Lucky for me, I've learned from the best...thanks mom, dad and Karel for being the best cheerleaders out there!
But to be a great spectator you have to do your homework and some experience goes a long way. You also need to have some patience and plenty of snacks..... compression socks help too. But most of all, you have to be supportive.
Having goal times and meeting them has been proven to be very helpful to my parents and Karel as spectators but of course, they've done their share of worrying when I don't hit my goal times. That's the wild thing about sports - you never know what will happen on race day and the ultimate goal is to get to the finish line as your biggest fans will be excited for you no matter what the day brings.
Now that Karel is sharing this multisport lifestyle with me, I have really enjoyed being his number one fan at his races. Of course, it is great sharing the course with him but I absolutely love being his sherpa before and during the race. It's not about me or us but instead, it's all about him on race day and I love that he can count on me to make his race experience as simple and easy as possible.
After our 5 hour drive down south to Maimi, we headed straight to the race venue for Karel to pick up his packet. We opted to stay a bit outside of Miami at an Extended Stay hotel which works very well for us when we travel thanks to the affordable rate, pet-friendly accommodations and full kitchen. The parking in downtown Miami was a bit more than my frugal mind can handle but after dropping Karel off to get his packet, I drove around and found street parking with $1.50 per hour.
Spectator tips: Be prepared to drop your athlete off, wait around, walk a lot and find/pay for parking. Your athlete will likely be on a time schedule and perhaps a little ancy and anxious if things aren't going "as planned". Try to make it easy on your athlete by getting him/her where they need to be on time and avoid stressing out if there is traffic (that's the last thing an athlete needs is to sit in traffic when they think they need to be somewhere 5 minutes ago). Review directions to avoid getting lost and always plan for extra time (at least 15 minutes). Be sure to read the athlete guide before arriving at the race as well as any last minute details on the race website. There may be parking specials in certain areas, schedule changes as well as road closures before and during the race. Lastly, if your athlete is racing a very important race (ex. A race of the season, qualifier race, etc.) be accommodating to their requests to stay within walking distance of the race venue, but likely paying a more expensive price for the hotel room. Staying near the race venue saves a bit of time and hassle. However, the downside is often no free WiFi, paying for food (coffee/meals) and perhaps paying for overnight parking (sometimes). This isn't always the case for staying close to the race but do your homework - always review your lodging accommodations especially if you need a microwave/fridge, wifi, etc. Weigh your options before booking a hotel room for sometimes it pays to be close whereas sometimes you may be fine staying up to 10 miles away from the race venue. I recommend no more than 20 minutes away due to the already early wake up call on race day.
After walking around the expo area and checking on the transition area, we headed a few blocks to the car and drove to our hotel. Of course, being 5:30pm on a Friday night in Miami meant enjoying a little traffic for our planned 7 mile commute. Finally, around 6:30pm we checked into our hotel and made ourselves at home for the next two nights. I planned extra food in the cooler in the case we would not get to the grocery store on Friday evening which worked perfect for us both so that we could make dinner and Karel could relax.
Spectator tip: Always bring extra food with you and plan ahead. If your athlete wants to be in control of food choices, whether eating in the hotel room or at a certain restaurant, let him/her make that call. The only body that is racing on race day is the athlete and he/she will likely know what foods work the best pre race. Not every athlete is the same so this may be something worth communicating with your athlete in the case that you would like to eat out but your athlete wants to eat in. Typical foods I travel with include: cereal, nuts, bread, PB, veggies, fruit, pretzels and KIND bars. If I have a cooler, I can bring other items like sandwich items, eggs, milk and yogurt. I recommend searching ahead of time for the nearest grocery store and also consider places like gas stations, CVS, Target and farmers markets for other food finds. Also, don't hesitate to go out for little trips for certain food items if your athlete is requesting a certain food item but if you can, try to plan ahead. Here's an article I did on eating while traveling: Reheat, Repeat: Smart meals for traveling triathletes and another one on traveling tips.
After a great 10 hour night of rest we both woke up without an alarm and it was time to start the day. Of course, Campy was the last to get out of bed. We were on a bit of a schedule because the athlete meeting was at 11am and Karel needed to do his race warm-up (about an hour bike with a few pick ups) and eat. After I got some coffee from downstairs in the continental breakfast, Karel joined Campy and I for our morning walk which made for a lot of fun as we explored the back of our hotel - which happened to be a golf course, run/bike path and an outdoor "gym". I did a 20 min circuit outside and then walked Campy for about 15 minutes and then headed back to the hotel to make Karel some breakfast and then myself some yummy food.
After I showered, Karel had returned from his bike and around 10:15am we were out the door. After the athlete meeting, athletes could check in their bikes at noon so Karel brought his bike (stickers attached) to check-in in the secured transition area.
Spectator tip: you may feel a little rushed the day before the race so be aware of changing plans. On the flip side, your athlete may have a schedule but may be a bit behind what he/she needs to get done for the day. The best suggestion is to have an itinerary and between the athlete and spectator - try to make it all work out in the easiest way possible..teamwork. Try to minimize driving back and forth if there are two transition areas, if you have to attend athlete meeting before the race (I highly recommend) or anything else at the race venue. A must for many athletes is coffee pre race. A few suggestions depending on your lodging: by instant coffee and mix with hot water, buy Starbucks Via packets to mix in hot water, buy coffee the day before and heat the next morning or use coffee maker. Be aware many coffee places may not be open before you need to be at the race and expect long lines if getting coffee after your athlete exits the swim and you wait along with a thousand other spectators near the closest coffee shop. Be sure your athlete eats and rests.
