To Cheer or Not to Cheer – There Is No Question

When running on an out-and-back race course, unless you’re the Road Runner running from Wile E. Coyote or a Kenyan, you will meet the leader and the lead pack. Do you cheer for them? Or do you worry about conserving your energy, your breath, and your strength so do not cheer?

When I first started racing, I didn’t cheer. Part of me thought that they wouldn’t even hear me cheering either because they were in the zone or because they were going so fast that they wouldn’t be able to hear. The other part of me worried about conserving my energy, my breath, and my strength. I had such a hard time breathing that I honestly felt that yelling, “Way to go!” would make it impossible for me to finish.

Over time, I realized that cheering for the lead pack had no negative impact on my ability to finish the race or to set a PR. And I noticed that runners in the lead pack would smile when they heard someone cheer. That made me realize that these runners were just like me, that they appreciated encouragement especially as they were getting close to the finish of their race.

I started with baby steps, first just clapping for the lead pack and making eye contact and smiling. Eventually I was able to shout, “Way to go!” and “Woohoo!” and “Good job!” as the lead pack passed by me. And I always get extra noisy when the first woman makes her appearance along with the rest of the women in the women’s lead pack.

The Wahine Half Marathon last week was an out-and-back course and the slower runners did get an opportunity to see the lead pack. And despite being hot, discouraged, and tired (see my race report for the explanation), I cheered for the leaders. I clapped and yelled, hooted and hollered until the lead pack passed while I continued slogging away. The interesting thing is that I was the only one out of the other back-of-the-middle-of-the-packers who was cheering. I’m not exaggerating, either. It took some time before some other people started even clapping with me for the lead pack.

I do understand why other people weren’t cheering. It was hot. It was miserable. We were in a section of the course where there were no water stations. I’m sure we were all jealous of these women who were headed to the finish line where shade and refreshment were available. And I know that there were a lot of runners running their first half-marathon so they may have been unsure what the protocol was.

Here’s my advice – it’s always okay to cheer. Cheer for the lead pack when you see them. Clap if you can’t shout. Make eye contact and smile if you can’t clap. It will give the leaders a boost. But more importantly, it will make you feel good, too, because you will know that you’ve given someone else the encouragement they need to push to the finish. You’ll find that rather than detracting from your race, cheering for the leaders will put a spring in your step and give you a surge of adrenalin.

And when you’ve finished your race, go back to the finish line and cheer for some of the people finishing after you. That will really make you feel good.

Happy Running!

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Race Report – Wahine Half Marathon

Sunday, April 17th was the Wahine Half Marathon in Honolulu, one of the races in the Diva Series. This was the inaugural running of the Wahine Half Marathon, which means that kinks are to be expected. Before I go any further in my race report, I do have a couple of disclaimers as these incidents may (or may not) have impacted my race experience. Disclaimer number 1: I was scheduled to arrive midday on Friday, which would have given me a day and a half to relax and prepare for the race, but my flight on American Airlines was canceled and the earliest that I could get to Honolulu was midday on Saturday. Disclaimer number 2: My training fell off in April. So with those disclaimers, on to my race report!

Packet pick-up was in the Sheraton on the second floor. Signage could have been better but perhaps the Sheraton didn’t allow the Divas Half Marathon Series put up directional arrows. The volunteers were great – enthusiastic, warm, friendly. I felt truly welcomed to the event after talking to the volunteers in the packet pick-up area. The boutique and expo was – in a word – weak. I was happy to see BondiBand there, though. They were at the San Jose Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon expo last October and I bought 3 headbands there. I had hoped to see them at the Big Sur International Half Marathon expo last November but they weren’t there. I bought 3 more headbands to ensure that my headbands will match just about any running outfit I wear.

The hotel I stayed at – the Sheraton Princess – is not one that I would recommend, but that’s a different topic. The Sheraton Princess is about 1.9 miles from the start line so it was a good warm-up to walk from the hotel to the start line on Sunday. There were no port-a-potties at the start line. The nearest toilets were about 100 yards or more away from the start. While it was nice that they weren’t port-a-potties, there simply weren’t enough stalls – even though we used both the men’s and women’s sides – to handle a crowd of 2,200 or more.

