Friday, November 20, 2015

Cowbells Aren’t Enough: Spectating an Ironman

I’ve known of people who have done an Ironman – running circle acquaintances, former Ragnar teammates, but I haven’t actually known someone who has completed at Ironman. But meet Jacky – and the other 9 IERC athletes – who did that this past Sunday. I know a ton of Ironmen now! Some to better degrees than others, but regardless, when you’re on a 140.6-mile journey in one day (let alone 17 hours), who cares who you know on that sideline right?
(credit: Ironman Arizona Facebook)
Monica and I made our way out to Phoenix on Saturday – once I hauled back from Ventura - (left Rancho Cucamonga about 12:45 pm, so 1:45 pm in Arizona) and got to Phoenix about 6:30 on Sunday evening. We’d been tracking our athletes the entire car ride, so we knew who was kicking tail and where people were in their run. We knew we’d only be there for the run, and as disappointing as that was, that’s where you saw the grit. The determination. The pain. And the finish line.
We picked up Kasey as our official Ironman sherpa, since she lives just a few miles from the course and is all over the tri circuit in Phoenix so she knows Tempe like the back of her hand. It helps she went to ASU, too, so she knew the whole Mill Ave and Tempe Beach Park area.
We caught up with our other IERC spectators about mile 25.8, just around the final corner into the finish chute and right where the runners head into their turnaround for loop 2, so two varying degrees of people out on their run. There were about a dozen of us at that point – wives, friends, moms – all out cheering on our folks all day in the rain and crazy weather that Tempe had in store. It rained on and off while we were out there, but nothing like what our athletes had endured the previous 12 hours at that point.
Jacky had no idea Monica and I were coming out – she knew we wanted to but that, much like most of our club, she thought we’d be streaming online and cheering from our couches. When we caught her at mile 25.9, she hugged her mom and made her way down the IERC line and THEN PASSED US. We yelled “HEY!” to which she turned back and screamed, realizing it was. The video is priceless – and NSFW, as there’s a little Ironman-in-pain cursing. But it’s priceless and worth your watch, especially for her freakout. 

Tips for Spectating Ironman Arizona Along the Course
Mind you, I was there for the run and run only. This is based on course info, things I know, and other snippets collected!

The swim: There's nothing like seeing thousands of athletes of varying skill levels dive into icy water for an open-water swim first thing in the morning. Swimming 2.4 miles is hard. Swimming 2.4 miles with 2800 other athletes? Harder. The  Arizona swim was previously known as the “washing machine” as it was one large, mass start (yes, seriously), but now is waved by anticipated finish time.

The pros start at 6:45 a.m.; amateurs at 7. Spectators can look down onto the water from the easternmost Mill Avenue bridge. Athletes also must pass twice beneath the Rural/Scottsdale Road bridge. There’s also plenty of places for spectators to sit along the bridges/walls to watch river-side.
The bike ride: Each loop (athletes complete three) is a little more than 37 miles. A great spot to watch the riders is at the corner of Rio Salado Parkway and McClintock Drive in Tempe. Athletes will make this turn twice on each loop, so there are six opportunities to see your favorite racer. And it's just a short walk up the concrete path to a turn-around on the run course.
The run: After dismounting their bikes at Tempe Beach Park, athletes transition to the two-loop run. There are plenty of spots to make yourself comfortable – depending how many times you want to see your athlete, or you can keep moving, too, and catch them in multiple spots along the way.
Athletes go under the Mill Ave Bridge seven times to cheering fans, friends and family members who are close enough to offer high-fives. You'll be inspired, and that stretch is a big lift for the athletes, too.
Spectating Details, Tips and Tricks
When to Go: The start is at 7 a.m. and athletes have 17 hours to finish the course, with cutoffs along the way if they're not on pace to finish by midnight. The pro men will start coming in just more than 8 hours after their start, with the pro women not far behind.
Study Up: Know the course, know where you want to be and where your athlete needs you to be (if you’re there for specific people). Figure out road closures – especially at Arizona, because it’s in the heart of Tempe, and road closures were all over the place. Thankfully we had our sherpa to get us around it all, but you’re not always so lucky!
For Inspiration: Be at the last turn before the finishers’ chute to see athletes in their most tired, often weakest, but proudest and strongest moments. See the smile on their faces as they turn that corner and hear Mike Reilly’s words. Also consider being at the finish at midnight. It's so uplifting to watch the final finishers. It is even customary for the pro winners to come back to the finish line to welcome the last competitors – an amazing testimony to athletes and their support for one another, professional or not.
Athlete Tracking: Spectators can track their favorite athlete at Click on the "Race Coverage" tab and type in a name or bib number. It will show the athlete's progress during the race as well as a projected finishing time. Note that this has a HUGE lag, because, duh, everyone is using it at the same time. Plan ahead based on your athlete’s last marked checkpoint.
Must Haves: A portable phone charger (because it will inevitably die as you try and update the athlete tracker); SNACKS (especially if you have little ones with you); weather-appropriate layers or attire. Signs, cowbells, noisemakers, high fives and a LOT of energy. Your athletes (and others!) will need it!
Parking: There are plenty of parking garages and lots on and around Mill Avenue, which is where we got in with no problems even at 6 pm on race day. Walkable to finish line and plenty of other points along the course.
More general Ironman tips hereCongratulations IERC family! We’re proud of you!
She did it! And KILLED it in 12:43! 
Have you ever gotten to spectate an Ironman? Other tips you have?

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