Endurance triathlon spectating tips

Early next week, Karel, Campy, my mom and I will be taking a road trip to Lake Placid, NY for the 2015 Ironman Lake Placid event. 
Karel and 4 of our athletes (and several Trimarni nutrition athletes) will be racing and I will be spectating and supporting our athletes.
Because I didn't choose to register for Lake Placid last year, I will also be spending my time up there training in prep for Kona. 

There's nothing I love more than spectating at a long distance triathlon. Despite being on the sidelines, there is no shortage of positive energy that is felt from the athletes as they give it their all, digging deep and overcoming anything that comes in their way. 

After months and months of training, race week and race day are all about the athlete and the athletes' needs. Certainly, it is recommended for the athlete to show appreciation for friends/family who are supporting the athlete as race week/day is likely not the first time that sacrifices have been made for the athlete. 

With Karel and I both being endurance triathletes, anytime one of us is racing and the other is not racing (which doesn't happen a lot), it's important that we both support one another. In other words, it is still possible to share the race day experience with a loved one/close friend and not be in the race.
The main priority of being a spectator for your friend/loved one is to make his/her pre and race day experience as easy and smooth as possible for an ideal racing performance. 

If you are joining a friend/family member at an upcoming long distance race, here are a few of my spectating tips to help you out at your next endurance triathlon. 


Be prepared to drop your athlete off, wait around, walk a lot and find/pay for parking before and on race day. Often times, the logistics of getting to the race expo, transitions or race start make for the most stressful situations. Your athlete will likely be on a time schedule and perhaps a little ancy and anxious if things aren't going "as planned". Try to make it easy on your athlete by getting him/her where they need to be on time and allow plenty of extra time for delays. 

 Review directions to avoid getting lost and always plan for extra time (at least 15 minutes). Be sure to read the athlete guide before arriving at the race as well as any last minute details on the race website. Better yet - print out the race schedule so you are well-prepared. There may be parking deals/restrictions in certain areas, schedule changes as well as road closures before and during the race. Lastly, if your athlete is racing a very important race (ex. A race of the season, qualifier race, etc.) be accommodating to their requests to stay within walking distance of the race venue. Although we can likely save money by staying at a hotel 10, 15 or 20 minutes away, staying within walking distance of the race may cost more but it can be a priceless experience on race day morning (for you as the spectator and the athlete). Always do your homework when it comes to picking the "right" place to stay before the race. Weigh your options before booking a hotel room for sometimes it pays to be close whereas sometimes you may be fine staying up to 10 miles away from the race venue for a kitchenette, free 
WiFi, free parking, etc.  

Always bring extra food with you and plan ahead. If your athlete wants to be in control of food choices, whether eating in the hotel room or at a certain restaurant, let him/her make that call. The only body that is racing on race day is the athlete and he/she will likely know what foods work the best pre-race. Not every athlete is the same so communicate with your athlete in the case that you would like to eat out but your athlete wants to eat in to avoid long lines and waiting for food that is prepared by someone else. Foods that are easy to travel with include: cereal, nuts, bread, PB, veggies, fruit, pretzels, sport bars and dried fruit but if you have refrigerator/cooler, you can bring other items like sandwich items, eggs, milk and yogurt. I recommend searching ahead of time for the nearest grocery store and also consider places like gas stations, CVS, Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Fresh Market and farmers markets for other food find to make your shopping and eating experience a lot more simple, nutritious and hassle-free. Always bring plenty of water to your race venue for you and your athlete. Be sure to bring portable snacks and fluids on race day for you as it will be a long day. 

You may feel a little rushed the day before the race so be aware of changing plans. On the flip side, your athlete may have a rigid schedule. For a better pre-race experience, have your athlete create an itinerary - this is all about teamwork. This way the athlete has a schedule that the spectator knows about ahead of time. Try to minimize driving back and forth if there are two transition areas, if you have to attend athlete meeting before the race, if you need to get food, etc.  On the day before the race, top priorities for your athlete are eating, staying hydrated and resting.  

Plan for an early dinner the night before the race as well as early to bed. It's recommend to discuss sleeping arrangements with your athlete because for many spectators, you not be able to go to bed at 8:00 or 9pm like your athlete. Expect an early wakeup so it's recommend to have everything packed and ready to go before the morning. And to save time if checking out on race day morning, load up the car as much as possible. Check with your hotel about a late check-out or better yet, being able to stay 1/2 day so that you and your athlete can rest and clean-up after the race.
Again, allow extra time (15 minutes) in the morning. Every athlete is different with his/her typical pre race routine so discuss this with your athlete ahead of time so your athlete can be in his/her "zone" on race day morning. 

Some athletes like to get in the zone (peace and quite) on race day morning whereas others are very social and energetic. Nerves are not isolated to newbies so even if an athlete is experienced, avoid questions like "are you ready" and "are you nervous" and "are you still injured" and "what is your goal time" and instead, keep the questions neutral about the entire race experience.  

To avoid an athlete freak-out, review the weather ahead of time but do NOT complain about the weather (cold/hot/windy, rain) in front of your athlete! Your athlete does not need to hear you complain about it being really hot on race day or about the 90% chance of rain all day. 

It's recommend to review the course map and have an idea of when your athlete will finish the race as well as predicted range of swim, bike, run times. Prior to the race, ask your athlete a range of times that would give him/her a perfect day. For example if your athlete says the following for an IM:
1:10 swim
5 min T1
6 hr bike
5 min T2
4 hour run
For spectating during the race, the total time is not as important as making sure you are where you want/need to be before the athlete finishes that certain leg of the triathlon. When your athlete starts the run, you should have a better idea of when he/she will finished based on the predicted finishing time. Give yourself a 15 minute buffer for the swim and bike and finish time so that you are always ahead of their "perfect" day schedule. This will help for cheering and a better spectating experience. Not every race is spectator friendly so it may be helpful to reach online forums for spectating advice (the hot spots and good hidden spectating spots) at your specific race venue. 

Lastly, have a specific meeting spot for post race. When you see your athlete, let him/her recover before you start asking questions like " how'd the race go, did you have a good race, is that the time you wanted?". If watching a newer athlete compete, the goal may be just to finish. For other athletes, there may be high expectations about a time or place. Whatever the race day goal may be - the best results are told by the athlete him/herself and not by a time on paper. As a spectator, you must keep in mind that wind, heat or other uncontrollables can affect race times so a race is not "bad" if an athlete does not arrive according to his/her predicted schedule. Often times, it takes a little bit of time for an athlete to collect him/herself after the race when the emotions of racing calm down a bit. Certainly, if an athlete is celebrating post race - celebrate with him/her!!

 Above all - be there for your athlete from start to finish. Race day will be a very special day for even you because the athlete could not do what he/she is about to do with you!

Will you be traveling to Kona to watch the 2015 IM World Championship? Here are a few of my Ironman World Championship spectating tips