Spectator advice for races

Cheering on Karel at 2012 Rev3 Venice

5 months earlier, cheering on Karel at the 2012 Athens Twilight Pro crit race

For the past 8 years (since we met), Karel and I have spent many of weekends on triathlon, running and cycling race courses. For the first 6 years of our life together, I felt we make a great team because we both shared a similar active lifestyle with different sport passions. Our athletic passions merged together in 2012 when I started to love riding my bike more and more and Karel was beginning to swim and run, in order to turn himself into a triathlete. 

Although this past year (2014), we raced together at every race (except Clermont Olympic distance in March), we are currently putting together our 2015 racing schedule and we will not be racing together at every race. We both have different strategies as to how to best utilize our racing season as we both gear up for 2015 Ironman World Championship. Additionally, we will continue to spectate our Trimarni athletes at key races, as much as possible. 

The best part about being a spectator (athlete or not) is being able to make memories and celebrate with someone else....without having to be in the race. Watching someone race can be very inspiring, motivating and exciting and should not be done with jealousy or spite. Although Karel and I both share a triathlon lifestyle together, it's exciting to share a special moment with your special athlete.

But....being a spectator can be exhausting. Early wake-up calls, dealing with a nervous/emotional athlete, long hours on the feet (in the heat OR cold), missed meals, etc.  Certainly we need our support crew on race day but it is important that our biggest fans follow a few guidelines so that they able to help you (athlete) execute your race day plan and put all your hard training to the test. And more often than not, when your spectator sees you succeed, give it your best effort no matter the outcome or finish the journey that you started 6 or 12 months ago, he/she is often motivated to workout more or even sign up for a race. 


1) Stick to the plan - athletes will likely have to-do's on the days leading up to the race. In order to keep the athlete relaxed, don't try to change his/her tentative schedule. Additionally, one big to-do for athletes is to relax so as a spectator, encourage your athlete to stay off his feet or to choose low-key/relaxing things to do on the 1-2 days before the race. 

2) Eat on his/her schedule - an athlete is going to know what foods work best and when to eat them. Don't encourage an athlete to try new places or to stick to your eating routine. Discuss all eating plans with your athlete before you arrive to the race venue for your stay so everyone is prepared. As a spectator, your eating is just as important as your athlete so if you do not like eating dinner at 4:30pm on the night before the race, discuss this with your athlete. 

3) Don't ask too many questions - athletes can be a bit jumpy on race week.Wanting to know how they are feeling, if they are ready, if they know their finishing time, why they are doing this, etc. can bring self-doubt, concerns or anxiety to the athlete on the days before a race. Some athletes love questions. There's nothing wrong with wanting to give positive energy to an athlete but even the kindest intentions can be overlooked by an athlete who is really nervous about the event (the athlete still loves you but sometimes nerves get the best of them and they can get a bit emotional). As an athlete, never be rude to your spectators because they are there supporting you. If you are a very-nervous type of athlete, it may be best to isolate yourself for a few hours, from your question-asking spectators on the day before the race (or stay  in different rooms/housing). 

4) Review the athlete and spectator guide - almost all your questions can be answered in the program guide (often found on the race website). Course maps, race day schedule and other important details/rules for spectators can be found in the guide and can be very helpful for a fun race day experience. You can also use forums, like Slowtwitch and Beginner Triathlete to read about spectator tips at your upcoming race event, such as best places to stay at night, where to watch your athlete on the bike course, shuttle experiences, etc. Also, use technology such as Iron Trac app or live tracking on the race website (if applicable) to track your athlete if you get good service. Many athletes are being tracked by friends/family so discuss with your athlete if she/he wants you (the spectator) to connect with friends who may be "watching" the event online (ex. use Facebook, Twitter to provide updates for followers).

5) Be prepared for a long day - no matter the distance of the event, you will likely be up early and there will be idol time throughout the day when you do not see your athlete. Be sure to bring plenty of food (easy snacking options are great) and water and dress appropriately as the weather may change between 4am and midnight. Expect extra time for awards (if applicable) and to allow an athlete to properly recover post race. Discuss with your athlete if it is necessary for you to watch the start of the race because many times you will not see your athlete or it is too congested to spectate (especially for little kids or a large group). Although watching the start of a race is super exciting, sometimes athletes enjoy actually seeing you on the course. Many times you can position yourself at a place on the course by bypassing watching the start of the race.

