Spectating at the Marine Corps Marathon

Photo: Steve Laico
Photo: Steve Laico

The Marine Corps Marathon brings thousands of spectators to Washington D.C. and Arlington every October, all of whom just want to see their runner and enjoy their time in the nation’s capital. In 2014, we published a spectator’s guide of advice from our editor. This year, we asked local runners and their friends for their best advice to making the most out of that morning. Use this guide while developing your plan for the day to best support your runner and make the most of your morning!

Get Around

Running & Walking – John Pickett of Alexandria attempted Marine Corps twice in the mid-80s, but estimates he’s spectated 10-15 times since then. “The MCM is great for spectators because the course folds back on itself,” he notes. “You can get two views of the runners relatively easy at Capitol Hill and in East Potomac Park, for example. And you can go from the start to the midpoint in a mile or two instead of 13 miles. It’s next to impossible to do this with a car or transit when a marathon is not going on. It’s worse with the race going on, of course.”

Bicycling & Capital Bikeshare – Pickett, however, is more in favor of bicycling to get around the course. “Bikes are much better [than walking] because they are faster and you can carry stuff (like your favorite runner’s discarded jacket),” he writes. He outlines a detailed spectating plan that rides past a half-dozen points on the course, detours for coffee and apple fritters, and still gets you to the finish to see your runner “in their death throes,” as he puts it. “Better them than you, right? Try this on foot and you’ll give up at the cafe on the Hill.”

If you don’t have your own bike, Capital Bikeshare is an affordable alternative to get you around that morning. It costs $8 for a daily membership, which offers unlimited 30-minute rides (fees apply after that) and docks available across the course. You can purchase single rides for $2 (fees apply after 30 minutes). Check CapitalBikeshare.com for pricing information, service disruptions, and other updates.

Metro – Metro is your best transit option if anyone in your party has limited mobility, but it has several drawbacks. It’s usually extremely crowded. This year, the system is in the middle of massive safety overhauls, so Metro will not open early on race day. According to the Washington Post, eight-car trains will run after 7 a.m. on the blue and yellow lines, with some expanded service during regular operating hours. If you do choose to use the transit system, make sure to purchase a SmarTrip card ahead of time and add enough money to get you through the day.

Driving – Not recommended! Check out the Spectator Shuttles being offered by race organizers to get you from parking areas to the course.

Get your Caffeine Fix

Between the early alarm, brisk autumn air and four-ish hours of movement, a coffee drinker is bound to need a pick-me-up. And while you can usually find a Starbucks, DC has a blossoming coffee scene that’s worth checking out. Samantha, a DC-based runner and coffee lover who blogs at A Brewed Awakening, has run MCM once and spectated once so far. We asked for her favorite coffee spots near the course.


Bayou Bakery (1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington)

“The best coffee you can get here is an Iced Nola. It’s made with chicory coffee from New Orleans, which is a dark, smoky style coffee, half-and-half, and simple syrup. It sounds unimpressive, but it really is delicious. The one big problem here is, it’s usually freezing at the beginning of the race! So if you want to try the Iced Nola, make sure to bring some gloves to keep your hands warm.”


Baked and Wired (1052 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, Washington, DC) or Georgetown Cupcake (3301 M Street NW, Washington, DC)

“Almost every local will tell you to go to Baked & Wired for superior cupcakes and I know I am in the minority when I say I think Georgetown Cupcake is amazing. Either way, you can’t go wrong, though Baked & Wired does have a way better coffee selection.”

National Mall

A coffee desert, unless you have time or a bicycle to get you to a nearby neighborhood. Samantha suggests, “if you do have an hour or so to spare before seeing your runner one last time before they head over the bridge back to Arlington, take the metro to Chinatown and grab a cup of coffee at either Chinatown Coffee Company or La Colombe.”

Crystal City

Commonwealth Joe (520 12th Street S, Arlington)

A newly opened shop between Crystal City and Pentagon City. “I’ve never been here, but after looking at a map in the area to see what’s there I found Commonwealth Joe, and it looks amazing!”

Go to the bathroom

Runners usually line up dozens deep at the port-o-potties along the course, but you should leave those race amenities to the runners and find another option. If you won’t pass your hotel or home, the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument have public restrooms. Be prepared to wait in line.

Get a great photo

Cheryl Young can be spotted with her camera at most regional races, taking photos and cheering for her teammates with Capital Area Runners. We asked her for the best places to snap a memorable photo of your marathoner. In exchange for sharing these secrets, she asks spectators to remember not to step in front of the professional photographers on the course. “Go behind them so you both get a great shot of your friend. Yes, your iPhone pics are awesome, but….”

Key Bridge (Mile 4.5)

“This is my favorite spot by far. It’s mile 4.5ish- early in the race- and everyone is still pumped and happy! Plus, you can stand on the concrete barricade and get a nice bird’s-eye view to pick out your friends.”

Kennedy Center (Mile 8.5)

“It gets congested, so make sure you are in a spot where you have a long line of sight of the runners as they come towards you (if are on a curve, you won’t have as long to look for them – they’re coming faster than you think!)”

Lincoln Memorial (Mile 14.5)

“This is another of my favorite spots. Lots of time to look for them (as long as you are far enough down with a good line of sight).”

Last Mile

“Mile 26 is going to be crazy, so keep walking towards mile 25 until the crowds are less and you can find your friend. This is where your friend will need for you to give them every bit of your energy, so turn on the cheers, and I don’t care what they look like, you tell them they look GREAT – SO STRONG!”


Support the Runners

Runners appreciate the support of enthusiastic spectators, so come prepared to cheer, clap and make a ruckus. For the advanced spectator, “One of the best things is when [spectators] have salty snacks or Kleenex or something like that in the later half of the race when you really need a pick-me-up,” says Tammy Whyte, a three-time finisher. She remembers pretzels and chips in Crystal City last year, “and it was greatly appreciated.”

Definitely don’t…

Yell “You’re almost there!” “unless you are standing at mile 26 and the runners only have .2 left to go,” says Jess Milcetich, an MCM finisher and five-time spectator.

Get too edgy with your signs. “Good spectators cheer for everyone and do not make triggering signs,” says Megan McCarty, who was troubled by a sign at the Baltimore Marathon that made light of a presidential candidate’s recently unearthed remarks about sexual assault. Everyone is tired of this election, so find a more uplifting angle.

Dart in front of runners. “If you do have to cross [the course], be mindful of the runners – the best way is to run with them and diagonally run toward the other side. There is almost nothing worse for the marathon runners than to have a spectator jump in front of them and cause them to lose their groove,” Young says.

Definitely do!

Make a sign!

“Funny signs and young kids doing high fives is also great,” Whyte says.

McCarty agrees, asking for “positive and interactive” signs. In Baltimore, she saw a little boy with a sign that said “Tap this for a boost!” and a picture of a mushroom from the Mario games.

Download the tracking app!  


“Having the ability to know where your runner is at certain points in the race is really helpful to gauge how soon they might get to where you are waiting for them,” Milcetich says. “Plus sometimes races can be crowded and you might wonder if you’ve missed seeing your runner at a certain point, the apps usually let you check pretty quickly to get a sense if that is that case.”

Have fun!

Your friends and loved ones have worked for months to get to this point, so bring your best mindset and biggest smiles. You woke up early and trekked miles because you care about this runner. Enjoy it!


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