Well I’ve written plenty of posts on how to effectively race triathlons, but it didn’t dawn on me until watching the last couple stages at the Tour de France, that I’ve never really talked about how to be an awesome fan at a race.  Now I know that sounds a bit odd, but there is definitely a way to be an awesome fan, and then there’s a way to be a fan that doesn’t really encourage anyone, which I guess would constitute a “bad” fan.

As an athlete I can honestly say that spectators and fans make a world of difference during the race.  Their cheers can instantly transfer a seemingly endless amount of energy to you, and their enthusiasm can be the difference between qualifying for a Kona slot or going home empty handed, or the difference finishing the race with a walk and a smile or taking the dreaded DNF.

So here are a few pointers that I’ve put together.  Feel free to share them with your friends, family, or anyone who might be headed out to IM Calgary 70.3, Ironman Canada, Mont Tremblant, Challenge Penticton, Kona, Vegas, or wherever else!

The Good

  • Volunteer– What better way to be a good fan than to volunteer for the race!  Volunteers are what make triathlons and almost any other sort of race or sporting event possible.  I can’t say enough about how grateful I am to the legions of volunteers that make Ironman happen.  Whether its package pickup, body marking, aid stations, transitions, medical, or finish line, the smiles and enthusiasm of volunteers go a long way towards supporting the athletes… Plus you usually get a t-shirt, which makes you as much a part of the race as the athletes.
  • Shout it, shout it, shout it out loud– It may not seem like it sometimes, but in the race we hear everything.  At Ironman, we literally have nothing to do but keep moving forward, so listening to the fans becomes a big focal point.  And when you’re cheering, the louder the better.  When I was racing Ironman Canada a couple years ago I was completely taken aback by the enthusiasm and support of everyone at Yellow Lake, after 4.5 hours on the bike coming into a tunnel of screaming spectators on the steep pitch of the climb was exactly what I needed.
  • You wanna be where everybody knows your name– When you’re on the side of the road, pick a person, look at their number or name on the bib, or even just the colour of their shirt, and give them a callout and tell them how they’re doing, or give them some words of encouragement.  It shows that you aren’t just yelling and cheering for the world, it shows them that you’re pulling for them at this very moment.  Its very Canadian of us to sit quietly on the side of the course and only cheer for the people we know and I’ve seen it at many of the local smaller races, but once you catch the smile and thanks of that stranger whose race you made a little better, you’ll be hooked.
  • I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign– I don’t think there is an athlete out there who doesn’t love a good sign written on a poster.  The cleverer the better.  For some good ideas check out these two sites; Best Race Signs, Buzzfeed.  I’ve got to give a special shoutout to all the Lululemons I’ve seen bring huge cheer squads out with some pretty catchy signs, they’ve got it down to an art.
  • Think about what’s important to the athlete- Are they on track to break the 3:30 marathon mark?  Are they chasing down the next person up the road?  I they struggling to get in just under the time cutoff?  Let them know that they can do it.  Some meaningful words of encouragement that fit the context of their goals can go a long way and you can make more of a difference than you could imagine.
  • When the going get tough, the tough get going- Ironman is one of the few sports that celebrates its final finisher maybe even more than its first.  If you’ve ever been at the finish line of Ironman just before midnight, you’d know that something magical happens at that time and the crowds come alive to cheer that last person in.  The adversity and loneliness that many athletes overcome with in the weeks and months leading up to the race, and during the race is a testament to their character and strength.  I know sometimes its tempting to just roll out whenever your friend or family member finishes the race, but feel free to stick around and be that someone special who provides words of encouragement for those brave souls who forges ahead after the crowds have gone.
The Bad

  • Know the rules– At Ironman there are very few rules that pertain to the behaviour of individuals not participating in the event.  The biggie though is that athletes cannot accept outside assistance from individuals not in the race or with the organizers.  Which means technically you can’t give us water or nutrition, but more importantly it means you cannot pace us.  Its a rule that varies in its application and the frequency with which its enforced but it basically means if you see your buddy, you can’t run or bike alongside him or her and doing so could lead to their disqualification.  That being said, if you run alongside someone climbing a hill for 10 feet no one is going to accuse them of cheating, but its something to keep in mind.
  • Traffic–  This has only ever been an issue for me at Ironman Canada, but its something worth keeping in mind.  The bike course at an Ironman is 180km often on open roads with some lane closures.  If you’d like to go out and see your loved one racing, consider taking a route that is not the course route or don’t go at all.  Local traffic needs to get through, and athletes need to get through, and if added to the congestion is a thousand cars full of spectators looking for their friends, things can get uncomfortable and even dangerous.
  • Be respectful to the locals- Its out of the good grace of community associations and municipalities that races as big as half and full Ironmans have a place to call home.  Make a habit of being respectful or people’s property and considerate of their community.  This means don’t park in front of their driveways, don’t litter on their laws, and don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want someone to do in your community.  From time to time an athlete may drop something by accident, by and large most of us try to keep the course free of any garbage, but if you see this happen, just grab the litter and toss it for us.
  • Don’t hit us- If there is one thing that scares the bejeezus out of me at a race its a car, bike, spectator, or pet crossing out path as we ride or even run by.  Please, look both ways before you proceed across a road or intersection.  A collision at even a low speed is dangerous for both parties.
The End
I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again.  Volunteers make these races happen.  Ironman Calgary 70.3 is still looking for volunteers this weekend so if you have a couple extra hours this Sunday, please sign up here.  I’d love to see you out there!