How to Condition Family and Friends to Become “Iron Spectators”

Unlike other sports like football, soccer, and lacrosse, triathlon is not usually thought of as a “spectator sport” — one that people get excited about watching. Rather than sitting in a comfortable lawn chair or bleacher while snacking and talking, spectating a triathlon (especially an Ironman) is a sport in it of itself.

In the case of an Ironman event, spectators are often seen sporting matching t-shirts (often with iron-on letters or “Go IronMike” like slogans), running from place to place, panting, and constantly attempting to calculate when to watch their loved one pass by on the swim, bike, or run.

snagged a great spot at the swim start #IronSpectators (throwback to three years ago)

snagged a great spot at the swim start #IronSpectators (throwback to three years ago)

A lot of heart and dedication goes into being a proper Iron spectator. It’s taken years for my brother TJ and cousins to master the art. From yelling DOUBLE BONUS at anyone with both an aero helmet (they like to call it a hershey helmet) and aero wheels and to pass the time to figuring out what restaurants to go to and WHEN during race day (to avoid long lines of rookie spectators), my cousins and brother are definitely dedicated Iron Spectators.

So, how to approach asking family members to spectate an Ironman…

First of all, DO NOT lie to to relatives or sugar coat the truth. Saying “Hey grandma or Boyfriend Sean, want to come on a fun trip to Lake Placid? There will be lots of pretty lakes and good food! And oh, by the way, you can watch me do a race, but it’s a ton of fun!” will not do you any good. Be honest. However, Informing your relatives and friends that spectating can be, let’s be honest, AWFUL, isn’t always the best route to take either.

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Selfies with an A+ Iron Spectator – Guy dressed in an Ironman cape.

So, how do you condition family and friends to become “Iron Spectators” — to avoid the fatigue and boring long hours of a dedicated triathlon-watcher? Follow the steps below, and before you know it you’ll have a team of “Team Iron (insert your name here)” running around in matching t-shirts to cheer for YOU. Yes, you! Wahoo.

  • Timing – The night before the race, make sure you have your loved ones’ race number and projected finish times (and loop times if the bike and run is a loop course) for the swim, bike, and run (And make them be realistic. If need be, remind them that they are not Chrissie Wellington and will most likely not be finishing an Ironman in single-digit hours).
  • Proper Nutrition – A Nutrition plan is just for the athletes? Psh, no way. Hunger and dehydration can run rampant amongst Iron Spectators if you are not careful. Remember, it’s a MARATHON not a SPRINT. Don’t eat all your ziploc-ed goodies at the swim start, and don’t forget bottled water. Map out restaurants you may want to try (but you’ll have to be careful about when you go to avoid long lines) Or else you’ll be sorry. And hungry. Which is not fun.
  • T-Shirts – T-shirts are the heart and soul of all classy Iron Spectating teams. Whether it’s a triathlon club jersey or printed (or iron-on) shirts, matching is ideal. The weirder the catch phrase, the better. “Iron (Insert your name here)” has been done. Come up with something creative and funny that will make the other Iron Spectators WISH they could be as cool as you.
Meeting random friends while Iron Spectating (we somehow made it into the VIP tent)

Meeting random friends while Iron Spectating back in the day (we somehow made it into the VIP tent)

  • Signs – This is where the all-star Iron Spectators are separated from the pack. Is your sign for your loved one (you just HAVE to have a sign or a cowbell) going to be traditional? Funny? Colorful? The possibilities are endless. TJ has some top-secret signs in the making for Ironman Lake Placid 2013, so you’ll have to stay tuned for those.
  • Activities – Let’s be honest. Iron spectating can get boring. And long hours of sitting on the pavement waiting for a relative to pass by for five seconds isn’t always conducive to children (or adults) being happy. So, future Iron Spectators, plan activities!!! Whether it’s stuffing your face at a local restaurant in between the bike and run, swimming, or shopping, you’ll need some way to pass the time. If things get really boring, you can always do what my cousins and I did in Lake Placid a few years ago — the croc count. We counted how many people had crocs and informed people of their number (it had been a looooong day, haha).
One of the best perks of a long day of Iron Spectating... seeing your loved one cross the finish line

One of the best perks of a long day of Iron Spectating… seeing your loved one cross the finish line

  • Charged Devices – Don’t be that guy. That guy who is texting, updating apps, and playing Candy Crush all day and draining your battery faster than the energy of a tired Ironman athlete. The last thing you want is your phone or camera to run out of battery RIGHT BEFORE your loved one crosses the finish line (minus 1000 Iron Spectator points for this). You will never hear the end of this. Ever. SAVE THAT BATTERY!!! Or bring a charger.
  • COMPETITIVE SPIRIT – CAN YOU YELL THE LOUDEST? TAKE THE MOST PICTURES? HAVE THE MOST ABSURD OUTFITS?  Yeah. You can. So dig deep. And be the best Iron Spectator you can be. Your Ironman will be proud.

Inform and teach your family members the above six elements/steps to being a superb Iron Spectator and they’ll be set. Which is also better for you. Because you get better race pictures and more happy family members. 🙂 Iron Spectating can be fun if you do it right!

Shoutout to all of you Iron Spectators out there (you know who you are), you make the races great. Keep killin’ it. 🙂

Tri Hard (to be a good Iron Spectator),