Ironman spectating is…well, it’s something!!
Mac raced IM Canada last weekend, and this was my first chance to spectate at an ironman! Honestly I have really just spectated at the Victoria half earlier in the year, and that is about the extent of my “spectating” experience. But the full distance was a whoooooole different beast!
Ok, right off the bat: I’m honestly not sure what is better/worse. Racing or spectating?! I literally changed my mind a million times throughout the day, and everyone kept laughing at me.
Racing is hard. It sucks. I mean, that’s kind the point, right? But then at the same time, it’s absolutely amazing. There is a lot of pressure—but also none at all, since it’s your day and you know you get to be selfish. And racing is fun. I really “get into the zone” every time I race, it’s a completely indescribable experience. Nothing else in the world matters, except whatever it is you’re currently doing. I’m chronically indecisive otherwise, but during a race I will make snap decisions, never second-guess myself, and they are (99% of the time) always the right decisions. I know exactly what my body does, and needs, and how it feels, and I am never more in tune with myself than on race day. Then again, that means I’m in tune with all the pain and misery and stress of racing ;) It’s definitely a good/bad thing, and the pain can linger etc. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be racing. But you’ve also spent time, money, and energy putting things into the race (regardless of the distance). There are expectations, both personally and publically. It’s a big, open-ended question mark, and you can only hope you live up to what you’re hoping for. And you always think you could have tried harder. (I mean obviously it nets out as a good thing, otherwise I wouldn’t love it and do it, but my point is—there are definite upsides and downsides to racing)
Spectating, on the other hand…well I mean, it is so FUN! You have your person (or people) and you can be unapologetically, all-out supportive! Everything is about your athlete, it’s your job to do whatever you can for them (in the best of ways). And cheering for other people is fun too—ESPECIALLY at ironman, as I discovered! Having names on bibs, allowing you to call them by name—so great! I loved getting them to smile, to momentarily break out of the pain and suffering, to know that others are acknowledging their suffering and believe in them! They are doing something amazing! But, then..it is STRESSFUL! Especially 140.6 miles. Especially in another country and you don’t all have cell data. We missed Mac on the bike course and felt AWFUL. Then she took a little longer on the last little section of the bike, and even though we knew it was “fine,” it was the most stressful, anxiety-laden wait EVER, waiting for her to appear around the corner, heading to the bike in. We were constantly checking various trackers, calculating times, etc etc etc. It was incredibly stressful! Not to mention we got up at the same time, and were out in the freezing cold and pouring rain. NOT to compare that to the athletes, they obviously had it way worse..but it wasn’t exactly a relaxing, cozy day, either ;)
Anyway, all that said—I loved it. So much! It was just funny to feel SO many different emotions. Racing CDA, I was so focused the whole day that I tuned everything else out and didn’t feel much of anything. Spectating in Whistler, I think I felt every possible emotion multiple times throughout the day. :)
So, here is my own recap of the day. Much different than a race report, but just as long, and funny that it was such a busy day!
Woke up, bright and early (well, it wasn’t very bright but it was early). Headed down on mountain bikes, out the door at 4:20am. It was a few miles to the swim start, so we rode over while Mac took the shuttle. It was DARK, at least for the first couple miles…especially bombing down the hill from the condo. Kind of scary, but I reminded myself I was on my mountain bike, not my tri bike, so even if I hit a bump I had suspension and wouldn’t go flying ;)
Got to the swim start, met up with Mac. She wated to do a quick 15 minute shake-out run so I joined her for that. Pretty cool to be able to run with her for that last little bit, although kind of weird knowing she had this big thing ahead of her and I was just there watching! :) (but in a good way)
The forecast had been mentioning showers all week, and that morning, it was saying scattered showers throughout the day. It had rained a bit the day before but cleared up well, and that morning was perfect! Nice and cool, but not cold, and looking pretty clear.
