Supporting a competitor at the Hawaii Ironman World Championships is one of the biggest (and longest) gigs you will get!
The build up over the week in Kailua-Kona is an experience you won’t forget. The air is filled with dreams, aspirations and inspiration. The town is transformed. You are surrounded by some of the fittest people in the world who are about to compete in the race of their dreams. Professionals and age-grouper competitors mingle, nerves and excitement build, and finally the big day arrives.
As a wife of a Hawaii Ironman competitor I can take myself back to our weeks in Kona and relive the experience even when I am not there. I can feel the nerves and excitement. The calm before the storm. The need to not only help the ones you love who are racing that week to get into the “Ironman Zone” and prepare themselves for whatever the Big Island will offer on race day, but also to organise yourself so you can manage a day that is long and tiring for everyone. As one of my favourite supporter tees says “In triathlon spectating is a sport”
The day before is one of organising and planning for the support crew.
Competitors need to be well feed and hydrated. The race bags need to be packed and often you can help by talking through what is needed and re-checking their bags before they head off for check-in. They need to rest, ideally stay off their feet, and start to focus on the big day ahead.
At the same time, you may have kids who need to be entertained and other family and friends who want to be organised for race day – planning view points, meetings points, and cheer squad essentials!
The Hawaii Ironman is amazing for spectators (not just competitors) but it is crowded and hot and unfortunately once they are out on the bike leg you have a big gap before your loved one returns. There isn’t a lot of opportunities to see them compared to other Ironman events, however you will want to see the Pros racing and just be part of the race day atmosphere.
Here are my special Kona supporter tips so you feel organised and in control for one of the most memorable supporting days you will experience!
- Get the the bags packed (just like the competitors) – backpacks make sense.
- Charge all the phones, tablets and cameras! It’s one day that you are likely to need to recharge as the day goes on so hoping you have extra battery chargers for on the go or you can pop back to your accommodation. Another handy thing to do it take your charger with you and you can always pop into a shop and see if they can help you!
- You know what the heat is like so dress for it and don’t forget hats, sunglasses & lots of sun cream. I would pack swimmers if you aren’t planning on going back to your accommodation as a quick dip if you have time will refresh and re-energise!
- Take some food and drink in your bag but know that since you are in town all day there are places open, it just might take longer to get there and queue up. Definitely grab some things from the ABC shop for kids, or pack healthy snacks if you you have the facilities.
- Look at the course maps and talk through where you think you want to base yourself for swim start and then the bike. It is too hard to run around from one spot to another, it all takes time, so discuss with your Ironman so they get an idea of where to look out for you – this is one race that seeing you on the course is really special to them.
- Take note of estimated times for each leg of the race for the people you are following so you can get an idea of timing but remember this more than any other Ironman race is one you cannot plan so timing is likely to go haywire as the day goes on (apart from the pros) so you will be watching the clock a lot! (few of our favourite viewing spots below)
- Make sure you have a stop watch around the neck or wristwatch on as it’s not always convenient pulling out your phone all the time! I wear my runners belt which holds a phone which helps.
- You will see chalk messages appearing everywhere the day before so get organised and find a spot for yours and maybe even let Ironman know where it is, as mine missed ours! Once the race gets going there won’t be a chance to get onto the roads so even if you do it the night before if you are nearby.
- If you have young kids I know these days can be stressful no matter how much you organise but you do just need to take a deep breath and go with the flow. Your loved ones racing also need to be aware too that you will do your best to see them every time they come around but sometimes kids have other plans! Little ones just don’t get it and need to have things to entertain them. Get them excited about the supporting and involved as much as you can but breaks between (like a dip in the pool) or even setting up base where you can watch and leaving them to their own entertainment (as long as they know not to run on the course) keeps everyone happy. By the end of our first Hawaii Ironman race day our kids were high on sugar and filthy and we were sipping Corona’s on the finish line!
