While running the 2014 Ghost of Seattle Marathon, Robert Watson was pounced on by a dog who left a few scratches on his stomach as a race souvenir. “The owner didn’t bother to even apologize,” said Mr. Watson, who still managed to set a personal record for the event.
In the 1998 Chicago Marathon, Matthew Riegler yelled at a clump of spectators who appeared to be blowing cigarette smoke in the direction of the runners for fun. “I swore at them and resumed my misery,” he said.
And last year, as Hillary DeLong neared the finish of the Chi Town Half Marathon in Chicago, she
had to navigate her way through the crowds that had stepped off the ice-covered sidelines right onto the course, which was less icy. “At this point, I had spent 13 miles hyper-focused on not slipping and tearing or breaking something, but then had to weave pretty aggressively around entire families just to get to the end,” she said. “I usually try to give spectators the benefit of the doubt and a lot of liberties because I know how hard it can be to be out there cheering someone on, but this was next-level unawareness.”
Road Race Management doesn’t offer race directors specific guidelines on handling spectators, but managing them is always tricky, said Mr. Stewart. “It’s one of those things where, yes, they need to be controlled. But balancing that versus the excitement and exhilaration they bring — how do you strike a balance?”
For exceptionally crowded races, or in extremely congested race areas, the best line of defense is barricades, said Susan Harmeling, executive director of the Gasparilla Distance Classic Association, which puts on four races in two days in Tampa, Fla. They put up barricades at the start and finish of the course to keep runners “at a minimum of six feet from any spectators,” she said.
Near mile 11 of the Gasparilla Half Marathon, where children from the…