If you have a friend/spouse/significant other who is an athlete, there's a good chance that you have spent a weekend or two at a race, waking up early to cheer, stand on your feet, take pictures, carry around stuff for your athlete and eventually, finding yourself exhausting by the end of the event. Rain, heat, wind or shine, you have been there from start to finish and you know that spectating is hard work!
Although spectating makes for a long and tiring day, there's no better way to make memories and celebrate an accomplishment with someone who is close to you. Additionally, surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals or being around inspiring athletes can be very motivating. Although spectators don't receive medals, it's the spectators that help athletes get through the race (and make racing so much fun). In thinking back to all eleven of my Ironman events, it was the spectators and volunteers who kept me going during the low, dark times when I didn't think I could move forward with my tired body and kept me smiling during the good moments.
Because every athlete has his/her support crew (family, friends, teammates) to help out on race day, here are a few guidelines for your favorite spectathlete:
- Follow the plan - Athletes are pretty regimented and they typically have a to-do list (or rituals) that need to get done before the race start. In order to keep your athlete relaxed and stress-free, be flexible, calm and easy-going and be available to help out your athlete whenever possible.
- Be ok with a different schedule - Your athlete may have an itinerary for sleeping, eating and working out. This schedule may be different than what you are use to. For your athlete to get into his/her zone, try not to interfere with the planned (or changing) schedule.
- Don't ask too many questions - Athletes can be a bit unpredictable on race week. One minute they are happy and outgoing and then next they are jumpy, anxious and easily bothered. The rush of emotions that an athlete experiences before a race is hard to anticipate so it's best to avoid asking questions like "what time will you finish" or "are you ready" as some questions may bring self-doubt, anxiety or worry.
- Your athlete is not his/her normal self - It's easy to assume that your athlete is a changed person on race week and well, that's true. He/she is anxiously awaiting the event that he/she has trained for for many months and the time is finally here. Yes, your athlete will not be like his/her normal self and this ok. I assure you that after the race, your athlete will act more like him/herself but before the race, understand that your athlete may have a different personality, all in an effort to mentally and physically prepare for the upcoming race.
- Scope out the course - Review the course maps and walk/drive some of the course before the race to determine the best spots for spectating. Your athlete may suggest for you to be (or not to be) at certain places on the course. You can also ask experienced spectators who have been to the event before for a recommend place to watch your athlete in action. Make sure to understand the layout of the finish line area (and cross walks) so that you don't miss your athlete at the finish line.
- Track your athlete - Now a days, most events are using sophisticated tracking apps and systems to help you follow your athlete on race day. Understand the tracking technology ahead of time so that you can keep up with your athlete on his/her special day.
- Review the athlete guide - Although the athlete guide is designed for the athlete, many of your questions can be answered in the athlete guide. You can learn about the race course, race start and other important details that will help you out on race day.
- Be prepared for a long day - Although most spectators find that race day does go by quickly, it's still a long day when you consider when you wake-up until when you leave the race venue. It's important to dress appropriately for the day (anticipate a change in weather temps and conditions) and plan for idol time after the race when your athlete is recovering, waiting for awards or getting his/her stuff. Make sure to bring a portable phone charger to keep your phone charged all day, especially if using your phone for tracking and taking pictures. Research the area for places where you can rest, eat and explore during the race, but make sure you don't miss your athlete in action!
- Fuel and hydrate like a pro - It's easy to let several hours go by without eating or drinking. No one wants to be around you when you get hangry. Make sure to bring along plenty of snacks and fluids for your day and extra money if you need to restock your food/drink supply.
- Don't make assumptions - Anything can happen on race day. Don't give your athlete wrong information about a fellow competitor, tell your athlete where to turn on the course, give an update on his/her placement or make assumptions as to how his/her race is going unless you know that your athlete wants that information and it is accurate information. Give your athlete positive vibes all day and keep the cheers going until he/she crosses that finish line. Too much information/questions can distract/overwhelm an athlete from his/her race strategy but just the right amount of cheers (and supportive signs) can make for a fun day of racing. By now, hopefully you know how much energy to give your athlete. After the race, don't be quick to ask questions about the race. Show your support and excitement with a hug or a smile and give your athlete time to process the race. Eventually, he/she will be ready to give the run-down of the race.
- Dream big (with your athlete) - Your athlete may not always show it but he/she appreciates your unconditional support. Truthfully, your athlete likely feels guilty from all the time spent away from friends/family throughout the training and this weighs heavy on the mind before the race. Make sure your athlete knows that you support him/her and that all that training was worth it and you will be there for your athlete until the finish line. Show your athlete how much you believe in them by being there for them at the race (even when you don't feel that needed). The more support, love and excitement you give your athlete, the more he/she will be able to race to his/her potential. Hopefully your athlete will show you his/her appreciation after the race with a big THANK YOU.