What do you shout to encourage runners when you’re a spectator at a race? ‘Keep going!’? ‘You can do it!’? ‘Nearly there!’?
If you’re never quite sure what will actually help, new research has determined the best – and worst – things to shout.
Researchers at Plymouth Marjan University revealed that the right positive encouragement from crowds can boost runners’ performance. In the study ‘Keep the Pace! You’ve Got This!’: The Content and Meaning of Impactful Crowd Encouragement at Mass Running Events’, they found that while positive comments can benefit athletes, it has to be the right type of encouragement.
Unsurprisingly, helpful encouragement had a positive effect on the 861 runners surveyed who took part in mass-participation events. The results found that the quality of the instructions and encouragement made a difference. False information about the distance remaining (eg ‘Last hill!’ when in reality there were three hills left) was seen as unhelpful, whereas instructional information personalised to the runner was most helpful (eg ‘Run tall, keep your pace Sophie!’ if they have a personalised vest).
For those who’ve run the London Marathon, you’ll know the value of having your name on your shirt. The moment a stranger personally encourages you to keep going when you’re struggling can lift your head and seemingly re-energise your fatigued body.
The study found the reason for this was that these type of positive comments made runners experience a sense of skill and pride at what they’re doing while also bonding with the crowd, making them feel like they want to pay it back by running well.
The research led to a handy acronym for next time you’re cheering at a race: ‘IMPACT’ – Instructional and practical advice and encouragement (eg ‘Keep your pace’), Motivational (‘Great effort’), Personalised (with their name, running club or charity; making eye contact), Authentic and non-judgemental (‘That’s a great charity you’re running for’), Confidence-building (‘You can do this!’), and Tailored to the distance (‘You’ve only got half a kilometre to go’).
Unhelpful things to yell include false information on how much of the race is left to run (eg ‘Not far now!’ when there is far to go), comments on the runner’s appearance, or advising runners to dig deep when they’ve already dug to rock bottom.
The researchers recommended that if you’re cheering at an event try to remain empathetic to how runners are feeling and be genuine in your encouragement while refraining from encouraging injured runners to push harder.