Fall racing season is well underway, if not at least halfway over by now, so, whether you are an avid runner or not, the chances that you know someone who has run a race this year might be pretty high. Recently, a colleague of mine asked me for some advice on what to get for her roommate who had just finished her first marathon. Naturally, her roommate had trained very long and hard, and my colleague wanted to do something special for her, having witnessed firsthand the grueling schedule and emotions that come with marathon-training. Giving a gift to someone who finished a race was something that hadn’t totally occurred to me, and I didn’t quite know how to answer her. Celebrating a marathon finish was never really something I did or expected from the people in my life. Nor was it, to be honest, something I celebrated when other people ran races.
Like many runners I know, running races is how I choose to stay physically and mentally healthy. While I had always run for fitness, I started training for marathons because I was bored with life after grad school and I saw that a lot of my friends were running them. And in the five years I’ve been training for marathons, I simply just kept running them. Looking back on my experiences as a runner, I think at the end of about 95% of my races, I crossed the finish line and no one was there to celebrate with me. Usually, if I had a few friends running the race, I would try to find them in the finish line village or go back to the course and cheer them on. Once or twice, we’d get brunch together and talk about our races. A couple of times, I met up with friends in the evening for dinner. If it was a race vacation, I celebrated with my travel companions. Most of the time, though, I just grabbed my checked bag, free food and beer, and then I’d stumble back to my car or the Metro and head home where I would get in the shower or a hot bath, and sleep for 6 years or at least until I had to work the next day.
The truth is, though, most of us avid runners don’t expect our family and friends to keep up with all of our crazy running antics, nor do we expect a huge celebration every time we finish our race or get a PR. But it doesn’t mean we don’t thrive on the love and support of those in our lives, nor does it mean that we are too “hardcore” to care when someone we know or love makes a big deal out of something we tend to think of as “a hobby.” And while we runners are typically already looking forward to our next challenge, it is important for us to slow down and celebrate our own accomplishments instead of rushing head-on into the next one. At some point, we lose sight of the fact that crossing the finish line of any race is awesome. And running any distance at any speed at any stage of life when it’s easier to give up than to keep going should be celebrated.
So, here is my very simple, totally basic, can’t-go-wrong guide to celebrating with the runner in your life. There can really be no gesture too big or small because it pays dividends. Words of encouragement or being told someone is proud of you comes back to us at grueling points in a race. Looking forward to seeing someone you know in the middle of a race can be the difference between hanging on and letting go. Being able to tell someone about your run or your race afterwards, even when they have no idea what we are talking about, gives us a sense of validation that can be hard to achieve on our own. Unlike chasing down a PR on race day, it’s fool-proof.
Make It About Them
Okay, so you have a runner in your life and you want to do something special for them. Where do you start? First rule: make it about them. You don’t have to know what their PR is or even have to understand why anyone would want to run hundreds of miles over 16-20 weeks just to run 26.2 miles with the goal of “just finishing.” If you want to do something special to celebrate the runner in your life, all you need to understand is how important it is to them that they accomplish this goal. Just like someone who gets a big promotion at work: you didn’t have to be there with them in the office every single day to know that, when they say, “I got the job!” it means that they accomplished something. It’s a basic rule of thumb, but it works for a lot of giving scenarios.
For Your Colleague
Okay, so now what do you actually give to your runner? A lot of it depends on who that person is to you.
Let’s start with professional. Generally, I’d say that words of affirmation or anything in the food and drink genre will be a good starting point when the runner is a colleague of yours, and your relationship is friendly professional. Start with these ideas:
- Bring it up at the end of a work meeting at the point when your boss asks if there is anything else for the good of the order: “I’d like to congratulate John for running the City Marathon this weekend!”
- Offer to buy a round at the next office happy hour, or suggest a round after work.
- Bring in a 6-pack of their favorite beer or bottle of their favorite wine, if it’s appropriate.
- If it’s your boss, my general rule of thumb would be to stick with words of affirmation or asking him or her about how it went at the end of a one-on-one with them, and ending with a simple, “Congratulations!”
- Try a gift bag! Another office I worked in, at which a lot of my colleagues were running a local marathon and half-marathon that weekend, the company’s Health and Wellness Committee put together gift bags for us runners, complete with a granola bar, a small bottle of Gatorade, a packet of Gu, and some fruit snacks with a funny running meme stapled to the front of the bag.
- Another small office I worked at brought donuts the day before my race because they knew I was carb-loading.
All of these gestures, big or small, depend largely on what kind of workplace you have, if there is good rapport with and among your colleagues, and if you’ve made it known beforehand that this is what you do outside of work. Still, celebrating your colleague’s personal achievements can be as simple as you’d like and still generally be well-received.
For Your Loved One
And what about if they are a personal relationship to you? Again, any gesture is not too big or too small here, but start with asking if they have a goal on the line. Some runners have big goals, whether it is our first or our fiftieth race. Sometimes its a personal record. Maybe someone is out there because they overcame a huge personal obstacle, like the death of a loved one, addiction, or a disease and wanted to run a race to prove they are stronger than their misfortune. Maybe they wanted to draw attention to a cause that is near to them and running a race was their way of supporting it. Or perhaps someone wanted to beat a time goal, score a Boston-qualifying time, or earn some other prestigious title, or just cross it off their bucket list.
