Sunday, August 24, 2014

Take Your Spectating to the Next Level

This post was inspired by today's activities - I had the honor of watching my wife, Lyndsey, complete her first Olympic Triathlon*.  While I often partake in racing, it's quite rare that I spectate.  The last tri that I spectated was Ironman 2010 when my friend, Dave, completed the distance.

Let's consider this an "advanced" course in spectating.  Hopefully you've already watched a couple 5k's or other events that are under 90 minutes and have a base to work off of.  First let's review the goals of spectating:
1. Most importantly, be there to support and add value to your athlete.
2. See your athlete as many times as possible.
3. Capture candid photos of your athlete.
4. Keep the social media world up to date of your athletes location and how awesome of a spectator you are.

1. Add value to your athlete!  This can come in a number of different ways.  Just by being present at the event may be enough.  It's possible that Lyndsey didn't want to ride the "el" downtown this morning at 3:30 am alone.  Boom - easy win, wake up early and go along.
3:30 am on the el platform - silently taking note of Lyndsey's #: 2137
Or you may get appointed with the much desirable role of the mule.  What is a mule, you ask?  Simply, you carry the athlete's odds and ends.  Sometimes, this is as simple as a chapstick.  If it approaches Blue Seventy T2 bag, I suggest that you try to direct this into the bagcheck area as it will slow you down from reaching your other goals.

Offer subtle reminders leading up to the event. "Do your tires have air in them?"  "Did you put bodyglide on your neck by the wetsuit zipper?"  "I will see you at X location after you finish."

Add value to your athlete supersedes all of the other goals!  If seeing them every 100 yards is possible, but only annoys them, you are not winning as a spectator.  The points just don't work like that.

2.  Now we're getting into the finer areas of the spectating profession.  To see your athlete as many times as possible, you need to do some homework leading up to the event.  Study and print the course maps to take with you.
Often times you can find good maps at the expo.  This case, I had to print my own.
It also helps to do some analysis on past results - I calculated the median past finishing times of Lyndsey's age group and printed with the top finishers time.  I forecasted that Lyndsey would be near the median on the swim and quicker than the median on the bike and run.  If you have time, you can also create various histograms to refine expectations on your athlete:
Histogram Example - Credit to Mark Scheitler
Your athlete may also have some good insight on their expectations.  Try to encourage them to give you a range rather than a discrete value. i.e. if you're feeling great, your time will be X; or if you're having a bad day, your time will be Y?

Now that you as a spectator are ready for race day, what are you going to wear for "your" big day?!  Choose items that are easily recognizable by the athlete.  Team apparel is also encouraged.  For the ChiTri, I went with the FF Racing Red shirt (a classic).  I could have used a brighter hat though.  Communicate what you are wearing to the athlete.  Chances are that they may see you before you see them.  KNOW WHAT YOUR ATHLETE IS WEARING - you already know that though as you're not a spectating n00b.
Our apparel for the event
I often get questions from readers about choosing spectating locations.  My advice to them is to strategically look for areas that minimize the distance you travel between sightings, while maximizing the distance that the athlete has to travel.  Today, on the bike leg, I was able to see Lyndsey 3 times by moving less than 1 mile , while she was turning the crank for 10 miles.  This put the Spectator to Athlete Per Sighting Distance Ratio to 3.3.  For biking, try to target ratios greater than 3; and for running, try to hit numbers greater than 2.

Are you ready to get technical?  The ChiTri run course follows the south lakefront path.  While this out and back approach lowers the SAPSDR, it provides an interesting opportunity for spectators who are aided by a bike and GPS watch.  If anyone tells you they already knew this method, they are lying - I invented this myself this morning.  Set up your watch so that it displays "lap distance", "lap time", and "lap pace".  Whenever your athlete passes you, hit the lap button, reassemble yourself, and ride on a parallel path to "leapfrog" your athlete.  The goal is to leapfrog your athlete with enough spare time to prepare yourself (pull out camera, etc.) while you are stationary before they again overtake you.
Here I have travelled .7 miles since last seeing Lyndsey.  I know that her pace is ~8min/mile, so I have already leapfrogged her.  Since I am now stationary, she will arrive when my lap pace increases to ~8 min/mile (or 30 seconds from now).

3. Now that you've tracked down your athlete, you need some candid photos to prove your success.  I am not yet an expert in this area.  We own a Nikon D3100, but since I was also playing the role of mule and flying solo, I opted to stick with my iPhone 5S.  Point and shoot - that's about all I got for you here folks.
A nervous smile in the start corral
Whoops - I incorrectly forecasted Lyndsey's swim time and she saw me first!
Attacking right out of T1!

This shot can be used later on to analyze form and improve speed.

I had to run a few paces to grab this shot, but boy was it worth it!
4. Social Media - many of Lyndsey's friends and family were not able to make it into town to spectate.  With the global environment that we live in, you may also experience this.  As a spectator, it's your responsibility to keep these friends and family members up to date with live information.  Again, I have some work to do here.  I started off strong as I had some time to kill while Lyndsey was in the water and the first leg of the bike.  But as my sightings increased, it became increasingly difficult to keep the tweets going out.

I like to use Instagram for photos and Twitter for status updates (both handles are @ericvbaum).  I could have also benefited from using a hashtag for the morning such as #LynzChiTri to provide better transparency to those following along.  Here is an example of me getting called out for slowing down on the updates:
Normally, I would try to focus my efforts on Instagram and Twitter that communicates to the entire Lyndsey Fan Club, but for my mother-in-law, direct messaging is a valid exception to that rule.
More of the Lyndsey Fan Club - live updates also help others spectating on the course!

That wraps up this post, thanks for reading!  What are some of your Pro Spectating Tips?

*Did you know that "Olympic" distance is set in stone as 1.5k, 40k, 10k, but "International" can vary from course to course (usually approximately the "Olympic" distance, but anything greater than a "Sprint").

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