Let me start with a bit of background on me and IronJane. She and I met for the first time in 2008 we she came out to run our first (and my only) 50k, the Skyline to the Sea, together. We met and then immediately ran 20 miles of a 31 mile race together. As you can tell we hit it off and a great friendship was born.
Then we decided to do Ironman Coeur d' Alene together. She had already raced Ironman Arizona that year and opted to volunteer. She is a doctor, so when she told them she would work the med tent if they let her do T1 first, they said "Yes ma'am, Whatever you want!"
We hung out the day before and then when I straggled into T1, sick and broken, she got my shit together and got me on the bike. For that I, and my family, will be forever grateful.
This Saturday it was her day to race and I was honored to be there to cheer for her. I am not going to tell her story, because it is her story to tell, but I do want to give an athlete's (it makes me giggle to refer to myself as athlete, but I can not think of another term) view of being spectator.
From the other side of the start line...
I showed up to the Vineman start a little before 6:00 am. Jane's wave was set to go off at 6:45. I parked in the same lot I have used the last two years as a competitor (another giggle, again no other term can be thought of) in Barb's Race Half Iron.
As I walked the 1/2 mile to the beach start I wondered how I would feel watching people start the race that I was supposed to be in. Standing on the rocky beach, in my warm fleece, drinking my coffee, NOT wearing a wetsuit, NOT having the sharp rocks cut into the soles of my feet, and NOT having to jump in the water with a couple hundred people that want to swim over me, I felt pretty damn good about it, truth be told.
I stood by the T1 exit with other spectators hoping to catch a glimpse of my racer before she took off.
NOTE TO ATHLETES - SPECTATING OBSERVATION 1: Everyone looks exactly the fucking same in a wetsuit and matching swim cap. Have a plan to meet up with your peeps if you want to see them pre-race. If you don't want to see then just tell them, "I will meet you by the start. I will be in a wetsuit and orange swim cap" that will make sure you get some alone time.
Of the five spectator families standing in my group only 2 found their racer. We congratulated the winning families, and lamented our own failures. Yes, spectating has a competitive side as well. You should have heard all the "my racer is more bad ass than your racer" stories. I have to say, I won quite a few of those battles. My racer is truly bad ass. *smug grin*
Women's Vineman Full Iron Wave Start. That is Jane waving to me in the back (not really, but I told someone it was. Don't judge me, the spectator competition was STEEP)
This was Jane's third full iron and I have tracked her at every one, so I knew about what her times should be for each event. That made finding her easier than it was for some families that had no idea how fast or slow their racer was. I spent a lot of times guesstimating times for families that had never done any type of event like this. It was a great way to kill time. One of my favorite of these conversations was this one:
RBR: How long do you think your racer will be in the water? (Common spectator to spectator question)
Non-athlete spectator: I figure about an hour.
RBR: Damn, that is really fast. Are they elite?
Non-athlete spectator looks at me: Ummm... maybe I have that wrong. How long should it take?
RBR: Your typical age-grouper is anywhere from 1:20 if they are fast to 2:00 if they are slower swimmers depending on how fast they swim
Non-athlete spectator: Oh, then I was right, she's fast. She'll be about an hour.
*Clearly, this guy does not get there is BIG difference between 1:00 and a 1:20 for 2.4 mile swim. For the record, my racer came out in 1:34, his racer was not out yet, but you have to love how proud he was of her and how much confidence he had in her.
Trying to catch racer coming out of the swim is almost as much fun as trying to find them at the swim start. They come out disoriented and looking no more identifiable to you than as when they went in until they pull their swim cap off, which is usually just as they pass you.
Case in point, here is a sliver of Jane's back as eclipsed by big lumbering dude coming out of the swim
T1: Swim to Bike
This can be a good time to see your racer since it is typically a longer transition.
NOTE TO SPECTATORS - AN ATHLETE'S PERSPECTIVE 1: Your racer is referred to as a racer, because they are racing. They cannot have an extended chat with you, they will not pose for pictures (unless they are me, then of course I will *attention whore grin*), nor can they do math calculations to figure out when you can see them next. Oh, and repeatedly yelling to them while they are in transition does not help them move faster. It just irritates them and those of us around you.
