Triathlon Spectator How-To

author : alicefoeller
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Completing a triathlon is only slightly harder than spectating. Here are five tips:

If you think it's nerve-wracking to be at the starting line for your first triathlon, try being the proud spouse scanning a virtual river of bodies running toward you, trying to pick out your loved one. You know he was wearing a blue shirt. Right? Or did he change shirts after the bike? Now it's been 15 minutes and you have either missed him (which is crushing) or something is really wrong and you are panicked.

Sounds fun, right?

Triathlon is one of the least fun spectator sports there is, which is why it's lucky most of them are held at a beach, so at least there is something else to do.

Here's our list of top five tips for spectating a triathlon:

1. Obtain a Clear Schedule for YOUR Athlete, Not the Event in General

It may be true that the race begins at 7 a.m., but if your mom's wave doesn't start until 8 a.m., that's going to be a lot of needless lost sleep.

Clarify what your athlete will be wearing on each leg. It's more exhausting than you might think scanning a moving crowd for a familiar face for several minutes at time. Knowing about a pink hat or red socks can save a lot of mental energy. Arrange ahead of time for your athlete to shout YOUR name as they near a prearranged cheering spot or the transition area. This will help prevent you missing each other. (You could shout their name into the crowd for 10 or 20 minutes, or they can shout your name once or twice. The latter is better.)

2. Have Your Athlete Provide Clear Best/Worst Case Scenarios for Each Leg

Start times aren't even the most important piece. You need to get a clear range of possible times for each leg. Here is how to set it up:

Have your athlete give you a best-possible and worst-possible amount of time for the swim, bike and run sections of the race. Take a pen and paper (a clipboard is even better) with you to the race site.

When the event begins, write down the TIME OF DAY your athlete enters the water. Now figure out the earliest and latest TIME OF DAY he or she will finish. Write down this range. Make sure you are at the swim exit before the earliest time you wrote down. If the latest possible time arrives and you haven't seen your athlete, give it another five minutes. See if there is someone on the race staff who might be able to direct you to a screen or tracker to check on your athlete's progress. If this is not possible, trust your instincts about whether or not to worry. It's always possible your athlete was having an amazing day and came through earlier than predicted.

At each transition, write down the TIME OF DAY. Then do the math and write down the earliest and latest time you'll see them at the next transition. Take a look at the course map ahead of time. If the bike course or run course has multiple loops, you'll have another chance to cheer for your athlete midway. Look closely, though. Sometimes the athletes don't come all the back into the transition area before starting the second loop.

By always knowing your range in terms of the clock time, you won't make any mental errors, and you'll know just how long you have to grab a sandwich, use the bathroom or take a nap. In the case of an Ironman, you'll know if you have time to go back to the hotel, eat dinner, shower, pick up the kids, and get to the finish line.

3. Bring Your Best Smile

This is a long race and your job is not much fun, but your athlete may really be suffering and only making it through on the promise of seeing you. Be enthusiastic. Cheer loudly. Prepare your kids for the fact that mom or dad is not going to be able to stop and chat because they are in a RACE. I remember during my Ironman, my daughter was waiting for me on the run with my attentive then-husband, and when I gave her a high-five, she asked me to get some sticky tape off her T-shirt.

Whatever you do, don't say, "It's OK to quit." Even if they look terrible.

4. Don't Offer Assistance

Your athlete may be disqualified for accepting ice water or nutrition from you. Instead, be prepared to catch anything they want to cast off. This could be a really disgusting, sweaty shirt.

Do not run with your athlete on the course to keep them company. This is called "pacing" and is against the rules.

5. Be prepared to be a Pack Mule

At the end of the race, your athlete will need to pack up everything from the transition area, including a musty wetsuit, sticky sports drink bottles and a bicycle. He or she is not going to feel like carrying all of these things back to the car. If you are going for an award for most supportive spectator, figure out how to make sure their finisher's medal is the only thing they have to bear.


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date: September 3, 2018


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.

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