She started getting ready, wetsuit on, pictures, etc… it seemed to get a little chillier. She made her way over to the swim start, as we found spots on the beach to watch. Huh. I think it’s sprinkling now. Watched the pros start, feeling a bit more rain. Age group in-water mass start (TERRIFYING, I was already incredibly thankful for the rolling start at CDA, and yup, still very thankful for it!) and the skies opened up and it was raining. And cold.
It was a two-loop swim, but they don’t get out of the water like at CDA, so there wasn’t match to see after the mass of people went by. Especially with the rain coming down more and more, we huddled over to a tree. People started hanging out anywhere they could get shelter. Katie and I found a couple big rocks under a big tree and kind of hunched over—I think she actually fell asleep. I mostly tried to curl into a little ball. It was still really wet, and we had layers—but I didn’t have rain layers!
As it got closer to the time when the pros would start getting out of the water, Mic and Allen and I decided to go check out the bike out. Ideally, we could watch the swim in and bike out, but once checking out the logistics, there was no way we would be able to do it (too many crossings, and getting around things, etc, don’t think we would have been able to make it). We decided to station ourselves at the bike out, and watched the first few pros. Then the age groupers started to trickle out. It was pouring rain by now. We moved closer to the mount line, since there was a fence under some trees we could sit under to get slightly less soaked while waiting.
Earlier, Mic had looked at the mount area and asked why it was so wide (he had never seen an ironman before). I told him triathletes just need the space, and there’s lots of people, etc. He kind of looked at me and repeated “no, it’s a serious question. I don’t get it…” (note: he is a cyclocross guy, so he just didn’t understand what all the space was for). I repeated my answer, and told him to sit tight and wait…and sure enough, as the masses started to come out, he slowly started to stare and nod, finally admitting “ooookay, now I understand…..”
Being so wet didn’t help. Lots of people had troubles, some fell over or slid out just trying to get on the bike since the pavement was so wet. It started to be that every time I cheered for someone in particular, they would have troubles getting started/fall over/etc so I stopped doing that ;)
As it got to be about the time we expected to see Mac, I left the boys there (the rest of the group was in the area near the run out with the bike), and ran up the road a bit, so that I could see her once she was actually on the bike and hopefully away from the mass of people trying to get clipped in. Finally spotted her! Had just enough to yell at her and take a few photos, and she was off. She didn’t look thrilled, and I knew it was because the rain was exactly what she didn’t want…but still, she had a great swim time and was time to tackle the bike.
We headed back, found the rest of the group. Quickly got to our bikes (now soaking wet), and rode back. Just in case I wasn’t thoroughly drenched already, riding a mountain bike made sure every part of me was completely saturated. At this point, Mic and Allen and I decided to just ride back to the condo (and up the crazy hill) to try to dry off/change clothes—Katie also had an extra rain shell at the condo and I knew I would need it, considering my jacket had completely soaked through.
The boys were dragging. Finally rounded them up. I had Mac’s phone throughout the day, to take photos and post to her instagram/facebook of course ;) but it also meant I could text, so Kyle and I were texting to try to coordinate things. As we were leaving, I checked her live tracker (that she got for the day), just to make sure we would have time before she came to the crossing. All looked good, so we headed down to park, etc.
