Running · Sports

We Got Spirit

I firmly believe that one of the very best things you can do to prepare for a race is to put yourself on the other side of one – especially after a setback like an injury or illness.


By “other side,” I mean the non-running side. In any capacity. Albuquerque hosted its annual World’s Toughest 10k last weekend, and I, having entertained the notion to run it this year for about six seconds, opted instead to don my volunteer hat and hopefully be of some use to my friend, Randy, who organized the event. I admit I had ulterior motives: I’ve volunteered at a few races, and I know that nothing motivates you for a run (be it a race or training jaunt) like not running, particularly at an event where you are the clear minority. And I am an unrepentant glutton for motivation these days.


I arrived at the finish area, knowing the rest of the course was already covered, volunteer-wise. Well, it turned out the finish area didn’t need much help either. What was a caffeinated volunteer to do?


The natural, clear solution: more cowbell.


What I couldn’t supply in tangible value I made up for in volume. It’s a hard fact that nearly every local race sorely lacks fans. I’m talking the people who set up lawn chairs in their neighborhoods, the moms who yell “You go girl!”, the people who create makeshift aid stations – all those boisterous folks who cheer for runners they’ll never know. Bless them.


This race proved no exception to the sparse crowd rule. The population of the finish area consisted primarily of volunteers, with a few scattered clusters of runners’ families and friends. Kinda bleak. I said to myself, “These runners will be finishing a 6.2-mile all-uphill race. Someone should be excited for them, make obnoxious amounts of noise, and look like a crazy person.”


That’s what staying up past my bedtime to watch “Titanic 3D” does to my brain.


I perched on a curb along the homestretch, hollering and ringing, yes, a borrowed cowbell. I really need to start keeping those things in my car. I did actually provide some legitimate help, such as shooing errant spectators off the course when runners were barreling towards us. Mainly, though, I played cheerleader.


And it felt great! I don’t know about you, but as a solo runner I keep catching myself getting caught up in my running. My training, my recovery, my rotten days, my interval splits, blah blah blah. Let me tell you something: there is a whole WORLD of runners out there!


Focusing completely on all those other people was pretty cool, for a couple reasons. One, encouraging others in the pursuit of something you’re familiar with gives you that good old “You’re not alone” assurance. Two, watching your peers accomplish that task reminds you of your own capabilities. You’re not just cheering them along, you’re cheering yourself along.


For all those people knew, I wasn’t even a runner. I was just some weird chick ringing a cowbell and shrieking stream-of-consciousness encouragement. It was a cathartic little experience. I highly recommend it.


12 thoughts on “We Got Spirit

  1. There have been times during a race when I didn’t appreciate the “looking good” comments, but realized afterward how much they helped. Volunteers and spectators always increase the energy of a race. Good for you for volunteering and cheering.

  2. Cowbells – they DO add something, not only for the runners, but ringer as well! Nothing like having a stranger glance at you, give a little wave and smile… makes getting up at 0-dark thirty worthwhile! I’ll never be a runner, but I’ll for sure be a crazy old lady standing on the sidelines ringing my cowbell and yelling whoo-hooo!

  3. Great job getting out there supporting the fellow runners. Last year I set up a make shift water station and sprinkler station with my kids as a local 5k ran in front of our house on a hot evening. It was a blast!

  4. I considered that race for about 6 seconds too! I think I need to start volunteering more, even if just as an unofficial cheerleader. You are right. The local races don’t have any course support, and sometimes all you need is a friendly encouraging cheer from a spectator to make you go from miserable to energized. Thanks for being that person!

  5. Every race needs more cowbell! Our most fun race last year was on July 4, through a neighborhood with quite a few people out. Kids lined up for high fives, music playing on radios, and one guy offering sprays with his hose. We had a blast, thanks to them. Volunteering is a great idea!

  6. I have to say that as a runner I get an amazing boost from crowd support. As a race volunteer I get a huge buzz from seeing throngs of enthusiastic runners. Whoever said running was lonely was wrong. There is amazing camaraderie and support to be round in the running community. Keep those cowbells ringing!

  7. We don’t have any spectators here, either, and it’s about an even mix of those runners who glare at you and those that give you the thumbs up. I really don’t get the glaring. 🙄 It’s just a race, people. There will be more. It’s not like we’re elite athletes getting paid big bucks. Lighten up. And use a cow bell if you’re not running!

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