Taking part in events is obviously excellent and something I fully endorse, but running cheering points can be pretty excellent too.
For the last few years, I have been organising the Cancer Research UK cheering point for the Cardiff half marathon each October.
I work for the charity but it’s a great chance to volunteer and, rather than running the same event each year, I enjoy seeing everything from the other side of the fence.
Rain or shine, we have a hardy gang of regulars who turn up to shout each year, so it’s great to catch up with them and make a lot of noise together.
In the weeks beforehand, it’s particularly handy to be able to tell friends who are running exactly where you will be, and that their supporters can come along to be part of somewhere easily recognisable too.
I always know that I will see some of my friends who I haven’t seen for a while on the day and, as it’s my local event, there are usually lots of other people I didn’t know were running too.
From a runner’s perspective, I find that using the established cheering points rather than making up your own arrangements can make it easier for both the cheerers and the cheered.
It’s good to have something to aim at and, when you are running, it’s much less confusing to look out for the big flags than “I’ll be at the second lamppost after the Costa”.
From the supporters’ perspective, anything that makes the day easier is very welcome – it’s a tiring business scurrying on the outskirts of an event trying to get to certain places by the deadline and there’s plenty of scope for misunderstanding!
Over the years we have had a few different locations for our CRUK point, but we are currently to be found just before the eight-mile marker. It’s far enough along for cheering to be needed and gives boost before those tough last few miles kick in.
On the day, we are up as early as the runners to get close to the cheering point and set it up, and you get to see some of the crowds pass on their way into town.
As we are trying to remember how we put the flags and banners up last year, it’s a chance to wish good luck to everyone, sharing the pre-race excitement while also being able to eat a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea.
Then those runners disappear and it’s back to more preparations as our cheering gang arrive and cable ties are applied to make sure everything is in place and not likely to topple over in a gust of wind.
There’s usually a helicopter filming the start, so you can look out for that, and then you forget and realise that the race actually started 10 minutes ago.
You keep doing the maths to work out when the first runners might arrive. Eight miles of their rapid pace seems to take no time at all and the outriders are suddenly upon you.
It’s easy to spot people to cheer at first and fast friends glide through in single file at exactly the pace they had predicted so you can be sure of seeing them.
Then the crowds start to swell and it’s more of a lottery. It’s hard to know if people started in the right pens and even seeing the pacers is no guarantee of if people got held up at the start.
You’re sure to miss seeing some of your friends in the throng, of course, but you are busy cheering everyone else anyway.
As it’s a CRUK point, the CRUK runners get a big shout as the call of “CRUK runner” goes up from our advance scouts at the front, but everyone else gets cheers too – BHF, Macmillan, Tenovus, Teenage Cancer Trust, Vegan Runners, Les Croups, Penarth & Dinas, San Dom, Swansea Harriers…everyone!
And regardless of charity or club, if you have a name on your vest, your chances of getting a shout are multiplied a thousand-fold.
For that next 60 minutes, it’s a blur with so many smiles and laughs and so much energy being passed from crowd to runner and back again.
The loudhailer cuts through the masses and runners waving back and high-fiving get everyone smiling.
After that hour, the ranks start to thin and it gets easier to see individuals again to give encouragement – by this point you can often have a full-on conversation with some runners too.
There is always a tricky balance later on as some of our cheerers have to head off to meet their runners, and families have to think about food, parking and getting home.
We always do our best to stay in position for as long as we can to see the last runners. These are the people who might appreciate the cheers and enjoy the support the most.
And then it’s time to go back to the car. The flags and banners are reunited with their corresponding bags and, with all the snacks and bottles of water gone, the boxes are significantly easier to carry on the return journey.
We’re usually starving by then. Obviously the runners deservedly get their medals for their morning’s work but I think we have earned some dinner too!
Come and join us at Cardiff on Sunday 1st October 2017, or check out if there’s a CRUK cheering point at an event near you here. Other excellent charity cheering points are also available!