Five Ways to Emotionally Support A Runner

Ste­fan Holm /

There are mile­stones in every runner’s life. While some of them—such as com­plet­ing their first race—are more obvi­ous than oth­ers, all mile­stones are impor­tant and impact­ful to the run­ner, and all mile­stones are sweet­er when sur­round­ed with the sup­port of those whom the run­ner loves. While there are plen­ty of won­der­ful and cre­ative ways to sup­port a run­ner, this arti­cle focus­es on the most invest­ed type of support—the kind that will real­ly make your run­ners shine from the inside—emotional support.

Ask about their race/goal
Has your run­ner men­tioned that they are train­ing for a race in a few months? Ask about it! Ask ques­tions beyond just ‘how long is it?’ or ‘what’s your goal time’ (although there’s noth­ing wrong with those ques­tions). Try some more open-end­ed ques­tions that show a deep­er, gen­uine inter­est, like: How did you pick that race? What will be the most chal­leng­ing part of that race for you? What are you most look­ing for­ward to about it? What is the his­to­ry or sto­ry of the race? (You may be sur­prised how often there is a sto­ry behind a race’s begin­ning and course, and how often that is the cat­a­lyst for run­ners to select it to com­pete in.)

Help them stay positive
Set­backs and injuries—big and small—are nor­mal parts of train­ing for most run­ners, espe­cial­ly as the dis­tances they train for­get longer. Many injuries will either self-cor­rect, or the run­ner can help it along with some phys­i­cal ther­a­py or care­ful atten­tion. How­ev­er, whether they have a strained mus­cle that needs some baby­ing for a week or a stress frac­ture that will take them off the trails for months, the dis­tress of injury is very real, frus­trat­ing, and dis­ap­point­ing for run­ners while going through it. You can’t heal their body for them, but you can help keep their mind healthy and pos­i­tive. Even if your encour­age­ment and opti­mism doesn’t appear to be well received-or received at all—it is. Keep it coming!

Run­ners like (Love? Obsess over?) to talk about their run­ning routes, their week­ly mileage, blis­ters, fun­ny things that hap­pen on the trails when no one is around, races they are con­sid­er­ing, races they’ve just fin­ished, and every­thing in between. You may not find it near­ly as fas­ci­nat­ing, but just lis­ten­ing and giv­ing them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to share a bit of their pas­sion with you – some­one they love and want to share this with—probably means more to them than you realize.

Remem­ber race/goal day
If your run­ner trains for a race or a spe­cif­ic goal, take the time to mark it on your own cal­en­dar so you’ll remem­ber when it arrives. If you can’t phys­i­cal­ly make it there to cheer them on and give them a con­grat­u­la­to­ry hug at the fin­ish line, you can still make them feel spe­cial, remem­bered, and encour­aged by send­ing a good luck card a few days pri­or, a ‘con­grats!’ card after­ward, or even a sim­ple phone call or text to let them know you remem­bered, care, and believe in them. Lit­tle efforts go a long way.

Mean­ing­ful encouragement
Although a sim­ple, “Good luck!” or “Look­ing good, keep going!” is far bet­ter than noth­ing at all, there are some encour­ag­ing words you can pass along to your run­ner that may have a longer last­ing or deep­er impact. Phras­es like, “You look strong,” “You have pre­pared for this,” “Keep dig­ging deep,” and “You are inspir­ing” remind the run­ner how hard they have worked, and are cur­rent­ly work­ing, to be where they are. It reminds them that they’ve felt pain before in train­ing and have sur­vived, so they will sur­vive the cur­rent race as well. It reminds them that they are strong in the head and the heart, as well as in the legs.