The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide


Before you go to watch your loved one at a big marathon, you must read The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide!  It’s the top 10 tips for anyone wanting to watch and support a loved one running those 26.2 miles!


The Ultimate Marathon Specators Guide - support your runner

Hi everyone!

The only thing more fun than running the Chicago Marathon may going as a marathon spectator for the Chicago Marathon.  In fact, some (like the Hubs) may argue that spectating is even more fun because it doesn’t involve doing something (his quote, not mine) ridiculous…. like actually running 26.2 miles.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

My husband, my best friend, and her husband were basically the most successful and BEST marathon spectators ever.   I’ve asked them to give you their perspective of the big race and some insight on how the day went from the sidelines. So without further ado, I’m turning the blog over to the Hubs….

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

The Hubs Marathon Spectating Story

I’ll start this off by noting that I’ve never thought of running as a spectator sport.  I’ve spent my whole life involved in sports, but almost all of them have involved a ball of some sort.  Whether soccer, basketball or baseball, there were always bleachers, screaming parents, concession stands, a hated arch-rival and eventually even a few crazed fans.  Long distance running was always foreign to me and seemed extremely boring (sorry runners….)

I started sports as early as I can remember and was fortunate enough to work my way up to play baseball at a professional level.  Baseball was my passion and all I ever thought of was continuing to get stronger, faster and better.  I’d do whatever it takes (qualifying that with “legal”) to keep improving.  Running was merely a tool to getting better conditioned and more often, a punishment for a not so great performance.  I think Julie even has a T-shirt that says, “My sport is your sport’s punishment.”


So when Julie started to get this same look in her eye about running a couple of years ago, I immediately recognized it and tried to be as encouraging as I could.  I’ve played the role of supporting husband and showed up at the races she’s signed up for.  This started off very simply with a few 5ks.  These were fun and pretty “painless” as a spectator as you could show up to the race (a bit early…) and they usually would get started fairly soon.  After the gun, you could usually expect her to show up around 30 minutes or so later.  A “high-five” and a hug later, you’d head to the post race party and have a pretty enjoyable day.


However, the 5ks quickly turned to 10ks, 15ks and“Halfs.”  And the reasons we were going were becoming less about fun and more about the race bag, T-shirt and the “holiest” of all grails – The Finishers Medal!  All runners will tell you running these distances are still fun, but don’t believe them, as they are completely obsessed with these precious objects of desire.  They are willing to put themselves through any and all pain to achieve these prizes, including ice-bags, ice-baths, hot-baths, strange stretching routines, yoga routines, cross-training and eating food that even infants would spit back up on you.  Our dogs won’t even go near the stuff and they spend most of the day licking their behinds!!!!

Fast-forward a couple of years and here we are at the epic journey that is known as the Chicago Marathon.

Chicago Marathon 2012-1

I originally believed I wouldn’t even be invited to tag along on this one.  Wrong.  That thought quickly turned into, “what in the world am I going to to do for 5 hours?”  My only suggestion during the process was that if she was going to do a Marathon, that she should pick a big one.  She settled on Chicago and I figured that I could find plenty to do in Chicago.  “Were the Cubs in town?  Where could I find some good deep-dish pizza and beer?”  Wrong again.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

It wasn’t until I was forced to watch the movie, “The Spirit of the Marathon” that I grasped the full gravity of what I was in for.  This is a documentary about the Chicago Marathon and gives the perspective of a half-dozen runners at various levels from beginner to senior to elite.  We watched this movie the weekend before leaving for the race, and I was incredibly unprepared at this point.  Holy Smokes!  We as spectators need T-shirts, signs, noise-makers and a plan of action!  There are going to be 45,000 runners and nearly 1.7 million spectators at this race.  This is bigger than anything I’ve ever imagined.

If you’re reading this as a spectator, then the first step is to realize you are not ready for this!  The following tips are designed to help you get your butt in gear and be the best marathon spectators you can be.  Your runner needs you!!!!!

