I’ve mentioned before that Ironman Wisconsin (next weekend!) takes place on my home turf.
This means lots of friends and family members have told me they’ll be venturing out to Madison to cheer me on. Some I haven’t seen since high school, which is kinda cool. And some of you amazing readers are even saying you’ll be making it out to the race…which makes me feel really special!
It’s also quite petrifying. Seriously. I do NOT want to let anybody down.
Why we call them ‘spectathletes’
Spectators often have just as much at stake as the person doing the actual race. Most of you probably have friends and family members who have bent over backwards to support your training.
Perhaps they’ve said “Go ahead and do your long run, honey — I’ll watch the kids this morning.” Maybe they’ve been understanding when you’ve departed from Girls’ Night Out at only 8 PM, since you have to rest up for your early morning run. You’ve probably canceled plans with them in favor of training, racing, or recovering.
It’s likely they’ve seen you at your sweatiest, your hungriest, and your grumpiest. And yet, they’re still there.
They deserve that finishers medal just as much as you, and that’s why they’re called “spectathletes.”
Don’t be surprised…
If your spectathletes are gearing up for race day just as much as you are.
Spectating, though, can be confusing or overwhelming for first-timers. If they could, they’d drive behind you every mile of your race, cheering you on with airhorns and cowbells. Some might not understand just why they can’t do just that.
Others may be bummed they only saw you once or twice on the race course, or become frustrated when they can’t find their racer in the huge mass of humanity known as the Finishing Chute. Print this article out and share with your incredible spectathletes to make race day just a little bit easier for them (and you).
Before the Race
Know the route. Most race maps have a website which provides information on the course. Select one (or, if it’s a longer race, two or three) spots where you want to watch your athlete. Some races even have guides specifically for spectathletes!
Ditch the car if you can, and follow the rules of the race. If you plan on traveling to multiple spots throughout the race, make sure you are aware of any road closures which may impede your ability to get to those spots. Always, always, always pay attention to the police officers directing traffic, and never move the barricades, even if “just to squeeze through.” No. No. NO.
Get your plan together. Coordinate with other specathletes for day-of-race logistics. Facebook is a great way to do this, as you can just create an event and invite your friends and family…it’s all in one place!
Build confidence. As someone preparing for a race, the worst thing anyone could say to me right now is “You’re going to be so FAST!” I know for a fact I won’t be fast at this Ironman. It’s my first. My only goal is to finish. I have 16 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds to get to the end, and if I need to, I will milk every last second of it. Most racers have the same goal, so unless your racer is in the elite top 1 percent of athletes vying for a medal, find other ways to boost your athlete’s confidence.
Offer to buy him something special, like a pair of special “race socks.” Make a sticker for her to put on her bike handlebars to inspire her. Write your athlete a letter or leaving notes in his shoes, SPI-Belt, or gear bag. Some suggestions:
- “You’re such a stud/studette!”
- “I am so proud of you.”
- “You make spandex and sweat stains look sexy.”
- “You are so strong/focused/athletic/amazing/(fill-in-the-blank…)”
- “You can do this.”
- “There are cupcakes (or beer/tacos/favorite food) at the finish line.”
During the Race
Carpooling is your friend. Race days are usually chaotic, especially at the start and finish areas. The fewer vehicles you have to wrangle together, the better it is for everyone.
Prepare for a lot of downtime. Spectating can be incredibly boring if you don’t prepare for the downtime. Bring things to do…especially if you’re going to be waiting for a long time for your racer to come by. With Ironman competitions, it’s not uncommon for spectathletes to have tents with lawn chairs, charcoal grills, and beer. It is an all day event, after all!
Stand out from the crowd. It’s easier for your racer to spot you if your crowd has something to distinguish themselves from the rest of the beer-guzzlers. I’ve asked my cheering contingency to wear No Meat Athlete t-shirts on race day. (So if you see a bunch of crazy people wearing running carrots in Madison, WI September 12 — they’re with me…and I couldn’t be prouder!)
You also can make signs in a specific color scheme, but be aware there might be other spectathletes behind you — make sure you aren’t blocking their view. Sidewalk chalk messages on the race course, where permitted, can also be a great pick-me-up for the racer.
There’s more than one way to support racers. One of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me in a race was hand me a Kleenex. It was one of those crisp fall days where everyone’s noses were running, and mine had been dripping for miles. That Kleenex was a lifesaver.
I’ve also had people hand me washcloths with ice water on hot days and Vaseline on plastic sticks at mile 20 of a marathon. If you live on the race course and it’s warm out, consider running a garden hose with a sprinkler on one half of the road for hot racers to run through (a popular spectathlete move here in Arizona) or a table with mini-cups of beer and Bloody Marys (almost every race in Wisconsin has at LEAST one of these).
After the Race
Get sweaty. Most racers really want a hug and a kiss at the finish line, but don’t want to gross you out. The best thing you can do is smile, wrap your arms around your racer, and be proud to wear some of the sweat that rubs off on you. It’s the smell of greatness, people!
Make it memorable. The finish line is a place where people feel amazing. They’ve just accomplished a goal, and they’re riding a remarkable high. You can make it better with something special — tell your racer you love him, surprise her with something special or unique to mark the occasion, or share a touching sentiment or inside joke to make the event that much more meaningful.
Celebrate! Your athlete may or may not feel like eating or celebrating immediately after the race, but you can bet later that day or the next morning there there will be a meal of epic proportions on the agenda. So toast the occasion with a special meal — and don’t forget to order dessert! Racers and spectathletes alike have earned it!
Thanks to all the special spectathletes out there. You guys are a truly amazing breed of athlete.