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Becoming a first-class Seconder

Becoming a first-class Seconder
Runner being welcomed back after taking on the Mighty Mutter 2015

Runner being welcomed back after taking on the Mighty Mutter 2015

They say that being a seconder to a runner – be it road or trail – is just as difficult as running the actual race! If there is anything I have learnt during my time of being forced to the sideline – it’s that they weren’t lying!

Being the seconder to a loved one or friend can be quite a stressful and demanding job which requires the utmost of patience and highest level of multi-tasking! The planning process for before, during and after the race is a complex one and one that, if planned properly, will earn you lots of love and adoration from your runner…

Before Race Day:

  • Get a full briefing as to when the race is; what time it is starting; if you will be taking them to the start and/or picking them up at the finish; and if they actually need you to provide them with anything along the way.
  • Ask exactly what they need from you. This includes any preferred food or drinks, clothes, extra socks, sunscreen, extra hydration packs or bottles, strapping, a headlamp or just the good ol’ fashioned moral support! Finding out the intricate details on their preferred race day foods will also take you from ‘average seconder’ to ‘Super-Seconder’ – this could be anything from toasted mince sandwiches to a flask with tea/coffee or soup (Yes, I’ve had those sort of requests before)!
  • Make their breakfast for them on the morning of the race so that they don’t have to worry about preparing it while they are busy getting ready and mentally preparing for the day ahead.
  • Find out where all the spectator spots are, and if there are any specific spots that you HAVE to stop at. For your runner, just knowing that they will see you after getting through a really difficult part of the race will mean the world to them!
  • Get to know your runner well enough so that you know how to mentally help them through the race. Would they prefer you to be firm with them and give them a bit of ‘tough love’; would they prefer more babying, OR would they prefer to just hear jokes to keep their spirits up throughout the day?
  • Discuss with them what YOU should wear or carry so that they will actually be able to spot you easily – helium balloons are a great add-on. You could also make an inspirational or funny sign! It could just be the one thing that keeps them from losing the plot – or their sense of humour!
  • Be prepared for the chaos! Always remember to stay calm and be prepared for last minute changes to the plan – and never let your runner know that you are stressed or frustrated! The day is all about them, and helping them – no matter what!
  • Organise a meeting spot at the finish. If there are a lot of runners, then you could spend up to 20 minutes looking for your tired runner – which is never ideal.

Seeing your runner along the way? Always ensure that they top up their sunblock!

During the Race:

  • The stressful experience is almost over. 😉 If you are able to support your runner during the race then you may witness a side to them that you have never seen before. Tired runners sometimes lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves so you may be there to support them and tell them exactly when to stop, when to go, when to eat, drink, sit and more!
  • Carry your own pack. Sometimes the worst thing for your runner to do is stop, so you need to be able to jog a few meters with them and feed them along the way.
  • Don’t forget that first-aid kit! The likelihood of blisters forming, and chafing and cramping appearing is very high – you need to be able to be their doctor.
  • If possible, carry ice with you! Nothing beats getting ice rubbed on aching muscles on a hot day.
  • Don’t take it personally if they end up having a bad race and you become their ‘punching bag’ when they start swearing and letting off some steam in your direction.
  • While encouraging them NEVER say, “Almost there”! The amount of times I have come close to hitting someone, knowing perfectly well that we are NOT ‘almost there’… I have a GPS watch; I don’t need you to lie to me… just give it to me frank 😉
  • Take lots of pictures and video! Every runner LOVES to feel like a bit of a movie star – even better if you can capture their glory moment on digital and then share it with the rest of world. These pictures also make GREAT birthday or Christmas presents and would mean a lot to them if you were to get one framed, along with their race number and finishing time.
Image from LesothoUltra 2014 -

Image from LesothoUltra 2014 –

Post Race:

  • Get them dry and warm – Make sure they wipe down with a towel and change their shirt so that they don’t get cold once their body has cooled down – and don’t forget the slops!
  • Be prepared to guide them and look after them as if they were a newborn 😉 Your runner has just gone through a pretty draining experience – both physically and emotionally. So they could be a little ‘spaced out’ by the time they finish and in need of your assistance.
  • Beer enthusiast? If your runner is the kind who normally enjoys a good beer or cider then try and keep one on ice, ready and waiting for them at the finish. (Apparently it is a great ‘recovery drink’ as well 😉 )
  • You think that it’s over once they pass the finish line, but it seems that your runner may get even more needy afterwards! From making additional meals to cure their insatiable appetite; to listening to their begging and pleading for rub downs to soothe their aching muscles! I think the ultimate sacrifice you can make is to offer them a leg and foot massage.
  • Organise some sort of celebration afterwards – whether it’s their favourite meal and bottle of wine; or just a candle-lit bath with aromatherapy oils …take the time to spoil them a bit and wrap up the big day for them.
Image via

Image via

The most important skill to have? Damn good listening!

You need to pack plenty of emotional and moral support, but above all, you need to listen to them – before, during and MOST importantly after the race. For the rest of the day once the race is over, all they will want to talk about is the race: where they chafed; where they cramped; how they felt when they saw you; the outer-body experiences they may have encountered; the amazing views they saw or the theories they may have come up with while out there on the route. They will want to talk about how much they suffered – and how they can’t wait for next year’s race so that they can better their time! Guaranteed.

This is the time to show your empathetic side; give them your undivided attention – and make encouraging comments when possible 😉

Natasha Papini

Blogger at UltraRunner ZA
Trail running junkie, workaholic, health nut - in that order!

To call me an "outdoorsy-person" is an understatement! I run to maintain sanity and see places normal folk wouldn't normally get to experience

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About The Author

Trail running junkie, workaholic, health nut - in that order! To call me an "outdoorsy-person" is an understatement! I run to maintain sanity and see places normal folk wouldn't normally get to experience

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