While  Heather and Marianne, the two long-distance BRFs who took on their first marathon, have recapped their races, two voice have yet to be heard from: Tamara and Abbigail, two BRFs who took on owning their marathon spectating experience. Sounds like a breeze, right? Well…

When Heather asked if we would be interested in supporting her as she and Marianne ran their first marathon in Corning, NY we immediately and enthusiastically responded, “Yes!!…well… we need to check with husbands (both working all weekend), find babysitters (three kids each), look at work/volunteer schedules, consider Cub Scouts/cross country/lacrosse commitments that weekend…but…Yes!”

We had both spectated a marathon before but this time we didn’t want to just finish.

We wanted to own it.

We developed a plan spanning several weeks that outlined specific tasks leading up to and including the event.

Our plan had three distinct phases: Preparation, Implementation, Relaxation. The PIR plan.

night before

Everyone carb-loaded the night before the big event.

Step one: Securing lodging. In the AMR training plans, some workouts are designated with a coffee cup, which means the workout can be skipped if need be. But for Abbie—and anybody else who wanted to sleep on a bed and use an indoor bathroom—this ‘coffee cup’ task was mandatory. She was diligent in her efforts and did an internet search using 5 sites, repeating every 3 days with 2-3 emails to the group outlining the pros and cons of various options

Step two: Creating signs. Signs were a “water bottle” workout; mandatory, can’t be skipped. Brightly colored poster board was obvious but the messages? Tricky. They needed to be eye catching while imparting both humor and inspiration.  After several brainstorming sessions, we settled on a Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” theme, feeling that it conveyed just the right tone:  like “Hey Girl, you look hot and sweaty, just like I like it.” Difficulties included acute marker fatigue, penmanship and proper word alignment.


Hey Girl.

Step Three: Getting ready to track runners. We were stressed the night before because there was so much to think about.We stayed up late plotting our racers’ paces (thank you pace calculator!) and actual times they would be at specific miles and the travel time in between. This required a basic understanding of time and math. (Math!)

Step One: Transporting runners. At 5:30 a.m., we ignited our implementation phase with a ride to the bus loading area that would then transport them to the race start.  At one point Marianne wanted to check the bus schedule – I, Tamara, shouted out, “Page 18 in your program!  Page 18!!” Abbie and I high-fived each other. This was our first real test and we passed with flying colors.

Step Two: Finding runners. With our runners on their way, we were on our own. We tried not to show our nerves to each other, not wanting to affect the other’s performance, but it was pretty obvious. Abbie had a FULL cup of coffee — instead of her usual half — and we both went to the bathroom twice before setting off. After several initial missteps (including heading east on route 86 instead of west…WEST!), we arrived at our first location.

Our relief was short-lived.  We had only just parked near the turn at mile 5 when a gruff man with a round bearded face knocked on our window and told us we were on private property. We were told to move. We nodded solemnly at each other as Abbie put the keys back in the ignition. We WILL overcome this obstacle. Let’s work the problem.

We found a closed ice cream store where other spectators had parked about a half-mile up the road. When the clock ticked 8:15, we got ourselves in position.

Step Three: Cheering for runners. We spotted the leaders approaching fast and began the real work of spectating. Abbie is a professional and drew from a previous history of cheerleading in high school. I am a master of the single handed whistle, which I liberally employed. We gave it everything we had.


Abbie gets in position.

Step Four: Document runners. When Heather approached, we cranked it up a notch. After she passed, we realized we failed to obtain a picture for her husband, who anxiously awaiting a visual update. NOOOOOOO!!  We were devastated, but we dusted ourselves off and carried on.

When Marianne approached, we were ready. Pictures obtained. Check. Encouragement yelled. Check. Signage engaged. Check.

We can DO this!

Step Five: Repeat. Car rides were a workshop in multitasking: refuel (granola bars, apples and delicious pumpkin spiced almonds) while driving (Abbie), determining course direction (Tamara), utilizing both traditional means (paper marathon map) and non-traditional (iPhone). Abbie had to make an emergency bathroom stop, but fortunately we found a convenient rest stop and little precious time was lost.


Tamara plots their next move.

The next few hours passed in a blur — insert slow-mo movie montage featuring stinging palms from clapping, chapped lips, hoarse voices and arm fatigue from sign holding.  We hit a wall around mile 18 when I accidentally yelled out, “Hang in there!” instead the more appropriate catch phrases of “You got this!,” “Good job runners!,” or a well timed, “Way to go!” I immediately felt the shame of my mistake.

Our proudest moment was when a runner shouted out, “You girls are everywhere.”  We looked at each other with pleasure. Exactly sir. Exactly.

pink sign

Going old school.

When Heather and then Marianne crossed the finish line, we were thrilled for them — and for us! What an amazing accomplishment! It had been over five hours of intense spectating but we did it. Abbie and I headed home with heads held a little higher.


Step One: Refuel. We decided initiate the last part of our plan — relaxation — while we ate some of the leftover pasta from dinner the night before. I think we earned it.

Step Two: Review. Next time, we’ll plan better and bring thicker poster board (the wind can be brutal), a cow bell (more noise!!), and a wide mouthed jar (for emergency bathroom breaks). Learn from our oversights.

What have you learned from being a spectator? Any tips or insights?