The bike is a long haul with no real options for catching your racer unless you risk their and other racers safety by cruising the course. In my opinion, this is dangerous and the fewer vehicles on the course the better, so I did not do this. (Although, I must admit last year at Barb's I saw a friend drive by that cheered and asked how I was and that was pretty cool, but I still won't do it)
That means I had a little time to kill, so I went and had a little breaky and drove away from the course to see the beautiful area.
Then around 1:30 pm I set about finding a parking space near the run course. I did not have to drive the full 2 hours back home to find parking, but I think I got within spittin' distance. Those idyllic visions of heading back to my car for extra supplies where quickly dashed as I trekked the 20+ minutes to the high school.
I packed my GoLite with a thermos of coffee, a diet coke, a bottle of water, and a package of PopTarts (these are to be thanked for keeping me from killing six 20-something year old spectators that were bugging the fuck out of me around 8 pm. Take home message: Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts save lives.)
NOTE TO SPECTATORS - AN ATHLETE'S PERSPECTIVE 2: Your racer is not the only one in the race. I know you are there to support your racer, but please do not go ape shit for your racer and then immediately stop cheering, turn your back to the race, and start loudly talking and horsing around. It is disheartening to the athlete behind your runner that hears the crowd go silent as they run by and it endangers your life if there is a glucose deficient person spectating near you that is cheering for all of the racers and does not find you cool, amusing, or nearly as good looking as you all think you are.
NOTE TO ATHLETES - SPECTATING OBSERVATION 2: I have done that half smile, tiny wave when I was hurting in a race and always felt that I was being as asshole to the spectators by not saying thank you or being more enthusiastic. I now know that they understand and your acknowledgment, even if strained, is greatly appreciated by the crowd.
T2: Bike to Run
Catching your racer at this juncture can be a bit maddening. While they are easier to identify on their bike, they are moving significantly faster. Taking your eyes off the road for even a second to check your email on your phone could lead to you missing your racer.
You are afraid to move, to go pee, to even freaking blink, lest you miss them race by. And God help you, if you do you miss them you will get the dreaded, patronizing look of consolation from your fellow spectators, "Awww, you missed them?" *head tilt* "Well, I am sure they know you are here."
Trust me, you do not want to be that spectator.
So you stare, vigilantly at the road and soon EVERY rider looks like your rider. I know all the spectators were suffering the same fate, because I would hear "There she/he is! She/he is coming!" and then the "Oh, that is not her/him" about as many times I thought it.
[Here is where I would put a picture of Jane coming in from the bike, if I had one.]
NO! I did NOT miss her, but I did fail to turn on the camera before I took the picture.
Here is where the rubber meets the road in terms of Iron spectating. The Vineman run course has 3 loops. You dare not leave for fear of 1. losing your spot. or 2. missing your opportunities to cheer for your runner. I was out there for 9 hours. I did not leave, I did not pee, and the one time I checked my texts and answered a couple I almost missed my damn runner!
My hands were sore from clapping, my voice was getting hoarse from yelling the standard, "You are looking great", "Woo Hoo" and "You are awesome!"
I know better than to say "You are almost done", "Looking strong" (which all of us back of the backers know is code for 'Dear God, You look like shit'), "Come on! You can do it. Keep it up" (anything that sounds like an order pisses suffering athletes off)
I met some amazing people yesterday. They were as amazing as the athletes they were cheering for and, barring a few idiot 20-somethings, everyone there was 100% focused on their family members or friends that were out there battling a tough course.
Everyone I talked to was awed by the work their racer had done in training all year, in the wee hours of the morning, through heat, cold, rain, and exhaustion to be able to do this race today.
NOTE TO ATHLETES - SPECTATING OBSERVATION 3: It really does not matter to your friends and family how your race day goes, whether your swim time is 10 min faster or 20 min slower, whether you drop your chain or PR your bike split, or whether you have to walk or you run every step, they are already so very amazed by and proud of you.
I know, because I heard them brag about you for 16 hours. The ones that PR'd, the ones that DNF'd, and everyone in between.
Great job Vineman and Barb's Race triathletes!
And to IronJane, I love you, man. Until we meet again at Rocky Raccoon. ;)