After attending the athlete meeting, we headed to the car for Karel to get his bike and then we walked over to the transition area. Since only athletes are allowed in transition area with their wrist band, Campy and I stayed outside the transition area. Nearing 1pm, we headed back to the hotel and although we needed a few groceries for Karel's dinner, we had enough for lunch in the room. The morning had been rushed and it was nice to relax in the room. We both had some things to do on the computer so with our spacey room, we each worked for a few hours while Campy watched for birds out the window.
Around 4pm, we headed to Publix (1.5 miles down the road) for a few groceries and around $40 later we had our first food purchase since leaving on Friday morning. Karel and I both don't watch the clock when it comes to eating on a daily basis but for races, we both like to eat early. Around 5pm, Karel fixed his dinner which is his typical pre race meal of chicken, rice and veggies (in this case - soup).
We looked for a movie on TV but didn't find much so we reviewed the race course in full detail (athlete guide + mapquest) for turn by turn directions. Nearing 8pm, we got ready for bed and enjoyed a few episodes of Modern Family before lights were out around 9:30pm. Again, Campy was the first to bed.
Spectator tip: Plan for an early dinner the night before the race as well as early to bed. It's recommend to discuss sleeping arrangements with your athlete for many spectators will not be able to go to bed at 8:30/9pm. Expect an early wakeup so it's recommend to have everything packed and ready to go and to save time, load up the car as much as possible if checking out on race day morning to save time. Again, allow extra time (15 minutes) in the morning. Every athlete is different with his/her typical pre race routine so discuss this with your athlete. Some athletes like to get in the zone (peace and quite) whereas others are very social and energetic. Nerves are not isolated to newbies so even if an athlete is experienced, avoid questions like "are you ready" and "are you nervous" and instead, keep the questions minimal if possible. To avoid an athlete freak-out, do NOT complain about the weather (cold/hot/windy) in front of your athlete. It's recommend to review the course map and have an idea of when your athlete will finish the race as well as predicted range of swim, bike, run times. This will help for cheering and a better spectating experience. Not every race is spectator friendly so it may be helpful to reach online forums for spectating advice at your specific race venue.
Around 4:15am, the first of many alarms went off and Karel was up to start the coffee. Campy was not liking this early wake-up call but just to be sure we didn't leave him he slept with one eye open in the morning.
Karel made himself oatmeal and breakfast bread with jam and PB and had a few sips of his yogurt drink. I had a snack of scrambled egg + 2 WASA crackers and PB and had the cooler ready for the day, as well as a few snacks for my backpack (PB sandwich, nuts/cereal, peach, banana, KIND bar, yogurt) which I made the night before.
After I walked Campy and loaded up the car, we were out the door around 5:30am. Because Karel's wave wasn't until 8:45am we were not in a big rush to get to the race venue except for Karel to set-up his stuff by 7am (transition closing).
We parked at the race venue parking lot (parking garage) for $5 and I grabbed the pump as Karel grabbed his transition bag of his race gear.
We walked about 5 minutes or so to the transition area and I stood on the outside of the fenced-in area as Karel got body marked and then set up his spot with his gear. About 20 minutes later, Karel gave me back the pump and I had my friend Amber there with me (watching her hubby Tommy) to walk back to the car with me to return the pump. Karel hung out with his friend Elias in his hotel room across the street which worked perfect for Karel to rest for the 2 hours before his wave start.
The race officially started at 7:25am so Amber and I hung out at the swim start to watch the 25+ waves go off, one after another for all 2500+ athletes to start the race by 9am. The time went by really fast and before I knew it, Karel was texting me that he was walking to the swim start and for me to take his backpack from him.
I helped him put on his speed suit and sprayed body glide all over him along with sunscreen. A kiss for luck and speedy vibes and he entered transition area with his wave. Around 8:45am, Karel's wave (35-39 males, last of four of his age group waves) entered the dock and jumped off into the water. Karel mentioned the water was really warm and at 8:45am, that was to be expected in Miami.
I wasn't really sure what to expect from Karel as he wasn't going for a WC 70.3 spot because we are doing IMWI that day with our #1 goal to both try to qualify for Kona. So instead, Karel was there to chase the competition. Karel is not a time-goal chaser so he never thinks about a time on paper but instead, whatever the day will bring he will race with his fitness and execute in the best way possible. Karel is still very new to triathlons with this being his 5th Half Ironman but only learning how to swim last June before his first ever triathlon in July 2012. Karel really enjoys triathlons and also enjoys the tactics involves of racing in a three sport event. I really love this about Karel because he doesn't go into races with the pressure of expectations. Sure he has goals for himself which drive him to push his limits and to discover his potential but he doesn't let his ego take away from the race day experience. After 7.5 years together, there is one thing I know about Karel....he is not an excuse type of guy. When it comes to racing, he will give it his best effort and make no excuses as to how the day turns out. And Miami 70.3 for Karel was a true testimonial of what racing is all about....finish what you started.
Spectator tip: have a meeting spot for post race in case you don't see your athlete again after you drop him/her off at transition area. Also, keep a positive attitude the entire race as your athlete has a three sports to finish and the race is never over til he/she crosses the finishing line. If watching a newer athlete compete, the goal may be just to finish. For other athletes, there may be high expectations on his/her plate. Whatever the case may be - the best results are told by the athlete him/herself and not by a time on paper. Cheer your athlete on from start to finish. Be sure to coordinate with your athlete about pre race gear that he/she may want to give you before the race as well as any last minute requests/words of advice. Your athlete may need to warm-up so plan to be at the race venue at least 90 minutes before his/her wave to allow enough time for everything.
Part II....1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run.....To Be Continued....