I recently traveled to Muskoka, Canada to cheer on a good friend as she tackled 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running. Last year I headed down to Austin and cheered on several fellow DFW Tri Club friends in their 70.3 race. I fully appreciate the effort it takes to get to the starting line and the blood, sweat and tears all athletes are leaving out on the course. If you plan on spectating a long-distance triathlon, it helps to do some pre-race preparations of your own. I’ve outlined 16 tips for the spectator’s guide to long-distance triathlon to help you when supporting your athlete.
- Determine travel logistics as early as possible. If you are flying in for a race, make plane reservations, lodging reservations, car rentals, bike transport, etc. as soon as possible to get the logistics handled. If your athlete is a family member or very close friend, determine in advance if they want to share sleeping quarters or will need their own space, and make reservations as far in advance as possible.
- Make arrangements for children and pets. This is especially important for race day. Both children and pets require attention and care, which is very difficult to do in a big race spectating setting. Know your children and pets, and determine if making race-day arrangements with a sitter is a better option than bringing them to the event. If you are travelling for the race, make sure you have reliable sitters and medical/veterinary resources identified.
- Dine where your athlete wants to dine. Your athlete will most likely have a strict eating plan and will have already identified what they need to eat and at what time. Join your athlete for meals if they want company. If not, enjoy dining where and when your heart desires without the restrictions of fueling for a long-distance race.
- Keep conversation light. Try to avoid asking questions that may cause doubt, such as “are you nervous?”, “Can you believe it’s going to rain tomorrow?”, and “what if you don’t finish? Will you try again?” Long distance triathlons are not for the faint of your heart. Your athlete has likely spent months preparing for this event. Don’t cast doubt in your conversations leading up to the race. Know your athlete and keep the conversation topics to what he/she chooses. The race they are about to endure is a test of physical and mental feats, and keeping conversation light will help maintain your athlete’s focus. And don’t brag about how you plan on going back to the hotel for a nap while they spend hours on the bike!
- Lights out when your athlete is ready. Your athlete is embarking on one heck of an endurance race. Try to be extra cognizant of their need for a very early bedtime. Don’t chastise them if the moon hasn’t appeared yet. Depart early if you’re not ready to call it a night. Or if you end up counting sheep for a while, then so be it. Support your athlete and their need for catching Z’s.
- Determine race-day travel. Study the race website and learn what road closures and expected traffic should be, and plan your race day departure time and driving route accordingly. If you are transporting your athlete, make sure you discuss what time you need to depart to be at the race in advance of their wave start time and before transition closes.
During the Race
- Prepare for a very long day. Depending on your athlete and the race they are doing, you could be spectating anywhere from 5 to 17 hours. Bring a cooler with food and water for the anticipated amount of time you will be at the race. Bring a chair, blanket, umbrella, sunscreen, gloves, or any other items that will keep you comfortable the whole day. Pack medications if needed. Remember your camera and external charger if you anticipate running low on your battery. Have cash on hand. If you choose to bring your children and/or pets, make sure they are occupied and well monitored during the entire race. Dress comfortably.
- Bring your rally items and cheer. Cowbells, horns, noisemakers, signs – the more, the merrier! Shout words of encouragement to every racer as they pass by, and keep it supportive. Don’t make any suggestions to the length of a race that is left; the course is well marked and most athletes have their own sport watches, so shouting distances or time can be discouraging and/or annoying if not exactly precise to that athlete. Make encouraging signs for your athlete and the other racers. You can buy one sign and decorate both sides of it – use one side to personalize for your athlete and the other side for general encouragement. Witty signs can make a racer smile; just make sure your wit is widely accepted and not potentially offensive.
- Respect race staff and volunteers. If you are asked anything or directed by a race staff member or volunteer, please listen. They are asking for your cooperation to ensure the safety of racers and spectators. Keep your eyes and ears peeled.
- Respect the course. Don’t stand or walk on any part of the course. You could unintentionally create an additional and unnecessary obstacle for racers, which would be dangerous for you both. If the area you are standing in is too crowded to get a good look of oncoming athletes, don’t keep crowding in – move to a different viewing location.
- Plan out your viewing locations. Find out which swim wave your athlete will begin in, and look for their colored swim cap. Discuss your athlete’s projected pace for each sport, which will help determine at approximately what time they should cross certain points on the course. Look for your athlete’s kit on the bike and run course, which is easier to identify from afar than faces. Research the course map and know how you will move between viewing locations.
- Support all athletes and cheer your heart out. You’ve decided to attend this race in support of your athlete, but there are hundreds or thousands of other racers that also need your support throughout the course. Watching athletes pass with a lack of interest until you see your athlete can be extremely disheartening. Smile and cheer for strangers. You can see their names on their bibs during the run course. Knowledge is power, and use that power to give an uplifting “you’ve got this, John!” or “looking strong, Amy!” Your hands might hurt from clapping and ringing your cowbell, but it is nothing compared to the physical extremes the long distance athletes are feeling. So smile, cheer, and wave your signs for everyone. You may be providing just the extra edge needed to help push someone to the finish. Of course when you see your athlete, scream and jump and down with extra enthusiasm!
- Establish a finish line plan. Let your athlete know that you will cheer them across the finish line, and you will meet at a pre-determined meeting location. Don’t rely on being able to call your racer; they shouldn’t have their phones with them anyways. You need to establish a meeting place prior to race day, and stick to the meeting location after your athlete crosses the finish line.
- Don’t take the athletes’ food or beverages. These athletes have just finished an extreme test of mental and physical endurance. The post-race food and beverage are meant for them to refuel. Don’t take it – it’s that simple.
- Support your athlete’s need to refuel. Revisit your pre-race plan of supporting your athlete’s dietary needs. In addition to the post-race food and beverage, your athlete will need to eat very shortly after the race. Know your athlete and help in the way they want. If they want to dine at a restaurant, take them there. If they want to order take-in, offer to call it in for them. If they have packed all of their post-race fuel and kept it in a cooler in the car, help them get there.
- Help your athlete pack up and depart. Your athlete has just finished a long-distance triathlon and will be exhausted. Offer to push their bike and carry their bags to the car. Know your athlete and how you can best help them.
Let your athlete know how proud of them you are. They have just completed a long-distance triathlon after months of preparation. Then see how long it takes before they start talking about registering for their next race, or how long it takes you to register for one!