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide


Dress to Be Noticed

You are going to be in a sea of people and you need to stand out.  There were 1.7 million spectators at Chicago 2012 and it was often times 4-5 people deep in places.  You need to make sure your runner can spot you so wear something that will set you apart from everyone else.  Somehow I got lucky enough to wear this…

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

Construct Awesome Signs

Luckily for me, Julie’s best friend was all over this one.  Our signs had glitter, butterflies and were completely “blinged out.”

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

The race expo had stations for creating signs, but you really need to develop these at home.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

There were some awesome signs on the course, like “Chuck Norris never ran a Marathon,” “26.2….because 26.3 would be crazy,” “Worst parade ever.”  Also, be sure to hold up the correct sign at appropriate places.  Unless you want to get a lot of dirty looks, don’t do this at mile 2.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

Also consider buying these as a surprise for your runner.  We didn’t do this, but saw people who had and it was hilarious.  They are big giant head cutouts.  You can upload a picture of your runner.

Develop a Game Plan

Know your runner’s pace and plan ahead where you are going to try to see them.  This gives them something to look forward to as they’re pounding out the pavement.  You may not see them every time, but if you plan appropriately, you may catch them at most places.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

We studied the Chicago Subway/Elevated train maps and planned to see Julie at miles 1, 4, 7.5, 10, 13, 17, 21, 23 and near the finish at 26.  I later learned that was a bit ambitious, but we only missed one of the “cheer-points.”  Look at the map carefully because you will have to figure out how to get to the different locations along the course without actually crossing the course.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

Plan to buy a public transportation pass for the day and to wear comfortable shoes and clothes.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

You may not be running a marathon, but you will still be covering a lot of distance. Don’t leave your running shoes at home.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

Sign Up for Text Alerts

Chicago had an awesome system to text my cell phone as Julie crossed various mile markers.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

This helped us be sure she was on pace and judge how we’d be on our schedule of seeing her at the various places.  We wrote the different times we were expecting her to be at different places on the map. We also had a stop watch that helped us judge where she was in between the text alerts

Evolve and Adapt

Things will inevitably not go according to plan at some point.  You need to realize the crowds will be larger in some places, stations too far of a walk and trains running slower than you need them to.  You’ll need to adapt and move on to the next point if you won’t make one in time.  We started off terrible and missed Mile marker 1, but quickly adapted and saw her at Mile 2.  We also had to skip Mile 10 and just move on to 13, but most of the day went pretty well.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

Donde Esta El Bano

If you see a bathroom…..USE IT!  We skipped some Porta-John’s at Mile 8 and soon learned this was a huge mistake.  All of the bathrooms in the entire city of Chicago mysteriously and simultaneously broke at the same time.  Actually, all of the restaurants close and lock their bathrooms.  They don’t want you there and don’t care if you’re willing to buy anything.  No one told us this and this would have been a huge help.  We didn’t find another chance until Mile 21!!!!

Spectators Need to Hydrate and Fuel Too

Bring a back-pack full of food and drinks.  This could be a long day (depending on your runner’s pace) so be sure you are prepared for it.  VW had a great stand that saved the day for us as they were passing out breakfast burritos, fruit, waters and orange juice.  We would have missed another “cheer-point” had we needed to stop for breakfast.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

Use Social Media and Take Pictures

Have all your other family and friends follow on one social media site, so you’re not texting and talking to a ton of people all day.  I took over Julie’s Twitter account and I apologized to all her loyal viewers as this is not my expertise.  Hopefully, it kept you all mildly plugged in to the race though.

The Ultimate Marathon Spectators Guide

Have someone who is good at taking pictures document the day.  Your runner will love having pictures from the race, especially since official race photos rarely turn out well and are very expensive.  Her best friend’s husband took these pictures, which is why you don’t see him tagging along here.  But without him we would not have captured this!

Chicago Marathon 2012-20


Set a Unique Post Race Meeting Place

There will be 45,000 runners finishing and over a million spectators all heading to the finish line and post race parties.  Find a unique place to meet your runner after the race so they know where to find you.  Otherwise, you don’t stand a chance.

