Monday, 31 July 2017

Spectating at BIG Events (Like Ironman)

This year seems to be the year of BIG events. I did my first middle distance triathlon, we've got our biggest ever ultra coming up in a couple of weeks, and Dean tackled Bolton Ironman. This isn't a post about how he got on, those of you who follow us on social media will probably know that story already, but I thought it would be good to write about what it was like from a spectators perspective. Put me in an event or behind the scenes on set up and I know what's what but spectating and supporting is kinda new to me. Being on the sidelines was a bit odd. I got SERIOUS race envy. No matter that Ironman is rather beyond me right now, there was a little twinge in my chest as the competitors set off on that drizzly grey morning.
I loved being part of the day though. Seeing everyone competing, all shapes sizes and abilities, was so inspiring. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I learnt a lot too. So here are my tips for supporting big events.

Before The Event

  1. First rule of supporting something like Ironman - make sure your athlete forwards you all pre-race emails. It makes sense for both of you to know where you need to be and when so when they start to get "race brain" at least one of you knows the schedule. 
  2. Find out what sort of support your athlete would appreciate. Do they want some quiet time in the morning or a bit of cajoling? Do they want to see you lots of times, or just at points where it's getting harder.
  3. Check for road closures and travel restrictions. Especially on a big course, they may mean you can't get to and from vantage points very easily. Familiarise yourself with any shuttle buses, recommended car park locations relative to planned spectating points and so on. 
  4. Remember that the recommended spectating points can get busy! Is there somewhere a little further down the road that may mean you can more easily spot your athlete?
  5. Is there anything you can do to make it easier for your athlete to spot you in the crowd? Jumping up and down and waving madly sometimes doesn't work if they're in the zone. Banners, balloons, a hat, wearing a particular colour, all help.
  6. If you're staying over in a hotel the night before, check the breakfast arrangements. If they're not serving before you need to leave, ask if they'll make you up a breakfast box. Most places seem quite accommodating in this respect, even the Premier Inn type places.

The Spectator's Survival Kit

Think about what you need to be happy and comfortable on the day. There will most likely be an early start and a long day ahead of you so here are some things you might want to think about taking with you, if possible.
  • Banner, clappers or other "look at me" spectator props.
  • FOOD. Breakfast, snacks, lunch, water, thermos... depending on when you're up and about and what facilities are near by. Better to have something than be stuck without.
  • Waterproof jacket and layers - in case of bad weather. It rained in Bolton in the morning.
  • A hat/sunglasses/suncream - in case of good weather. I got sunburnt in Bolton in the afternoon.
  • A chair. I resorted to perching on garden walls quite a lot.
  • Something to occupy yourself with between seeing your athlete. You may think that you will spend 2-3 hours cheering on unknown people, and you may well do, but it can get tiring so *just* in case, a magazine or the like is a good back up.
  • Portable phone charger. If you're checking the race tracker, doing the social media thang, playing games, it drains your battery. Don't get caught out.
  • Maps! Timetables! Know where you are, where you're going and how you're going to get there.

On The Day

  • Give your athlete a big hug and a smile before they set off. You might be nervous for them but try to send out a few positive vibes.
  • Chat to other spectators and supporters, especially if you're there on your own. It'll help to pass the time, you might get some good tips on other vantage points or maybe even take it in turns to do the coffee run without losing your spot.
  • Cheer your heart out! If athletes have names on bibs or shirts, use them, refer to clubs if they're in club kit. Make it personal. If someone's flagging, cheer louder. When spectators thin out, cheer louder. CHEER!
  • If you can stay to see the last person over the line, then do. It's such a great thing.

Have you spectated at big events and got any other tips to add to this? If you compete in big events, what do you like in the way of support?

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