#FlyCIM was my very first cowbell corner experience and yes, yes it did live up to the hype. Once drumsticks were pulled out to be used on an extravagant cowbell belt, I knew that the role of cowbeller was no joke. I felt like I learned so much during that race, I learned what to wear, how to pace my cheering to last the entirety of the race, and the right phrases to say to really give the perfect amount of encouragement.
Turns out, first time cowbeller Amanda Chambless felt the same way and even wrote into Oiselle sharing all of the rookie cowbell corner mistakes she felt she made and learned from. Needless to say, I couldn’t agree more with her pro tips.
Spectating a marathon seems straightforward enough, right? Well, it is if you’re not excited by marathons, which is a state of being as confusing to me now as running marathons was before I was a runner. I’m fairly new to the running world, having just started from scratch February of last year, but I’m definitely itching to run a marathon. Unfortunately, it’s all clamshells and balance boards for me right now (rehab/prehab), so to give myself a shot of inspiration to put in the work, I decided to spectate the California International Marathon just a quick 90 minute jaunt from home (ha). I wasn’t really sure where along the course to be or what time to show up, but in the days leading up to the race I learned that some friends of mine were running it, and that Oiselle was setting up camp at mile 23.6. Score! I set my alarm clock and showed up the next morning around 8:30 feeling suddenly a bit shy, which hasn’t really been a thing for me in my adult years. This brings me to the first bullet on the list of things I learned about marathon spectating (that’s a pun, in case you missed it, because the spectating becomes its own sort of marathon) and who doesn’t love a good list?
- You’re invited! The more the merrier when it comes to making noise. Within minutes I’d learned some names and had a cowbell bestowed upon me like a lei directly from a big bag of them brought specifically for sharing.
- Bring a reusable mug. Oiselle was set up ingeniously in front of two coffee shops. There was plenty of coffee flowing, and aside from the obvious environmental benefits, having a distinct mug kept my drink hot and easy to find whenever I needed cowbelling fuel.
- Protect your eyes. I spent the first two hours using a small tree to shade my eyes because the low angle of the sun shining right behind approaching runners made it impossible to see otherwise. A hat would’ve been ideal; relying on a tree limited my range of motion and increased my wallflower factor. Sunglasses would’ve come in handy when the lead woman (Sara Hall - now I’m a fan for life) ran by and inspired me to tears. Ditto for a mid-packer fighting off tears whose feelings I caught. Or stick with the hat and let your emotions show freely; there’s no shame here.
- Say what you’d want to hear. It’s surprising how difficult it is not to sound condescending while encouraging a runner. Just take my word for it from the back of the pack. Couple this with the fact that it’s very loud and your target audience is running, and you’ve got about three syllables to get your point across. Choose them wisely.
- Consider gloves. Runners know that hours of repetitive motion results in some chafing, but I never thought to apply that to clanging a cowbell until I discovered I was missing a couple spots of skin on my left hand. This might be the most selfless reason someone can have to buy lux gloves. “It’s so I can support runners to the best of my ability!” Sounds perfectly reasonable.
- You need earplugs. I was too focused on the race to notice, but hours of clanging, yelling, whistling, and generally being as loud as possible caught up to me and my ears are still ringing. Oops.
- Wear your Oiselle in layers. Marathons start in the cool morning hours of Cat Lady Scarves and Pom Beanies, but if you’ve got any kind of stamina (and I’m guessing you do) you’ll be needing to shimmy out of your Yeti and... I was going to say into something more comfortable, but I hear that’s not a thing, so… out of something more comfortable? You know what I mean. Things are going to heat up. Wear shedable layers.
- Bring a sign. This is my most flexible advice. You do need your hands for cowbells and whistles, but being heard over all the #birdsofencouragement (please tell me this isn’t already a thing - ridiculously proud of having thought that up) is no easy task. If you’re looking for someone put their name on a sign! Bonus points for having something funny on the other side for after your people pass by.
- Keep your afternoon open. I thought going down to Sacramento would be the end of my #FlyCIM FOMO, but that was before someone asked me, “Are you going to the after party?” You mean there’s an event with running AND party in its description? Next year, whether I’m a runner or a spectator, count me in.
Here’s to bringing race support to the next level!