Chicago Marathon 2012-46

Have Fun!

We had an absolute blast during the Marathon!  Chicago is an awesome city and we experienced nearly every neighborhood within a 5 hour period (although none extensively).  The whole thing was a great adventure for us too.  Whether it was navigating the Subways/EL, watching runners dressed as Superheroes…

Chicago Marathon 2012-19

and the Queen of England, or checking out the bands set up along the streets, we have not experienced anything like this before.

Chicago Marathon 2012-14

Not only were we cheering on Julie, but we found ourselves screaming our lungs out for all of our 45,000 runners.  It was obvious near the end of the race that everyone needed cheers, signs and high-fives to keep them going to the finish.

Chicago Marathon 2012-45

The Marathon (Chicago in this case) is an amazing accomplishment and Congratulations are well-deserved for all you runners out there that dug down deep in your gut and found the pride and perseverance to pull this off!



Thanks Hubs!   So wasn’t he the best marathon spectator ever?  I also went back to my Chicago Marathon Recap and updated with larger pretty images if you care or missed my marathon journey.

Also check out the time I spectated the Asheville City Marathon— cow bell and all!


I recently gave this oldie but a goodie a HUGE makeover with updated large photos and text.  It’s the only time the Hubs has taken over the blog AND his advice is pretty awesome.  I hope you enjoyed it!


Like this post?  I’d love it if you could pin this to your favorite running or fitness related board!

The Ultimate Marathon Specators Guide


I hope you enjoyed his tips! Come back tomorrow for a great snack to dunk that homemade ranch in from yesterday– Baked Zucchini Fries!

I’m linking this post with Jill Conyers for Fitness Friday & Inspired to be Fit, Amanda for Thinking Out Loud Thursday,  Coaches Corner, and Annmarie for Wild Workout Wednesday.

Your turn!

Have you ever spectated a marathon?


  1. Brad Davis September 12, 2016 at 12:50 am - Reply

    I like these photos, you are look like happy and powerful. Thanks for the tips.

  2. Larry dunn August 26, 2016 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    these are great tips, maybe i’ll participate a marathon soon. you all look so happy and powerful. yea sport is always great! thanks for sharing

  3. Farrah August 12, 2016 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    I’ve never run a full marathon or watched anyone do it, but these are great tips! Having that awesome support system makes such a big difference! I love the signs that people come up with! :] Your husband did such an awesome job! 😀

    • JulieWunder August 14, 2016 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      He did! I got so lucky to have them come and help. Would not have been the same experience without them.

  4. Rachel August 10, 2016 at 8:41 pm - Reply

    What a great post! So funny. Your husband is a good sport!

  5. Blane Sherer August 10, 2016 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    I remember your Chicago Marathon very well.
    I’m sure that brings back great memories for you.
    Way to go Julie and ” your team ” ( smile )

  6. steph August 10, 2016 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    I LOVE spectators along the course, as well as being one! I would also add to be mindful of gun/official time. My boyfriend and I missed each other bc he was looking for me to cross at a certain time, but did not take into consideration I started nearly 5 minutes after the gun went off! I also had to laugh when I reads your hubs comment about running shoes…my boyfriend took 3 pairs to my one when he spectated my race 😉

    • JulieWunder August 14, 2016 at 5:18 pm - Reply

      Ahh yes! That is a great tip– thanks for adding it!!!

  7. Meagan @ My Life as Mrs August 10, 2016 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    I loved reading this! He’s hilarious. I’m actually really impressed with your maneuvering skills because Chicago can get crowded quick and that’s just on a regular day in the city! I’ll point my husband to this if I ever decide to do a marathon 😉

    • JulieWunder August 14, 2016 at 5:17 pm - Reply

      Yes he is :-)> Always making me laugh. I have no idea how they pulled all that off. I’m terrible with directions and such so If the situation were reversed I never would have caught him in as many places.