After standing in line at the toilets, I made my way to the start line. We had to cross a little bridge and climb over a wall to get to the start line. Of course the bridge was a bottleneck and that’s yet another reason that some port-a-potties ought to have been set up at the start line. It was pretty amazing, though, to see this sea of women in mostly black and pink gathered there at the start.

The start line itself was disorganized and chaotic. The pace corrals were not corrals at all, meaning that there was no demarcation between corrals like there is at the SJRnR Half and the BSI Half. The pace markers were about four feet apart, which means that most people ended up lining up after the pace markers because there wasn’t enough room in the “corrals” for people. The race started late because the organizers wanted to be sure that the fire dance happened – not that many of us could see the fire dancers anyway. Then a recording of the national anthem was played – without any announcement, especially an announcement to remove hats or show some modicum of respect for the moment – and the recording crapped out midway through. What was uplifting at that moment, though, was that the crowd picked up the anthem without missing a beat and even though hats weren’t removed and hands weren’t over hearts, it was an emotional experience to hear 2,200+ women’s voices lifted in song. With all that chaos and disorganization, it should come as no surprise to note that the race started more than 10 minutes late.

The race route was horrible. It was a mixture of an out-and-back and loops and u-turns. It would have been better if the race were simply 13 loops around Ala Moana Park. At least we would have had shade and regular water stops. As it was, there was a space of about 3 miles – between mile 4 and mile 7 – when there wasn’t a water stop in sight. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it was overcast, cool, and breezy but it was sunny, hot, and humid. This was also the first half-marathon that I’ve ever run where there was no energy gel stop during the race. I think the race directors should reconsider the route so that they can plan regular water stops and water stops that can do double-duty.

The last mile, which should have been celebratory, was miserable because you entered the finish area with all the music and announcements and people . . . only to be told that you had to circle the peninsula – another three-quarters of a mile – to get to the finish line. It was disheartening and discouraging to be so close to the finish line and yet so far. Even though I had seen this on the race map, I didn’t expect it to be as discouraging as it was. I think part of the reason that it was discouraging was because the last 5 miles had been a miserable slog and I just wanted to be done. But I know that I wasn’t the only runner who was disappointed with the finish as I talked to a number of women who expressed similar sentiments. The race route was also longer than 13.1 miles. My Garmin showed a distance of 13.37 and again, I was not the only one who experienced this.

The finish area was a bit more organized than the start line but then again, that’s not saying much. There was sparkling apple cider to celebrate with but since there were three lines for finisher photographs, two of the lines never even got near the sparkling apple cider. I, of course, chose the line that went by the sparkling apple cider table so I didn’t miss out on it! After the finisher photos, people just milled around because they weren’t directed to the post-race food line. They certainly didn’t miss much – plain bagels, bananas, fruit bites, and cookies. I’ve seen better post-race spreads at smaller races.

The volunteers along the course and in the finish area were amazing. They were always smiling, always shouting encouragement, and always positive. I think the volunteers were the best part of this race and the Big Sur International Half Marathon could take a couple of pointers from the Wahine Half Marathon volunteers.

The boa and tiara station was a fun stop. And at this stop I realized the power of having your name on your race bib. As I took the tiara being handed to me, the volunteer called me by name and encouraged me to finish strong. As I took the boa that was held out, another volunteer called me by name and told me I was doing great. It’s amazing to hear your name after 12 miles of hot, sweaty work. More spectators along the route after the boa and tiara station were calling out encouragement to runners by name and every time I heard my name, I smiled and appreciated the personalized race bibs.

Would I run this race again? I’m not sure. All in all, it was an expensive venture what with the airfare and hotel expenses. And since I didn’t have a positive race experience, it’s hard to say that I would come back next year. If you enjoy going to Hawaii for a vacation, this would be a good race to have on your calendar. I hope the race directors ask for feedback and listen to feedback from participants.

Happy running!