Usually, it’s best to know why your runner is out there and what they want to achieve before the race so you can plan a little bit. Ask the runner if they want to do something to celebrate after the event, or if they would want you to come out and cheer them on along the course.
Having someone meet you along a race can either be exhilarating or distracting, depending on the runner’s goals. Typically, we enjoy it. We’re more likely to feel bad that we can’t stop and make your time waiting for us worth the while. I personally love it when I know someone is out there waiting for me. During my first marathon, my boyfriend at the time met me at miles 11 and 23 carrying a backpack full of stuff I might need along the way. After the race, just having him there to help me walk and eat the huge cheese pizza I wanted for dinner afterwards was enough for me and one of my favorite memories of us together. Another time, when running a half-marathon in Virginia Beach, a friend of mine came along with me and cheered me on. Seeing her in the crowds as I sprinted toward the finish line is still a highlight of that race. Being there to support them at their race is a huge, huge way to show your support, especially because most of the time you have to get up early and stand in the elements to wait for the 2-10 seconds that you see them run past you. We definitely understand that, and I promise you, it’s worth it.
As far as celebrating my race, I usually want food. I’ve run races where all I dream of in the end is a huge, sloppy cheeseburger and a thick, tall milkshake. After running the 2015 Baltimore Marathon, after which I earned a PR, I celebrated with a couple of friends at a local diner, eating a huge cheeseburger, fries, and a blackberry milkshake. Just having them with me on a day I achieved a goal was enough for me. In 2013, after running Rock ‘n Roll DC, another friend of mine took me out for a steak dinner. Start with a celebratory dinner: ask your runner where they want to go for their “victory meal.” We usually always have something in mind.
Gifts for Runners
Now, if your runner has overcome some legitimate impressive totally bad-ass and awesome goals to get over the finish line (or is all of those things in general!) and you want something commemorative to give him or her, there’s a lot of great gifts out there for runners that will let you do just that. Typically, anything that helps us recover from long runs or kick butt in a race is a good rule of the road here. You cannot go wrong: if we already have it, we’ll probably need a replacement for it soon enough.
Here’s a couple of ideas:
- Running Gear. Typically, there is nothing we runners would say no to, so buying him or her something to wear from the official race supplier is always a win. Of course, we’ll take a new pair of running shoes any day, too! Here are a few of my favorite picks:
- Jewelry. Not many races have an official jeweler, but there’s a lot of great places to buy and even customize a charm necklace, a pair of cuff links, or shoe tags. Try my favorite outlet for running-related jewelry, Erica Sara Designs. I own several pieces, and they hold up very well in a lot of tough conditions.
- Medal Rack. This might be a good one for runners who run races a lot or plan to run more, but you can find a number of options hat allow you to personalize it. Ask your runner if they have a mantra that is important to them, or if there is something you always say to motivate them. Check out GoneForARun.com for some ideas!
- Race Photos. Most races have an official race photographer that offers not only photos of your runner in action, but customizable medal and finisher certificate plaques.
- Recovery Gift Basket. Here’s what I suggested to my colleague for her roommate, and I’m not totally sure she took it, but I would personally be moved if someone put together a basket of post-marathon recovery goodies. You can include things like a bag of protein powder, some nice bath salts, foot scrub, a jar of Tiger Balm, a bottle of champagne or wine to celebrate with them, some delicious energy bars to help them eat for recovery… the possibilities are endless with this one. Or you can just try this one!
- Frame It! Did you make an exceptionally cool poster to hold up along the race course? Or is there a special picture of you with your runner at the finish line? Frame it!
- Gift certificate for a massage. Ahhhhhhh, this one would awwwwwwesome to have! Or a pedicure would be great, too, since we no longer have to worry about screwing up our toenails!
- Homemade food. Chances are, your runner has eaten a lot of crap in the days before the race and during the race. Typically, in the week of a marathon, we need to eat a lot of carbs to get our muscles full of glycogen to power us through the race, and eating a nourishing meal following a hard race is what we need probably more than a victory meal. Think of how touched your runner would be to come home and find a home-cooked meal or homemade recovery treats!
- Personalized photo gift. These days, you can make just about anything using a photo service: mugs, calendars, memory books, canvas art. If you runner has a lot of favorite running photos, take their favorite photos and create something unique and special!
Here are some additional gadgets that are sure to make a hit with your runner:
- Runners World Marathon Roast Organic Coffee Beans, $16.
- Running cookbooks, like Run Fast Eat Slow or Meals on the Run, $15-20.
- Coasters made from a race bib, $26.00 for a set of 4, 26MileStones
No matter what the gesture, big or small, having someone there to encourage us when we are down and to celebrate us when we achieve our goals is what is the most important to us in the end. I may have personally not gotten a lot of gifts for completing my races, but I do remember the times my loved ones celebrated with me. I remember text messages from my mom before at least one of my marathons, wishing me luck, even as I know she has no idea what a marathon is or why her daughter runs them. I’ve had some runners tell me how having their children with them when they finish a race was enough for them. No matter how you decide you want to celebrate your runner’s success, just know that it really does mean a lot to us runners.
So, is there anything you’ve gotten from your friends or family to celebrate your achievement following a race?