6) Be a superstar spectator - once an athlete is out on the course, he/she will need your help to get them to the finish line. Dress in fun costumes, make t-shirts and signs and give a loud cheer. Bring a camera (charged!) and wear comfortable clothing (athletic shoes, not sandals) to move quickly to spot your favorite athlete along the course. Be aware of race rules for most races will NOT allow you to run or bike with your athlete for that causes a DQ for an athlete or penalty (no outside assistance). Come up with funny phrases and avoid any phrases that may discourage an athlete (this may need to be discussed with your athlete ahead of time for you may have good intentions by telling an athlete she/he is almost there but in reality, she/he is not almost there when there is 1+ hours left in a race). Also, do not give wrong information. Don't tell athletes where to turn, what place they are in, how far they have left in the race or how far they are behind a competitor unless you are positive the information is correct AND the athlete wants to know this information (discuss ahead of time). Often, athletes are in a zone and too much outside information can distract and overwhelm an athlete whereas other athletes like to hear this outside information. 
Athletes also like surprise visits on the course. Many times athletes have low  moments but seeing their biggest fan at a time when they are least expecting it can bring the biggest smile to an athlete who is having an off moment. Often times, these surprise moments get athletes through races (in addition to the planned moments).
But most of the time, if an athlete is less than 15 minutes from the finish line, get out your loudest cheering voice ready, for he/she will likely need it in order to dig deep and finish strong. 

7) Don't bring up time goals - A successful race is best told from the athlete, not from a piece of paper. Even if an athlete has a time (or place goal), allow the athlete to give his/her race report before asking about places and times.  Avoid immediately asking the athlete "how'd you do?" when she/he crosses the line or even a few hours later. Let the athlete recover from the race and then absorb the race. It usually takes a little bit for an athlete to have negative thoughts subside or for the athlete to process his/her achievement. Sometimes the best performances come from overcoming obstacles rather than finishing with a PR.

8) Have a finish line plan - Certainly, the finish is the most exciting part of a race. Don't miss your athlete at the finish! Encourage your athlete to communicate with you about "best day possible" estimated finishing times (either for the end of the race or each portion of the race if a triathlon) just to have an idea as to when they may finish. When all else fails, be sure to snap a pic in the last 1-2 miles of the race and during the post race celebration if you can not get right on the finish line chute. Be sure to have a designated spot to meet your athlete post race (although the massage or food tent are popular places, you can also choose a spot just a little away from the race finish that may be a bit more quiet. Discuss this before the race starts).

9) Dream big - There's a reason as to why your athlete has decided to participate in this race/event. Be inspired by his/her commitment to dream big and don't take that away from him/her. Even if an athlete has a "bad" day or may not be arriving to the race healthy or trained as he/she would have liked to be, don't discourage your athlete from having big dreams at this race and in the future. Every athlete is bound to have a bad race but hopefully, it doesn't have to be his/her last race. Many athletes feel pressure to perform well on race day because they feel as if they have made a lot of sacrifices with family/friends before the race and if the race doesn't go well, then it wasn't all "worth it." It is extremely difficult to have great races all the time. As a spectator, the more you support and give love to your athlete, the better he/she will feel about him/herself on race day. Many times, athletes will feel guilty that they are too selfish or spend too much time thinking, training and preparing for a big race (not to mention the money spent on races/training). If you (spectator) feel as if your athlete does spend way too much time training for races and it is affecting the family, do not discuss this with your athlete the day before the race or after the race. It is extremely important for athletes and spectators (especially family) to figure out the best balanced lifestyle for everyone so that there are minimal sacrifices made BUT the athlete can still properly prepare for the race. Be sure to communicate with your athlete that you enjoy being their #1 fan and can't wait to be out there on race day to make memories with your favorite athlete.

Thumbs up before I start the 2011 Ironman World Championship to show my favorite spectators that I appreciate them being there for me.
This picture was taken by my dad on the pier, who was volunteering with my mom before the race (body marking).