- Don’t forget to instruct kids (and the adults) on where to meet if you get lost, write your phone number on their hands and highlight a few supporter rules for young ones who may not understand. PLEASE be extra careful when crossing the course. I watched a spectator get hit by a bike in town and it was heartbreaking. The barrier systems are not as extensive as other races and Kuakini Highway is wide with bikes coming from both directions. Be extra vigilant, cross at allocated points or areas that have good visibility for all. Be especially careful with kids, prams and big banners and flags that can catch/hit competitors as they go by.
- We all have friends and family not at the race but wanting to be updated and know whats going on. They can watch from a far with IronmanLive and there are plenty of triathlon focussed websites who also have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds that will be updating over the day. Let them know about the best ones to follow. There is also the app IronTrac. When it comes to touching base with you during the day you cannot be guaranteed great network connection and both times we were there the network gave up at stages during the day – remember the whole triathlon world is watching! I had to learn to take a deep breath and not get caught up in updating everyone and checking in all the time and just soak in the atmosphere and be in the moment! You can share photos and stories the next day.
- Remember everybody is out there supporting someone so chat to others and hear their stories – you may even make some new friends.
- Make sure you get to the finish line on time! It is tricky to get close but the chute is fairly long, and there is section before that people just line the street and create their own chute so you can high five your loved one as they pass. Not so easy to then see them cross the line but you will get great finishing lines photos. There are grandstands so push through and try and set up in one of these early if you have kids. Lucky you if you have coveted VIP band to let you up close!
- Last year they had closed off the recovery area which is behind the pier and on the lawns of the King Kam hotel so don’t expect to get into there as they have security. Organise to meet your Ironman somewhere around the King Kam after the race.
- Go back to the finish line to cheer others on. I understand with kids this can be tricky ( maybe tag team) and your Ironman competitior will be exhausted but if there is anyway you can convince them to get showered, rest briefly, then get out again I promise you you won’t regret it! This is the race of a lifetime. You may never return. The Hawaii Ironman finish line atmosphere is like a dance party. You will cheer and shout ad cry and be inspired like very few races on earth!
Our Favourite Spectating Spots
SWIM: Lucky you if you have accommodation with a view! Otherwise, for more of a close up experience, just walk down Ali’i Drive and get as close as possible. However, if you have kids (like we did for our first experience), stay a bit away. We found a great spot which is the grassed area and wall by the ocean which runs just in front of the Kona Inn Restaurant and shopping area. There is little coffee shop which opens its doors early too and there is lots of area for kids to run around . You look across to the pier and see them swim right past. Then yo need to hot foot it to a good spot to see them head out on the bike.
NB: Competitors are stamped with their numbers behind the King Kam then enter bike transition and the beach from the back area near the beach. There are no viewing areas here so kiss them goodbye for the day here if you go down or just let them focus on the race and go through this process on their own – particularly if you have kids!
T1 : You can’t get close to the swim exit so best to try and grab a barrier spot when they come out of T1 or just head straight to Hot Corner (Cnr Palani Rd & Kuakini Highway) or anywhere along the highway. It was very busy last year and was a human traffic jam so if you can give yourself some time to go around a long way by cutting up the hill from behind Ali’i Drive through to the highway it might be faster with kids. Hot Corner they have commentators and music so great atmosphere but it extends along the street quite a bit.
BIKE: Once up on the highway you see them go out one direction and back in before they head out to he Queen K. So hang around and get cheering and god luck spotting your competitors. Then you have a good couple of hours before they return for the run so now is the time for breakfast and planning the next spectating spot.
T2 & RUN: Like T1 not a lot of a barrier space. The run up Palani then turn down Kuakini Highway, back down Hualalai R then onto Ali’i. They then come back same way to go out to the Energy Lab so a few corners you can base yourself. We like down on Ali’i Drive, Either at corner of Hualalai or along further near Lava Java. Few good trees you can camp under. Many people go back to their accommodation on Ali’i Drive and cheer from here, then return to finish line later. Here is good map.
So these are my tips which I hope will help you organise your day. I wish I could be there every year. It really does get addictive!
The day that has been planned for so long is finally upon you, and I am sure it will be filled with memories that you will cherish in your lifetimes.
Have an amazing day and best luck to your loved ones racing.
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