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Your feet hurt, your back hurts, you’re soaked in sweat and the chafing is out of control. And at the end of 15 hours, it’s almost midnight, the race is over but you’re no Ironman: You’re an Ironspectator.
It’s one thing to catch the NBC Ironman coverage on TV or follow along online, but watching an Ironman in real life is another beast entirely—it’s a feat of endurance that gets very little recognition but carries a lot of the cost. Pro triathlete Beth Gerdes has a unique perspective of being at the top of the Ironman heap with a 15th-place finish in Kona in 2015; she has also been along to support her husband, Luke McKenzie, whose top finish in Kona was second place in 2013. This year, health issues have kept Gerdes from a second pro appearance at the Hawaii Ironman, but it won’t keep her from supporting her husband with their 2-year-old daughter, Wynne, in tow.
Here we take a look at the essential gear for those essential people: the friends, family and fans that support the Ironmen and Ironwomen here in Kona. Though not as sexy as the latest racing tech, these simple things will ensure that your racer doesn’t cross the finish line into the waiting arms of a wilted, miserable crew.
“I get more anxiety as a spectator than as a racer,” Gerdes says. “Managing the anxiety for eight hours can be a challenge.” Between the logistics of where he’s going to be, when and what kind of encouragement he needs, Gerdes says organization is crucial. “I spend a lot of time doing math to be sure I’m doing everything properly.” In a near-paperless world with everything on mobile devices and online, the best thing to do is use an app/site like Evernote to compile timetables, course maps and notes all in one safe place.
Though sort of an obvious piece of equipment, it’s still important to store everything you and your family will need during the long day. We like the 2XU Transition Bag for its waterproof bottom pocket and massive main compartment because you never know what wet, nasty thing your loved one will throw at you during the race.
Absolutely essential. The only thing sadder than seeing a sun-crisped Ironman athlete is his or her blistering family in tow. Be sure to go no less than SPF 50 and waterproof. To avoid looking like a pasty clown, we recommend using Endurance Shield’s moisturizing, zinc-based (no oxybenoznes!) product. Don’t forget to reapply every few hours.
“Be sure to pack lots of snacks, water and Gatorade,” says Gerdes. “The day can feel like it’s going by quickly when I’m following someone as fast as Luke, but you still need to eat.” Even with McKenzie’s blazing times, eight hours is still a long time to go without food. Having a nutrition plan, just like your athlete, will prevent grumbling stomachs and short fuses later in the day. For spectators, fuel like Gatorade’s Low Calorie G2 Powder is a good choice for keeping electrolytes up without all of the extra sugar. Gatorade’s Whey Protein Bar does a good job of putting in calories on the go.
Even as Gerdes spoke, young Wynne was running around, hitting the upper limit of her patience. For a couple like Gerdes and McKenzie, being able to focus on the racer’s event is critical. “I’m in charge of everything Luke needs,” says Gerdes. “The grandparents are in charge of Wynne.” Gerdes recommends finding a family member to help provide activities for kids (Wynne can be found playing in the ocean pools during the race between cheering sessions for dad). Don’t have a grandparent around? Our favorite grandparent rental site is Rentagrandma.com.
An Adult Beverage
All of the excitement on race morning can sometimes give way to resentment as the day goes long. If things go sideways for the athlete, be sure to make a plan for keeping spirits up—not just for the racer, but for the support crew. While in Kona, we recommend Kona Brewing Company’s Wailua Wheat at Daylight Mind on Ali’i Drive. Also, don’t forget the huge role supporters have played through all the training, traveling and prepping. “At the end of the day, be sure you celebrate together,” advises Gerdes. ”Because [supporters] need to know that they’ve earned it just as much as the athlete did.”