A big do? Make technology your friend, and use race resources to track your runner. Most major races now have a website that sends notifications to your phone, or an app that allows spectators to track live splits, projected finish times, and results. In many cases, all you’d need to know is your runner’s name or bib number to track them.
Kuzma recommends one person in the cheer squad take charge of tracking to ensure they find their runner on the course—that way, the whole section won’t get so caught up in cheering that their runner dashes by unnoticed.
“The last thing you want is to put in the effort and miss them,” Kuzma tells SELF. “You’ll be frustrated, and they’ll be looking for you.”
Use the app to have a visual representation of your runner’s location so you can determine how much time you have to reach the next cheer spot—if you’ll be going to multiple locations. Use the bathroom or grab a coffee while you wait for runners to pass.
Kuzma says it’s also crucial to know what corral your runner is in, what time that corral starts, and what your runner’s pace per mile will likely be—especially if the race doesn’t have live tracking, or the tracking gets wonky. Oftentimes, there are significant gaps between the first, middle, and last few corrals in races with thousands of people, so it’s important to have an understanding of your runner’s timing from start to finish.
4. Make yourself visible.
With thousands of runners and spectators along the course moving at a fast pace, it’s critical that spectators put in the effort to stand out. If you followed the advice in #1, you’ll already be bringing a noticeable sign, but there is more to keep in mind. Kuzma recommends using and wearing bright colors and “going vertical,” with hats, banners, balloons, and flags that stand out above the crowd. Think decorations that go up rather than out.
While cheering for Cindy during her first marathon, Kuzma wore a Hawaiian shirt and a cowboy hat to make sure she could spot him on the sidelines. In recent years, Kuzma has used the city flag of Chicago while spectating major races in and outside of the Windy City, where they live. “It’s helpful to get them up high, above head level so that they can be seen from a long ways away,” Kuzma says.
Knowing what colors your runner will be wearing during the race is also a helpful way for you to spot your athlete and subsequently make yourself known to them. Ask them what their race outfit will be, including colors of shorts, shirts, and shoes, as well as any hats or sunglasses they may be wearing. Give them a description of what you’ll be wearing too.
5. Read the room when cheering.
You don’t need to get incredibly creative with your cheers as long as they offer positive encouragement, Kuzma says.
As for jokes or funny lines? It’s all about knowing your runner. If you know something will make them smile, go for it. But Kuzma says jokes aren’t always appreciated when running. “Jokes aren’t funny when you’re running,” says Kuzma, who’s also run his own share of 5Ks. “They don’t hear them, and if they did, they’d have to think about it really hard.”