7 tips for making race day an enjoyable experience for your friends and family
Race day can be a very long day—and not just for you. The friends and family who’ve been supporting you on your training journey have a long day ahead of them too—no matter if they traveled with you to a destination race or just woke up way too early on a Sunday in hopes of catching a glimpse of you out on the course.
Make sure you think of your support crew when planning for your race because you’ll want those (smiling!) faces to greet you when it’s all over, says Rebecca Edwards, the manager of Community Engagement & Fundraising at the nonprofit Save the Children. Three years ago, manager Edwards joined Save the Children to help develop their Endurance Program, in which the organization partners with third-party races (marathons, half-marathons and triathlons) for fundraising, and she herself participated in Team Save a few years ago when she raced the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. “All that emotion kind of builds up through the time it takes to do the race,” she says. “To be able to share all those feelings with the people you love just makes the experience so worth it.”
Involving your support crew starts before you even select a race. Edwards shares these seven tips for keeping your people happy while also having a great race day yourself.
Before you choose a race
Choose a fun destination. “Find a race that suits your goals but you can tag on and make it a fun experience for the family as well,” Edwards says. Whether it’s a Disney half-marathon or an Ironman near the beach, endurance events take place in some pretty amazing locations—ones that provide plenty of nearby activities for the kiddos and can easily turn a race into a race-cation.
Give them a job. If your friends and family have a purpose in helping you—beyond just cheering you on—they’ll feel more connected to your race. Have them help carry your stuff to the transition area, or work on getting a good iPhone photo of you during the race.
Make your support crew visible. It’s no fun if you zoom past your cheer squad but can’t pick them out in a crowd. Make sure they stand out with things like colorful (and funny!) cheer signs and/or bright clothing. “Some people do big cutouts of the face of their athlete—that makes it really easy,” she says. “I’ve seen helium balloons tied to a sign, so anything that helps you stick out in a crowd that you can attach to your sign is really helpful too—and it’s fun!”
Scout viewing locations. Prior to race morning, figure out the best spots for your supporters to locate you on course. Large races typically provide viewing guides online or in your pre-race info packet, or you can ask folks who’ve done the race before. Then coordinate with your crew to know where they’ll be waiting for you—you’ll be more likely to see each other in the crowds, and it’ll also give something to look forward to when the going gets tough. A bonus of racing with a charity such as Save the Children is the extra help in this area: “We’re a great support for the families,” Edwards says. “Whether it’s helping them navigate race day, or having a destination spot where they can come and sit and relax and get a great viewing of where their athlete is coming through.”
Give them an estimated schedule. “It’s important to plan ahead with your family so they can make sure that they can catch you as many times as possible during the race,” she says. To do that, make sure they download the race’s app (most major races have apps that are linked to your timing chip and can let your support crew know approximately where you are on the course). Also, if you have an idea of your timing (e.g., you’re doing a triathlon, and based on your wave start time, you expect to be exiting the swim between 9:15 and 9:20), share that with your crew ahead of time so they’re looking for you at the right time. “And I think most important is to be there at the finish line to greet you and give you a big hug.”
Treat them to a post-race celebration. Even better, let them pick the restaurant—it might just earn you bonus points that you can put toward another season of training and racing.
No support crew?
Not everyone has the financial or logistical ability to have their friends and family with them at a race. In those cases, make sure you build your own support crew from people who will be there. “I’m really fortunate that I have a group of other athletes that I get to train with and do races with,” Edwards says. It’s been a critical part of her journey as an athlete, she says, for the camaraderie, accountability and encouragement.
Edwards has also met athletes who raced through Team Save the Children who decided to go to it alone, for whatever reason. “They all have expressed how much it meant to them to have us there to be that support team for them when their friends and family couldn’t be there,” she says. “Whether it’s the [Save the Children staff] carrying their tire pump, or doing those little extra things because they didn’t have someone there, picking them up in the morning to take them over to the start. … They’ve expressed what a difference it is to have that. So if you aren’t able to bring your support crew, joining—whether it’s Team Save the Children or another charitable [team]—you get that built-in support, which is really, really awesome.”