Why you should spectate for the Kansas City Marathon

Ambassadors_300wideI used to hate running. Despise it, really. I suppose I could blame torturous mile-runs in elementary and junior high gym class, plodding around a playground or gravel-covered track only to finish last—every. year.

Fast forward (almost) two decades and, after cheering for my friend Jamie during her first 5K, I was bitten—OK, nibbled on—by the running bug. And after completing a few races, my personal trainer, Cheryl Birkey, asked if I’d consider spectating for the Kansas City Marathon.

Last year’s race dawned clear but frigid, so I bundled up, grabbed some homemade posters and headed to a prime spot along the course. I had several friends to track, not wanting to miss a chance to flash them a personalized sign. I also had a couple of generic signs that I waved enthusiastically to the runners, accompanied by what I hoped were encouraging shouts: “You’ve got this! You’re doing great! You inspire me! You’re a rockstar!”

The half-marathoners were the first to run by me, given my spot on the course. Many of them waved back, flashing a thumbs-up sign or yelling their own encouragement—to me! A mere spectator! As the minutes ticked by, I felt the gratitude from the runners deepen. They were happy to see smiling faces along the route, heartened by the cheers and the signs. So many of them paused, looked at me and said, “Thank you for being here. Thank you for doing this.”

I had to look away a couple of times to blink back tears. Here were these amazing athletes—pushing themselves during an incredible achievement—and they were thanking me? For simply standing there with some pieces of poster board?

Running_SignsAt that moment, I had a revelation. I wasn’t sure where my own running journey would take me—the idea of completing even a half-marathon seems too far beyond my physical abilities, an impossible feat. Yet I realized I could participate in another way: as a spectator.

Every race needs cheering spectators, especially half- and full marathons. Some runners are in a zone, the noise of the crowd something that barely registers as they power to the finish line. Yet for others, spectators provide a much-needed boost, an enthusiastic energy that helps them stay on course—no pun intended.

Running is exhilarating. It’s empowering. And it’s hard, especially in a long-distance race. Spectating, on the other hand? It’s not difficult, but it makes an immeasurable difference. Plus, it’s inspiring. I left last year’s marathon with a spring in my step, a renewed determination to focus on my own goals, having just watched thousands of athletes make their dreams a reality.

Last year, I vowed that I’d never again miss a chance to be a spectator at the Kansas City Marathon. This year, I encourage you to join me and the other committed spectators who are such a vital part of the event. I think you’ll be surprised by the lasting impact the experience will have on you. I may not ever adorn my car with a  13.1 or 26.2 window sticker, but as a spectator, I can participate in my own way—one that’s just as gratifying as crossing that finish line.

See you out there?


Katy Ryan Schamberger is a freelance writer learning to find (and embrace) her inner runner. So far, her favorite running things are gear (especially shoes), finisher medals and savoring a contact runner’s high while cheering on Kansas City half- and full marathon athletes.