated with you when you had a good run and commiserated with you when you had those aches and pains.  They even went through taper madness with you (and possibly had the worse end of the deal).  When I was at the 39.5 mark, I spent some time with two ladies waiting for their husbands in their first marathons and one of them summed it up great “Do you know how long I’ve been hearing about this race?  I can’t believe its almost over!”  The other one burst into tears as her husband run by, just 3km away from his dream finish.

The spectators see the good, but they also see the ugly.  We see the hobblers, the people running sideways.  Those days that just didn’t go according to the plan.  My neighbour was doing her first marathon and was ready.  When I saw her at 18, she was flying with the 3:45 group.  Live tracking told me when she passed through 30K, but then the 35K update showed that she slowed down – I assumed she had gone out to fast and hit the wall, but then it took her a really long time to reach me at 39.5. Turns out, something had popped in her knee at 32K and she couldn’t run anymore.  I asked her if she needed to stop and get checked out by the medic and the look I got was priceless – she was finishing this marathon if it killed her.  She was upset, but if anything she was more mad – she hadn’t trained this long to give up with 3K left.  I walked in with her the rest of the way in, and we met up with her boyfriend with 600m to go.  She ran the last 400m in, escorted by a bike medic who saw the look on her face as she tried to run.  She finished and was promptly put in wheelchair on the other side of the line and taken to the medical tent.  Not in the time that she wanted and not in the way that she wanted but it was done.  Was it stupid to do the last 10K on a injured knee?  Definitely.  But sometimes you just need to finish what you started.

I had a great day spectating.  If anything, it gave me a greater appreciation for my friends and family that have come with me to my races.  I have the best sherpas ever, and it was my chance to return the favour.

CRS, thank you for putting on a great race.  Volunteers, thank you for all your hard work.  Fellow Spectators, thank you for being out there (especially the group at 39.5K – there weren’t many of us, but our volume made up for it!).  Runners, thank you for giving us something to cheer for!

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2 Responses to What I Learned as a Spectator at STWM

  1. Pingback: A Year of Training – Week 9 | Run, Run, Run, as fast as you can…

  2. Pingback: Cheerleading at Toronto Women’s Run! | Run, Run, Run, as fast as you can…

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