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.
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.