Then, as we tried to find the rest of the group etc, Kyle texted saying we had missed her!!!! What the heck?! I looked at the tracker again, and he was right, she was long gone. How did that happen?! We knew she would be there 2 hours after the start, but I don’t think any of us paid attention to exactly what time of day she started the bike, so we were relying on the tracker...a little too much, I guess. Plus, it didn’t list distances or scale, so I guess she was closer than we thought. UGH even so, what a bummer!!! We felt AWFUL, especially since on that course, that was really the only time she would be passing by, and we wouldn’t get to see her at all on the bike! :(
We decided to all pile into our truck, and booked it as fast as we could, to try to catch up further up on the course to try to see her. We finally turned off, after realizing the other direction was closed and we were going slow being held up by the race…and resigned ourselves to the fact we missed her. She told us later how bummed she was when she went by and we weren’t there, which is totally understandable :( Ugh, really upset about that. BUT, what can you do. The Project 13 crew (ie: my coach) was there, set up on the side of the course so we walked up and hung out there with them and cheered on the bikers going by. That was fun, the first time we were really cheering for people! Us girls has bright pink tutus on, and people loved them. Some would smile, some would wave or give us a thumbs up, and a few even sat up on their bars and blew us kisses and shouted “love the tutus, thanks!!” So cool. :) I think that is when I started to really have lots of fun, and realize how cool it was we got to cheer these guys on! I’m not sure if having done an ironman the month prior made it better or not, but it sure felt good to cheer these amazing guys on, especially knowing exactly what they were going through/what they were going to start going through soon.
Things started to go downhill, though. I was so distracted screaming and clapping and dancing around in my tutu (lol), but Kyle was diligently checking Mac’s live tracker….and informed us it hadn’t moved in the last 15 minutes. Getting a flat or some mechanical issue was one thing, but that was pushing a long time for her to be stuck changing a flat. It also showed her right at the base of a giant, twisty climb…and naturally, Kyle was really worried. We kept watching it, he went and talked to one of the ambulance drivers that was there on the course and tried to get someone to check on her, etc. There were ton of aid cars and official sweeping the course, but at that point they were already busy and overwhelmed pulling people with hypothermia off the course, so Kyle was worried they may not get to her quickly and thought it could be something bad. I tried reasoning, pointing out the inaccuracies of that type of live GPS tracking etc, plus other reasons why it could show that (could have fallen out of her pocket, she could be helping someone else who had a problem, etc etc) but obviously he was super worried and upset the ambulance guy wouldn’t go drive out to check lol…so we piled back into the truck (did I mention we had 7 people, including 5 in the back seat?) and headed back to town so that he could get his own truck, and could drive out on his own to check for himself. We were almost back, when suddenly—her tracker was working again! And it showed she had moved way up course. It was just a GPS signal issue, after all! This was a time I was very happy I was right :)
At that point, since we were basically back near T2 (and where we had parked), we decided to just park, re-group ourselves, and get some lunch. Did that, then headed back to T2 about an hour-ish before we expected her to get off the bike. We watched the first few pros on the run out, then scoped out the area. This time, we would be able to watch the bike in, then sprint across the parking lot and make it to the run out. We watched a bit and saw Mac’s coach bike in, so tested this plan out (yup. plenty of time to run through the parking lot, since transition kind of wound around and we could take a more straight-ish shot through the parking lot), and watched some more. Headed back to the bike in, and waited.
And waited, and waited. She had hit the last timing mat, 20 miles out, and she should be showing up any time now. There was a giant climb at the end, so that was probably all. The live tracker had long since stopped working, but we knew better than to worry about it yet…so we waited. And waited. We expected 6 hours on a good day, closer to 6:10-6:15 on an ok-fine day….by the time 6:30 rolled around, we were all super high-strung, and I think at this point I declared that spectating was WAY worse than actually racing! Logically I think we all knew it was fine. There was a big climb, it was nasty weather (although by this point the rain had stopped and the sun was peeking out..but you could see on the looks of all the athletes coming it, it had been a brutal bike ride for the last 112 miles)…but still, where was she?! It was less worried about why she was taking so long, and more worried about how she would be feeling mentally/physically coming off the bike and into the run, and wanting her to have a good run etc etc etc…
THERE SHE WAS! We all erupted at the sight of her. I hardly remember how she looked coming in, I was taking photos and cheering and then buckling down and running as hard as I could to the other end of the parking lot. I knew I had plenty of time, she had to get her stuff and change shoes and get situated, but the LAST THING IN THE WORLD that I wanted was to miss her again!
