Dublin Marathon: The supporters’ guide
Get Running coach Mary Jennings on the joys of cheering from the sidelines
Running 26.2 miles on Monday morning is not everyone’s ideal bank holiday treat. For others, it is the best day of the year in Dublin, when the city comes alive with support, energy, smiles and goodwill. If you are in the city this weekend, I urge you to come out and see what it’s all about.
Having experienced the Dublin Marathon as a runner many times, this year I will trade in my running shoes and join thousands of supporters with posters, balloons and loud cheering voices as we encourage the runners around the course.
Supporters and spectators make a marathon. It is no surprise that Dublin Marathon is known as “the friendly marathon”. The supporters distract us from the distance. They encourage us to keep moving. They are in awe of the marathoners and the runners feed off their energy.
A cheer, a smile or word of advice from a stranger can bring runners to tears. Supporters make us feel we are winning when the winners have long since finished and are back home on the sofa eating pasta.
Being on the sideline takes the art of people-watching to a new level. You witness runners of all shapes and sizes, young and old, all moving towards the finish line. Watching will inspire you to get off the couch and lace up the runners.
You may even find yourself overcome with emotion. Supporting a marathon is slightly addictive. You stop to cheer for five minutes and an hour later you find yourself with sore hands, a hoarse voice and a tear in your eye.
Should you be lucky enough to live along the route, make a day of it and set up camp in your driveway. I have passed some very tempting barbecue, picnics and deckchairs on the Dublin Marathon route. How wonderful it feels to run past a house with families cheering, music playing and kids offering sweets.
Supporting a marathon is a sport in itself and it helps to have a strategy, especially if you have friends and family running. Supporters will not recognise a runner in the crowd so being conspicuous really helps. It’s almost Halloween, so take advantage and dress a bit differently. Posters, balloons, wigs and loud colours all make a supporter stand out.
Running a marathon is hard work but so too can supporting, if you are dragging young children across the city with you. Even the most patient children will get bored. Pick a spot near a toilet, a shop and somewhere with shelter. It can get very cold waiting for runners. The last thing a runner deserves to meet at the end is a group of wet, cranky, hungry and bored supporters.
As a runner, give your supporters limited logistical tasks and everyone will have a more enjoyable day. Tell them what side of the road to stand on and always run on that side. Know exactly what junction or landmark they will be at and tell them what supplies you would like them to bring.
But don’t depend on your supporters for food or drinks as there is no certainty you will see them. Avoid running too close to the pacing groups near your meeting points as they are very crowded and you might miss your supporters.
As a supporter, find a spot on your own on a straight stretch of road. Avoid bends as the runners will be more focused on turning the corner. Halfway up a hill is a great meeting point.
Have an estimate of your runner’s time finish. You will see pacing runners every 15 minutes with flags and banners so you will have an idea of what stage the runners are at. Thanks to technology you can now also track participants online as they pass landmarks through Facebook.
If you are chasing a runner around the city, do not commit to more than three meeting points unless you are on a bike. The roads will be closed and you will only put yourself under unnecessary stress.
There are plenty of vantage points for spectators along the route. There is no value in a supporter standing at the start line, where there will be enough excitement and crowds for the runners. They will need you more later on. The Phoenix Park is always surprisingly quiet and the runners will be glad of a cheer as they travel uphill towards Castleknock at five miles.
At 13 miles, the runners will be running uphill again at Crumlin Road, and what better way to go up a hill than to be cheered along? At 22 miles, along Fosters Avenue, the runners will look very different from when you waved them through the Phoenix Park. Now is not the time to tell them “You’re nearly there”. Four miles is a long way when you have 22 miles in your feet.
Be positive and enthusiastic. Tell them they are amazing. Never try to fool a runner by saying “It’s all downhill from here” unless you are absolutely certain. Even a canal bridge will feel like a mountain in the last mile.
Be prepared for bigger crowds the closer you get to the finish line. Your runners won’t need you for the last few minutes. Let them enjoy the final stretch without having to look out for you. Arrange instead a meeting point in a hotel or café for later.
Finally, runners, take out your headphones and soak up the atmosphere. The crowds are there to help you. Wear your name on your shirt and enjoy the cheers from friends and strangers. Whenever you feel a dip, run along the side of the road past the supporters, force out a smile, and their enthusiasm and energy will carry you all the way home.
Mary Jennings is a running coach who trains beginners, improvers and marathon runners. See ForgetTheGym.ie. She also leads The Irish Times Get Running courses, which you can join any time at irishtimes.com/getrunning