Sunday, May 29, 2011

Beating Cheer Fear

Lately I’ve found myself in a spot that’s typically reserved for my parents when they watch me run marathons and do Ironmans: the sidelines. I’m still injured and recovering and while I’m trying not to let it get the best of me (I had a near melt-down yesterday but can’t explain why), I’m still showing up at the races. Except instead of having the goal of finishing said race, I’m there to cheer and fulfill my duties for FFCheer while my teammates are out running. The name alone, FFCheer, connotes cheering and lots of it, but I realized yesterday that I’m really bad at cheering. And I mean really bad. Before I thought it was because I was too busy racing—eye on the prize, head down, barreling toward the finish line in hopes of reaching whatever goal was lingering in the back of my head for the day. You don’t really cheer for your competitors, especially when they’re passing you or you’re passing them. At least I don’t. I feel like I’m being taunted by a five-year-old sticking her tongue out, waving her hands and saying, “Nanny-nanny boo-boo, you can’t catch me.”


With this extended time on the sidelines, I’m noticing that I don’t say anything when I’m watching the runners go by. Nothing. Dead air. Crickets. I’ll snap tons of pictures, but I can’t seem to utter a word out of my mouth, nor do I whistle or clap.

Reflecting back on other experiences, it occurred to me that this is nothing new. I did it more than five years ago when my friend was running her first Army 10-Miler and I tried registering too late to gain an entry—I stood outside the Smithsonian, never saw her run by, but never cheered for the runners that did pass. I did it at Ironman Wisconsin when the runners battled through the heat and the mental challenge of being 26.2 miles away from a 140.6-mile goal. I did it a few weeks ago at the Ravenswood Run. And I did it again at the Soldier Field 10. Yes, I was the girl in all black standing along the road about a half-mile from the finish (or so the race announcer said), likely with a scowl on her face. The scowl wasn’t on purpose, it’s just the look I lapse into when I’m deep in thought or watching intensely. I swear.

But I think it’s far from inviting to a racer. Correct me if I’m wrong but who’d really want to see a spectator just standing on the sidelines, especially when you needed a little kick to the finish and your power song wasn’t cutting it? The only problem is I don’t know what to shout or what runners want to hear. Yay, runners! Keep it up! You’re almost finished! Less than a mile to go! I never liked it when I heard the shouts of being five miles from beer along the Chicago Marathon course, partially because my stomach can’t tolerate beer after a race and partially because they underestimated the mileage, the toughest mileage, we had left to encounter on the course. But maybe I should have gone with the obvious and read the names on the bibs and shouted, “Go so-and-so,” as they ran by. The only problem with that is I would have yelled, “Go Jeff!” to a girl. Oops.

What cheers do you want to hear from the spectators when you’re in the final mile of the race? I’m all for suggestions, I could use them for next time because I’ll still be on the sidelines (my tip: try as hard as you can to avoid injury cause when it happens it more than messes with your race schedule and fun running). And I’m tired—and embarrassed—to be a silent spectator. 

Photo grabbed from prc1333 at flickr. 

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