Of course, we made it with plenty of time :) Katie and Mel held the signs that Josh and the girls had made, and finally she came running out. She didn’t look thrilled, but more resigned. As everyone else turned to go watch the pros finish, Kyle realized the course turned back, and we could probably see her once more at the other edge of the parking lot…so he and Mic and I raced over as fast as we could, and got to the crosswalk just in time to take more pictures and see her come through again. I wasn’t even thinking, but Mic was smart and realized it was a good time to run with her ;) so he chased her up the hill and joined her a bit before the course wound into the trails.
Meanwhile, Kyle and I headed back to his truck. I didn’t know where Allen had gone, to unlock my bike from our truck, so I took Mac’s mountain bike (which Mel had been using) and stripped off some layers (the sun was getting warm), and we decided to try to see if we could catch her on the bikes along the trails. We mashed up a couple hills, race along some back trails…but, nope, she had already started her loop around Lost Lake. So, we headed back a bit to a big intersection, where the course crosses a couple times, right by special needs. Soon enough, we saw her running up, and although she quickly told us how cold and miserable the bike was and didn’t look very happy, she was putting down a great pace and was right on target.
This was a pretty good place to watch for a bit, so we hung out…then realized it really was getting warmer (I was down to just my tank top by then), and Mic met up with again, so we decided to go drop the bikes off at the truck (and the extra sleeves) then walk back to the same spot. We found the rest of the group along the way at another spot, so we all went back together and hung out. It was a lot of fun there, you got to see people about halfway on their first lap, starting their second lap, and then about halfway through their second lap. That’s when we started calling out people by name, and although it was by special needs and most people were distracted, it was fun to see them light up a bit when they heard their names.
I did keep accidentally saying stupid things like “almost there” which I smacked myself every time. I HATE when people say that, especially when we moved down another trail a bit and you could tell people were just starting their first lap. Why the heck did I keep saying that?! Other than that, though, I think people appreciated it.
Luckily Mac’s tracker seemed to be working better now that it was on the run, so we could tell where she was….but we could also see she was slowing down. To the point where we knew she was walking at least part of the time. As she got closer, we moved down to a less congested area, and Kyle back-tracked to try to find her first and run with her if she needed it. We saw them coming through, and she looked pretty dejected and Kyle kept running with her (he ended up running the entire rest of the course with her). That was a bummer, I knew she could have had a really good run, but all that time getting freezing on the bike did nothing to help anyone (and hearing later, she couldn’t eat/drink for the first few hours, so that probably played a role too).
We were so happy to be cheering for everyone else, but it was pretty dejecting to see our own athlete, the one person we wanted to cheer on the MOST, having a rough time. But, she was still getting it done. We moved back up to another spot so that we could see her at the end of that loop. We walked a bit up the trail, further than before, so we were the only group of spectators on a lonely trail, up near the top of a small include/corner. That was one of the most fun spots to be stationed! We were totally in the woods, there weren’t really other spectators there, and you could tell the athletes weren’t really expecting people to be cheering there! We got a LOT of smiles, and laughs, and thank-yous and some people even asked for high fives! Um, you want a high five, YOU BET I will give you a high five! We kept the energy up there and it was noticeable what a difference it made for some people, so that was AWESOME!
We gave the guys our tutus, to try to see if we could help cheer Mac up when she came around. Kyle was busy talking her off a ledge by that point, and I don’t think the guys in tutus did much for her, but it DEFINITELY was a hit to everyone else that saw it in those 15-20 minutes! I mean, the girls wearing tutus got lots of smiles and stuff, but the reactions were even better with the guys wearing them! We would see people start to crack a smile, trying not to break, whenever they saw the guys wearing bright pink tutus…and as soon as we said “yeahhh we see you smiling!” a huge grin would spread across their face. It’s amazing what smiling can do during a race, so hopefully it helped :)
After seeing Mac, we walked down to another stretch, the last out and back. She would be back here when she was about 2km to the finish, and we spent the next hour or so cheering from there. It also started raining again. Raining a lot. I had to go back to the truck and put on as many layers as I could. Ugh! But, hey, if they were out there racing, I sure as heck was going to cheer!
