Ironmans! The greatest sporting spectacle in the world, packed with intrigue, incident, toil and triumph - as long as you’re the one that’s taking part….
But spare a thought for the long suffering spectators, who are probably only there because they have a friend or family-member in the race and whose reward for their love and loyalty is to watch hours and hours of sweaty strangers striding along, punctuated by the odd ten-second glimpse of their loved one shambling past.
Every triathlete who has ever done a distance race knows that every moment of the race is full to bursting with exciting happenings which make the time fly by. But when you are standing watching without your race progress or the pains in your pallid knees to occupy your mind, time is apt to drag a little. How then are spectators supposed to occupy themselves during the 10… okay 12… OKAY 14!… hours between cheering you at the start and avoiding contact with your moist, disgusting body at the finish?
With over 20 Ironman/Long Distance spectator campaigns to her name, I consulted my long-suffering wife Nicky for her advice on the 10 best ways to get through an Ironman while your loved-one is competing. Heed her wise words….
1. Blag free drinks
Having a relative in a race is apparently an excellent way to get complimentary drinks from bar owners, or random holidaymakers who just happen to be in town when the IM is on. Such people are easily convinced that an athlete’s efforts are nothing compared to the dedication and sacrifice made by their partner, especially if that selflessness is laid on with a trowel.
2. Play 'Guess the nationality'
Is that woman in the lead with a Euro-looking skinsuit German? Is the tanned man with the ponytail Spanish? Is that woman with several vowels together in her surname Belgian or Dutch? Could that man arguing with the marshal be French? That pale-looking guy with sunburnt shoulders is definitely British.
3. Enthusiastically cheer random strangers, and pretend you know them
The triathlon equivalent of beeping your car horn at a bus stop full of OAPs as you drive past to see how many will wave, cheering complete strangers by calling out their name and saying “fancy seeing you here!” or “Remember me?” is an excellent way to entertain yourself. No one will ever stop to ask who you are because they are too preoccupied with finishing and they’ll spend the rest of the race racking their brains trying to work where they know you from..
4. Play 'Predict the finishing time'
This is best done when there is a group of you watching various husbands/wives/partners racing. Simply place a few friendly pounds in a hat and ask everyone to predict their respective loved-ones finishing time. If you win, don’t forget to keep all the money yourself.
5. Chalking the road or putting up signs
Lots of races allow you to chalk messages of support on the road, or have a hand-written signs put up on the course. When you do this make sure the messages are easily identified by your loved one. You could do this with a simple “I love you (insert name)” or “You are amazing (insert name”) but according to Nicky that looks stalker-ish so instead I have been treated to messages including: “You’re washing your own stinky kit” and “Hurry up Brunty I’m getting bored.” They have been strangely inspiring.
6. Complete an entire puzzle book
Not done by Nicky, but my friend Jason’s partner finished an entire book of word-search puzzles while he was waiting for Jason to finish at Challenge Almere. Depressingly for Jase, Craig had finished them before he was even back on the bike, which says more about Jase’s cycling than it does about Craig’s Mensa qualities.
Again not done by Nicky but many people choose to occupy their race-day hours by joining the army of volunteers that make races possible. You could join a water station, marshal a corner or even be a wetsuit-stripper-offer. The only job Nicky briefly considered was slapping sun-cream on athletes’ bodies before they head off on the bike, although this job apparently gets less appealing after the first hour or so and the bodies get progressively less hench.
8. Shout encouragement (heckle)
No matter how many races you’ve done, every athlete thrives on that lift they get when they hear words of support shouted at them by their loved ones. It’s a testament to Nicky’s lung-power that I once heard “GO ON BRUNTY!” as I exited the ocean at the end of lap one of the swim at Ironman Lanzarote, her voice not only penetrating the crowd cheering but also my swim hat and the sea-water in my ears.
9. Pub crawl
In certain locations – Florida, Roth, Canada, Lake Placid, Austria, Nice etc – the race course is peppered with bars which welcome thirsty spectators. Make sure you know when your loved-one is due to be bumbling past though, so they don’t run by sooner than you expected and they don’t witness you lurching out of, for example, a Puerto-del-Carmen bar clutching a cocktail and shouting “S**t there he is already”.
10. Just turn up for the exciting bits
Some parts of the race are apparently more interesting than others, so Nicky says it’s important to pace your spectating efforts and save yourselves for those moments. Punchy mass swim starts are worth watching, as is watching people lurch out of the water 3.8km later. The bike leg is a dead loss unless there is a steep climb or sharp turn where you can congregate, while the run start is a great place to see people moving like they’ve just woken up. The finish is obligatory, although hugs and kisses should be postponed until the worst of the snot, dried gel and sweat has been removed.