Updated: Jan 2, 2020
Having a support system at races is the most wonderful and important thing an endurance athlete can have. Parents, children, spouses and friends can not only provide support but be the athletes most important cheerleaders. Those are the faces that the athlete wants to see while competing because they mean the most to that person. But being a spectator and supporter can be a hard/tiring job. They have to get up early with the athlete, find a spot to cheer at and sometimes commute to the finish line if it's not in the same area as the start. They also need to help with preparing, setting up your transition spot, and ultimately be a helpful person they can count on in the early morning hours while the athlete is prepping for the race. So how can you be the best supporter and spectator? I have to tools to get it done. 1. Be available There have been moments where I have had to go to a race myself because the supporter was not available or it was too early. Well, I hate to be mean, but suck it up! Unless your athlete says that you do not have to come (which sometimes happens), they expect you to get up with them, commute to the race with them, and stick around from start to finish. Now if you fall asleep in the car or go back to the hotel while they are out running or cycling for a few hours, that is fine. They do not expect you do wait for 5-6 hours for them to finish. We may be needy, but we are understanding.
2. Be helpful It's early in the morning and they may need you to wait outside the transition area for assistance in the event something goes wrong. Ie, need water, Gatorade, money or to retrieve something out of the car. If they ask for a bagel, bring them one. If they ask for coffee, ask what size. This will help destress the athlete and make the situation easier.
At one race, while pumping my tires up, the valve broke off. I was stressing out because I had to be out of transition in 30 minutes, I had only replaced my tubes twice and knew it would take longer than 30 minutes. So I turned to my mom for help, told her that I needed to go and get the tube replaced and she asked "what do you need me to do". This is the best answer you can give your athlete. I of course had no cash on me and I asked her if she had any to tip/pay the guys who fixed my tire. She did and gave me some, which made me feel more at ease to then go, rack my bike and get out of transition. 3. Be easy going More likely than not, the athlete has a ritual the night before the race and the morning of. Go with the flow. If they have to eat Chinese food, then eat Chinese food. If they need to get to the race an hour early, then go with them. Do not cause a conflict or an argument, just do as they ask. 4. Listen Your athlete will probably tell you exactly where to be standing and at what time because that is where they will run by. They will want to connect with you during this awesome moment, so make sure you are there! Make sure you listen and pay attention to what they are saying because they know the race, the course and themselves when it comes to finishing times. They will know better than you trying to guess. 5. Be the best cheerleader possible! Once the race goes off, take photos, videos, show off your sign and yell loudly. They may want a supporter, but when you are racing hard, they want a cheerleader! It will mean a lot to them. Once they cross the start line area, head on over to the spot your athlete told you to go to. Whether that is a certain mile marker, the swim exit or the finish line. If the athlete knows they will see you there, they will seek you out. All of these things can make or break a race for someone. Racing marathons and triathlons is a big part of my life and having a supporter is one of the most important and memorable things for me during those moments. I am sure it is the same for your athlete as well. So remember, if you have a loved one who is running in a race, do everything they ask. If they are running their first race, don't expect them to ask because you will be expected to do everything and possibly more.