DAVE MCGILLIVRAY, for Runner's World
I just ran my second marathon and noticed many runners had friends on bikes to help them out with words of encouragement, etc. along the course. To what extent can spectators aid runners during a race? - Michael
Thanks for your question, Michael. If a race is sanctioned by USATF (USA Track & Field), the rules prohibit outside assistance of any kind -- that is, no one other than race officials are allowed to assist any official participant in the race. That said, not all races are USATF-sanctioned. And even if they are, race management doesn't always enforce all the rules that they should.
If you're wondering what's allowable (and what's not) in a specific upcoming race, I suggest you contact the race director in advance and ask.
Personally, I don't feel that anyone should be out on the course, especially on bicycles, unless they're officially entered in the race or are an official working the race. Certainly, family and friends can be on bikes or on foot alongside the race course and could "leapfrog" the course along parallel roads so as to see their running friends multiple times. However, no one should be on the course itself, following the race, unless they're there in an official capacity.