One of our readers, Anna Vlasova Barney, had her first experience as a spectator this summer at Ironman 70.3 Timberman in Gilford, NH.  She was so excited and wanted to share her experience with all of you.  Since this day is a distant memory for all of us, we thought it might be nice to have a refresher course on what it’s like to be a spectator newbie.  I also thought this was a great counter piece to what I recently wrote on Putting the Romance Back in Trisupporting.

I had to laugh/cringe to myself when I read the piece, thinking, boy, I don’t do that anymore for him – yikes…So, enjoy and either reminisce about your first, remind yourself of what you USED to do for your triathlete, or see what you have to look forward to…


Anna and Jonathan at her first race…


When my triathlete boyfriend invited me to join him at his next race and even switched to one closer to our home state so I could go, I was touched and excited.  Being Type A, I also needed to know everything I could to provide him with the best possible support.  I got to work, browsing the internet and asking him endless questions.  The TriWivesClub was an amazing resource on the sport of spectating.  I found tips on everything from what to wear on the race day to what to avoid in the pre-race conversations.  I got to work and took care of the following things right off:

  • I bought a good luck charm and sewed it onto his bandana.
  • I painted a t-shirt.
  • I studied the race location for sights and things to do.
  • I prepared for meeting a lot of inspiring people.
  • I signed up to be a volunteer to get the full experience of the race.
  • I also made sure to familiarize myself with my guy’s tri equipment and necessities.  I had to find out what certain things were for (Hello, “Butt-r”?!?) and what snacks he preferred for training and race day.  After I did my homework, I was ready to travel with a bit of piece of mind.

New Hampshire was a pleasant surprise.  Our drive took 4.5 hours and was pretty scenic.  Lots of greenery, hills, and hidden paths.  Nice, clean little towns all around.   The roads could have been better, though.  We arrived a bit early and had a chance to take our time and be one of the first in line for check-in.

Immediately, I was drawn to watching triathletes in their anticipation.  Let’s be honest here and say that Ironman is a special breed of people – confident, happy, and not at all bad looking!  Fun times!  After taking care of the paperwork and the official stuff, we headed to the park to check out the race location and drop off the bike.  I have never seen so many sport bikes in one place!  Not all 2300 of them were there yet, of course, but still… The lake where the swim was going to occur turned out to be big and beautiful.  It is also a mouthful to pronounce – try saying Lake Winnipesaukee three times in a row and not smile!

Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.

Volunteers were all around, putting on the finishing touches and the athletes were traveling alone and in packs to and from.  Some of them were testing the waters.  My boyfriend is the go-with-the-flow kinda guy, so he just checked how cold the water was instead of jumping in.  After he mentally traced his swim direction, we headed off to find where my volunteer aid station was for the next day.  It was the very first one at the bike transition area, which turned out to be amazing in terms of me seeing him take off on the  bike, come back, and for both loops on the run.  Yes, lucky me!  I got to see him all throughout the race.  I had to make sure I did, because it was my first time!  Special memories in the making, you know…

Now that all of the race details were taken care of, we headed back to the hotel and ventured out to do a bit of exploring.  The foodie had to eat first, of course!  Does your triathlete eat around the clock, too?  The diner, called Sawyer’s, had outstanding seafood dishes and plenty of triathletes from all across the U.S. to size-up.  Ha!  We spied blue bracelets everywhere we went that day.  Somehow, it made me feel like we belonged to a special tribe; the one you are proud of and not afraid to mention to anyone who would listen.  The locals were very polite and helpful.  Thumbs up!

Next, we headed back to the headquarters for a pre-race meeting.  With that out of the way, we decided to take it easy and relax for the rest of the night.  The supportive girlfriend, aka myself, made sure her guy was hydrated, massaged, and in bed by 9 PM.  I am one of the lucky people that can get up super early in the morning and be full of energy, so I did.  However, I was also waking up every hour to make sure we would not oversleep, with 2 alarms set up, mind you.  The plan was to get up at 3:40 AM, but I was up at 2:50.  Yes, I’m that crazy, responsible girl.

The hotel staff were kind enough to have a coffee/tea station and a snack table set up for the triathletes – how sweet!  I went downstairs for my tea and realized some people were already leaving for the race!  Wow!  Talk about race fever!  The weather did not look promising.  It was in the mid-60s and drizzling.  We packed up, ate breakfast, and headed to the lot to park the car and take the bus to the race location.  It was dark, wet, but warm enough to be comfortable.  After a semi-sleepy ride over the bumps on a yellow school bus, we arrived at the park and headed to the lake.  Miraculously enough, the skies cleared up a bit and the lake was perfectly still.  Romantic enough situation sans the nervous energy around and the wee hours of the morning, no?  I enjoyed the calm before the storm and people watching, of course.

Swim start at Ironman Timberman. Photo credit

My boyfriend remained cool and collected until right before taking off to get in line for his wave.  They wore the white swim caps and plunged in at 7:40.  I stayed on the shore with two backpacks, the bike pump, and a swelling pride for my man… After they got in, I headed to the transition site and waited there to see him take off for the bike part of the race.  The location of the race did not allow for checking the IM website to track your athletes, so no luck there… Was I nervous?  A little, I have to be honest.  Was I extremely relieved to see him on his bike, grinning from ear to ear, and yelling that he loved me?  You bet!  Now, I could relax for a while and head off to my aid station.  I also swapped my hand painted t-shirt for a volunteer one.


Anna’s hand-painted t-shirt to support her triathlete, Jonathan.

The aid station had plenty of people (all local, but me!) and super-friendly ones at that.  They accepted me with smiles and made my day!  We gave out water, Perform, Gu, fruit, and chips.  The day got really busy by about 10 am.  My boyfriend tipped me off about screaming out loud the contents of your cups, so the athletes know what to grab running by… The weather was moody: sunny one minute and cloudy the next, but I think it was a very comfortable temp for the racers.  I really got into cheering, too.  You can’t be at the race and remain passive.  Well, I couldn’t.

All in all, it was an amazing experience. Seeing my guy run through that finish line was out-of-this-world fantastic!  I was frantic about doing something for him right after, but all he could say was, “I need to catch my breath!”  Bittersweet, proud girlfriend moment 🙂

Things I found fun and/or funny at the race:

  • a little neighborhood of port-a-potties and the lines to get into one
  • athletes helping each other put their wet suits on
  • stress eating/pre-race carb loading?
  • some jerseys were… Ahem, interesting
  • significant others carrying bike pumps all over the place
  • cow bells in rainbow colors
  • and cute toddlers shouting: “Go, Daddy/ Mommy!”

Would I do this again?  YES, and I can’t wait!!!