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.