SPECTATHLETE (n.): A person who, without interfering, watches and cheers for athletic events of all levels with remarkable enthusiasm. Often found on the sides of roads employing numerous props such as horns, vuvuzulas, pom-poms, silly hats, silly children, face paint, cowbells, posters, or large foam hands. These fanatical spectators are often characterized by a determination to hit every spot to cheer on their athlete and hoarse voices from excessive yelling.
E.G. - "Those daggum Chattanooga spectathletes done bought up all the cowbells, and now we don't have any for old Bessie to wear!"
Spectating a long distance triathlon requires training, preparation, dedication, and energy. Your athlete might be swimming, biking, and running all in one day in a short period of time, but you have to be in all the right places at the right time saying the right things, balancing waving your foam finger, giant sign, pom-poms, and cowbells all at the same time, then yelling at the top of your lungs only to watch your athlete for twenty seconds or less. But without your support, your athlete could have a rough day. Your encouraging words could bring them out of a funk, they could lift their spirits to soar to the finish line. The stakes are high. Are YOU cut out to be a Spectathlete?
Here are our pro-tips for all aspiring Spectathletes:
WAKE UP EARLY. Beat the crowds. Offer to drive your athlete if they need it. This may mean rolling out of bed at 4:45 am and sherpa carrying his gear to the T1 or T2 (transition 1 or 2). Make some coffee, plaster a smile on your face, and embrace the experience!
KNOW THE COURSE. Take some time the week before to look at the race course and plan the spots you want to cheer from. Notice where roads are closed and where you can or can’t walk. You CANNOT move barricades, so plan before hand your method of movement. Know your athlete’s split time goals, then plan to arrive early and stay later at those spots to make sure you see them. For a half distance triathlon, add 15-20 minute windows. For a long distance triathlon, add 30 minutes.
PACK FOR THE DAY. Just like your triathlete has all her clothes, socks, bike, goggles, and food planned out, so must you. Create a checklist and pack the night before. You will need a costume, cowbells, tutus, pom-poms, air horns, electrolyte mix, water, food, chair, posters, beer, ice, music, speakers, and possibly a tandem bicycle. It’s going to be a long day and there will be lots of downtimes, so pack a book to read or cards to play as well.
CHEER FOR ANYONE AND EVERYONE. There will be lots of waiting for your triathlete. Don’t stand there quiet and still as the others zoom past. Cheer for everyone! All motivation is helpful! Pick out specific people and yell them on. “Hey dude in green, you’re doing great!” “Yellow shoe girl, keep at it!” “Look at that girl, she’s still smiling! You’ve got this!”
MAKE SIGNS. Words of encouragement whether on signs or posters or notes in your athletes shoes the morning of are a great way to show support. Holding up funny, large posters are a good idea, as long as they are nice. Sometimes humor can bring a good laugh during a long stretch of suffering. Posters like “Worst parade ever!” are a great idea. But avoid phrases like, “You look great.” No, they don’t. They’re covered in sweat and salt and working their hardest, but this isn’t their best look. Rather, encourage them with, “You are strong! You are brave!” or “Keep going! You’ve worked so hard for this!”
A big no-no is signs and cheers that involve distances. You don’t want to write or yell, “One more mile to go!” when there’s actually 1.2795 miles to go. Athletes count down every foot of a race. Don’t lie or create false hope. Phrases like “you are almost there!” or “so close” are unhelpful. Use general positive affirmation instead.
CHEER FROM THE SIDELINES. Don’t get into competitors’ faces. Don’t high five unless you know them well, and never jump in front of a competitor! Stay on the side of the road. If you want to be seen by your athlete, wear a big T-Rex costume. Such costumes are also helpful for life in general and receiving a maximal number of high fives. Embrace life. Be a T-Rex.
MAKE SOME NOISE. Pack those cowbells, bring out those loud speakers, buy a giant drum! Sometimes a fast beat is a perfect pick-me-up during the run when there’s more time to listen to it. During the bike, cowbells are a great option to be heard as the bikes whiz by.
TEND TO IMMEDIATE NEEDS POST RACE. When your athlete finishes, he may have temporarily digressed to baby hand signals and giant smiles. Help him up, give him a huge hug, walk him to a chair, hand him water (or a beer) and offer to get his gear. He will be smelly, salt-caked, sweaty, and generally not fit for human contact, but plaster a huge smile on your face (once again) and be excited that he finished!
BRACE YOURSELF FOR ALL THE EMOTIONS. Once words return to her brain, your athlete will want to walk through every single second of her day. Sit down, listen well. She just spent months training for an event that ended within hours. Her body is exhausted and depleted. There may be laughter, tears, snorts, and lots of snot. But stay by her side, listening and appreciating her story of conquering a race.
You're all set! Gear up and get out there to cheer on Worlds IRONMAN 70.3 in Chattanooga! Pull out them cow bells!