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Sooner or later, most runners realize that running isn’t really a solo sport. You have your running buddies, an obvious example, but there is also the vital presence of your running support group. This comprises the tireless non-running husbands, friends, family members, and other loved ones who shuttle you to races at ungodly hours in the morning, cheer for you along the route, and welcome you at the finish. So how can you, as a runner, make sure they’re taken care of, too?
If your support crew is new to running, make sure they know what to expect at your race, beginning with the basics. Explain the length (conversions from kilometers to miles is always helpful) and provide an estimate of how long it will take you to finish. If you’re in the back of the pack at a big race, make sure they understand wave starts and that you may not actually start the race until 30 or 45 minutes (or more!) after the gun goes off.
Also explain what you will need. Want someone to grab your jacket from you at the start? Think you’ll hit the wall at mile 23 of your marathon and really need a cheer at that point? Communicate these wishes ahead of time—don’t expect your support to intuitively know what you’ll need.
Plan, plan, plan. And make a back-up plan.
The devil is in the details of race logistics, and the bigger the race, the more logistics. Go over parking and drop-off/pick-up locations. If you run with your phone, make sure to swap numbers and be fully charged. If you don’t, planning for meet-up is even more important. Don’t just agree to “meet by the bathrooms”—what if there are multiple sets of bathrooms? Specifics are key.
For longer races, your crew may park then want the flexibility to leave and come back. Consider whether they will be able to leave and easily return. Also make sure your crew knows your bib number. If a race has a tracking system at the splits, sign up your crew to receive notifications when you cross the designated distances so they have an indication of your progress.
Check their vitals.
For race day you’ve probably obsessively checked the weather for your run, but also acknowledge what the weather means for those standing around and waiting. If it’s hot and a long race, make sure your crew has access to shade and/or brings hats, sunblock, and water. Also make sure they bring some grub: standing around being supportive builds up an appetite. Find out if bathrooms will be accessible to non-runners. Sometimes porta-potties are relegated to the finisher’s only area.
What about kids?
If there are young children in your support crew, their comfort is a priority that ensures everyone else has a good time. Depending on their ages, think about their needs considering an extended period of potentially boring waiting at the mercy of the weather. If a child in your crew is a particular fan of yours, consider giving him/her your finisher’s medal at the end, as a token of your appreciation. This is your chance to positively influence a potential future runner!
Tell them thank you. A million times.
A support crew, no matter how large, is worth their weight in gold for a runner, especially in those less-than-perfect races. Remember these folks brave the weather to essentially stand around and wait for you. And they are happy to do it. So make them know how thankful you are for their support. Offering a dinner out is always welcome, and for a particularly hairy race, a nice bottle of wine or a small keepsake is a nice touch. And always remember to offer your support in return.