  8. Janelle @ Run With No Regrets August 10, 2016 at 11:55 am - Reply

    This was so much fun to read, your hubs did a great job! Being a marathon spectator is such a fun experience – I’ve gone out to see friends and my boyfriend and they really do appreciate the support. Now I know where to get those giant heads, lol! I’d love to run Chicago one day, looks like an amazing experience for runners thanks to the spectators!

    • JulieWunder August 14, 2016 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      It is really fun to be on the other side too! Chicago was amazing. I was going to do a local marathon, but I’m glad I took his advice to do a big one.

  9. Nicole @ Fitful Focus August 10, 2016 at 11:27 am - Reply

    This is such a great post!! After my first half, I planned to meet my family in the main meet up area and ended up not being able to find them for an hour, so definitely agree with picking a more unique place!
    My boyfriend has done his fair share of spectating for me, but he refused to hold the sign I wanted him to hold at one of my halves. It said, “If you finish, I’ll buy you a bulldog.” Such a party pooper!

    • JulieWunder August 14, 2016 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      bahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!! Love that! My wouldn’t hold a sign that said Dachshund either… so don’t feel bad.

  10. Jen @ Pretty Little Grub August 10, 2016 at 9:58 am - Reply

    I absolutely love this. As a runner, there is nothing more important than spectators. I so, so appreciate every single one of them who gives up their Sunday to cheer us on.

    • JulieWunder August 14, 2016 at 5:14 pm - Reply

      I agree! I’ve actually gone and cheered on a race before and it’s so much fun to even be on the other end.

  11. Annmarie August 10, 2016 at 9:52 am - Reply

    My husband needs to give this a read, his race spectating skills are lacking 😛

  12. I’m going to be spectating this year at Chicago! Great tips and your husband was such a good sport. I don’t even make mine go to my races anymore…

    • JulieWunder August 14, 2016 at 5:12 pm - Reply

      Oh fun!! You’ll have a blast!
      He was a really good sport. I’m sure if I did a bunch of them he wouldn’t be as enthusiastic! 🙂

  13. I love that they have text alerts now for bigger races so it makes it easier to track friends. I’ve seen some great signs out there and love it!

  14. Dan Steadman August 10, 2016 at 8:12 am - Reply

    we did long long long time (1989 when my dad ran one)….as one who has run one, those are good ideas, as are the signs at the expo…still remember (and have) the signs my kids made me….also remember the minute my wife’s and boys hands came out for a high five and immediately there were 20 hands out….also whatever you do, please don’t say this phrase “you’re looking good” Please, I know I look like unadulterated garbage, don’t lie to me….also remember a certain person named Julie cheering at mile 25, being at mile 25 helps give that 1.2 mile push

    • JulieWunder August 14, 2016 at 5:09 pm - Reply

      Hahahahaaaaa!!!! I feel ya!!!!
      I still can’t believe I actually caught you on the course!!

  15. Susie @ Suzlyfe August 10, 2016 at 7:05 am - Reply

    I LOVE THIS. He and my mom should be on a team of most epic spectators ever. Also get Erica from Erica Finds involved.

  16. [email protected] August 10, 2016 at 5:16 am - Reply

    I am so excited to be running Chicago this yr. I will have to give thesee tips to my friend that is coming to spectate. I love reading funny signs during a race. Helps the time go faster.

    • JulieWunder August 14, 2016 at 5:07 pm - Reply

      Yay for Chicago! It was such a fun marathon. I hope the tips help your friend!

  17. […] the course looped, there was less ground for spectators to cover and I was surprised at how many people were at each street corner to cheer people on.  […]

  18. Joe McKibben October 22, 2012 at 3:08 am - Reply

    If you want your runner to be able to spot you in the crowd go to a Dive Shop or a Diving website and get a Safety Sausage. It’s an 8 foot long inflatable tube in neon green. My wife could see it from a mile away, literally, as she run up 2nd Ave in the NYC Marathon.

    • JulieWunder October 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm - Reply

      What a awesome idea! I love it! Sounds like you were a great spectator too 🙂

  19. Diane norris October 21, 2012 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    Totally awesome !!

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