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Why Race Spectating Can Benefit Your Training Plan

Alison Feller

As a runner, there are few things more exciting and invigorating than waking up early on a weekend morning, meticulously pinning on a race bib, and joining hundreds—maybe thousands—of fellow runners for the ultimate test of speed, endurance, and agility.

Race Day.

I fell hard for racing after my first four-mile race in Central Park a few years ago. I couldn’t believe how many runners were lined up in front of, behind, and alongside me. We had all trained hard, we were all possibly fighting off the same eager nerves (and nervous pee, let’s get real), and we were all there because we wanted to be! (Of course, these are huge generalizations—it’s very likely that more than a few people at any given race are hungover, under-trained, or there because they lost a bet. But let’s roll with this example for the sake of where I’m going with this story.)

There was such camaraderie as we started working our way toward the starting corrals, making sure our iPods were cued up and our shoelaces were double-knotted. Everyone was so nice, so supportive, so friendly—even while waiting in the long Porta-Potty lines!

I remember feeling so happy that entire day. It was a kind of joy I hadn’t felt before, even through years as a competitive dancer and performer. At the start of the New York City Marathon, it’s tradition to play Frank Sinatra’s classic “New York, New York.” While that song of course applies most directly to the NYC Marathon, there’s one line in there that rings true to all races: “I want to be a part of it.” (Get a dose of running inspiration by reading 24 Motivational Quotes for Athletes and Runners.)

While Race Day—be it a local 5K or the world’s largest marathon—is inevitably special for all the registered racers, there’s another super special way to experience a day at the races. And it can be just as motivating and inspiring than actually being the one crossing the start and finish lines.

I’m talking about the very important sport of “race spectating.”

Last weekend, I did what I do on any given weekend morning: I woke up before the sun, put on my perfectly planned outfit (a long-sleeved shirt boasting the November Project logo, short shorts, legwarmers, and my Hoka One One Cliftons), braided my hair, scarfed down some breakfast, used the bathroom (maybe more than once), and then headed toward Central Park. I had 10 miles on my training plan!

But I didn’t wake up extra early to run my own 10 miles. I woke up extra early to stand on the sidelines—in the cold, fighting the wind—as my friends, teammates, and total strangers ran the New York City Half Marathon.

I stood on a bench near the first mile marker, screaming, clapping, and shimmy-shaking for all 20,000 runners that passed by. I spotted dozens of friends, and saw so many people running for important causes, charities, or loved ones. I saw people who were absolutely flying (ahem, Meb Keflezighi), and others who were struggling early on. As I screamed and cheered and danced (no joke, my glutes were sore the next day from some particularly aggressive moves), runners looked my way and smiled back as they kept moving.

There is nothing quite like spectating a road race. And if you’re ever lacking running motivation to get out the door, I highly recommend going and watching a local race. Stand near the finish line for extra excitement. Cheer. Clap. Smile. Do jazz squares. Tell people you like their outfits, or that they’re doing great. (Just don’t tell them they’re “almost there”—unless the finish line is actually in sight.) (These 26 Best Marathon Signs from Spectators are an excellent wat to spread the running love.) I absolutely guarantee you will walk away feeling inspired.

It worked for me: By the time I was done spectating, I set out on my own 10-mile journey. It was the fastest long run I’ve had in weeks.

Alison Feller is a writer and editor in New York City. She has completed five marathons, 11 half-marathons, and many shorter distance races. When she’s not writing or on the run, Alison can be found in the yoga studio, on a spin bike, or (on very rare occasions) cycling outdoors with her fiancé. Keep up with Alison on her blog, Ali On The Run, or on Instagram and Twitter @AliOnTheRun1.

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