The only bummer was that you didn’t know what lap people were on—so while you could tell them they were “almost there” if they were on the second loop (less than a mile to go qualifies as almost there, I think), you didn’t want to say that when they actually had another entire loop to do. So, there was a lot of “stay tough” and “look at that pace!” and “be strong, you got this.” Some people seemed so appreciative at this point, you could tell they were the ones on their way to the finish, and that your words of encouragement actually meant something to them while they were trying to dig deep.
The other fun thing was that by this point, we had seen a LOT of these people on their previous loops around Lost Lake! Some we had seen once, others we had seen twice or more already, just based on how we kept moving around the course and how the trails intersected! When I remembered them, I tried to say something (“hey didn’t I just see you?! Keep it up!”) and sometimes they remembered us more, with the tutus, and would point and wave and say thanks, etc. I saw one guy in a Smashfest kit that I think I complimented 2 or 3 times prior, and the last time I saw him I said “yup, I STILL love that kit!” even though he never really showed a response the last few times I said anything, but that time he yelled back “hah, well this is the last time you get to see it!” meaning he was listening, and was now heading to the finish line. So cool!!
Tracking was working. Mac was close. We set up in a good spot…and saw her come through! She still didn’t look thrilled, but she was moving a bit more, and more determined, and this time we really could say she was almost done and RUN HARD SEE YOU AT THE FINISH!
We raced to the finish line. Found our way through the stands and managed to squeeze into spots in the front row. The clock read 12:50…she could still break 13 hours! Even though it wasn’t the day she wanted, I knew that would at least be a small win. We soaked up the finish line atmosphere…so amazing to watch people come in! I got as many high fives as I could, screamed for everyone (especially cool to see people finish whom we had seen on the course and cheered for over the last few hours), smiled and laughed watching their elation…and the clock was still ticking. Soon, soon, she had to be there soon…
And then, 12:55 after the race began, there she was! I don’t know how we all managed to scream quite so much and take photos/videos at the same time, but I do know we all had a collective sigh of relief and happiness seeing her finish and looking happier than she had the whole run!
I raced over to the side of the finish chute, saw the volunteer talking to her and making sure she was ok and getting her stuff. I went totally crazy and made sure she (and the volunteer) saw me and was WAY TOO EXCITED but I didn’t even care. SO HAPPY! Mac kind of laughed and told the volunteer it was fine, she could talk to me later …but I did have to ask where we went to meet her.
The stupid thing was that the athlete exit was out the other side. And there was NO place to cross, without walking allllllll the way around all the med tents and buildings and everything, or allllll the way up the other side of the finish line where it was a sketchy crossing. By the time we finally made it all the way around, Mac was already out and talking to some friends, but I still raced up and tried to give her the biggest, and yet gentlest hugs of all time.
We all met up. Waited for Mic and Kyle, who had both run her in apparently, but gotten split up with the dumb crossings. The rain was coming down again, so we wanted to head back to the condo to get warmed up, instead of hang out there. Mic and I ran ahead, to go get her gear ticket and get her bike and bags. Did that, piled everything into the trucks, and headed back.
The rest of the evening involved warming up, chatting and hearing all the stories of the day, finding food (ummm yeah definitely didn’t eat enough during the day) and finally collapsing into bed! What an insane day. I can only imagine how awful it was racing (seriously, I think I may have quit..and that makes me uncomfortable because I am not ok with quitting! But it was that bad…) but it was so inspiring to watch everyone out there!
Anyway, that’s the very, very long story of my first experience spectating an ironman. It was incredibly fun and rewarding in its own way, especially cheering and encouraging the athletes, and especially knowing so many people have done the same for me (especially in Coeur d’Alene). The spirit of ironman and triathlon is alive and well, and it was such a fun time getting to be a part of it!!