The internet is full of guidance for those competing in their first 140.6 mile triathlon. Don't go out too fast. Cover your bike seat the night before. Don't forget to eat. Lube. Lube. Lube.
But there is limited guidance out there for those of us tasked with helping our loved ones get to and through their big day. My wife, Heidi, completed her first IM last weekend in Panama City, FL. Throughout her journey she affectionately referred to me as her "Sherpa." And while this title seemed a bit inappropriate (true Sherpas had vast experience and lifetimes sent at altitude, which they used to guide climbers up Everest - and I am an absolute Ironman virgin.) I have to admit, the title had a better ring to it than the more appropriate "luggage bitch." Throughout the days that led up to and the day of IMFL, I was proud to do my small part to help shepherd Heidi to her Ironman debut. With that in mind, I offer the following guidance to other "Sherpas" out there:
1. She's training, not avoiding you. You may not be fully aware of the time investment necessary to prepare for this monumental endeavor. Even if your loved one has been doing 70.3s for some time, the jump to the full IM distance requires a huge increase in training mileage. Be ready for this and do your best to do whatever training you can with them. Join in on the back end of long runs and rides. Or if you're not able to keep their pace, use to time to knock out some chores and other mundane tasks - it'll free up more quality time when ya'll are together.
2. Speaking of quality time - that many miles makes for one tired athlete. Be ready for her to be out as soon as her head hits the pillow.
3. Do the research. While your loved one is out on the road making sure they will make it to the finish line you will be the one with the time to learn the tricks that will help get them there. Want to rent race wheels? Where should we stay? Swim. Bike. Run. Google.
4. She's not pissed, she's nervous. As race day approaches, and the comforting miles give way to a taper, your triathlete will undoubtedly seem on edge. Be ready for your share of blank stares and snappy remarks. Remind them that that day is what all their work was for. Help them to enjoy the experience.
5. Enjoy the experience. If you're not having fun, they won't. There's an electricity that surrounds events like these. Get into it by volunteering (but go for something early, like body-marking or the swim - so that you can get out on the course and root on your athlete!) and try to catch the cut offs for each sport. The athletes that barely make it through to T1 and T2 can be some of the most inspiring you'll see.
6. Read the race guide. (See number 3) The night before the race, when she asks "What the hell is this extra transition bag for?" she'll love you for knowing the answer.
7. Get out on the course. You may only see your athlete for seconds, but they may be their favorite seconds of the whole day.
8. Take pictures. Take pictures of everything. You'll be looking at them for years.
9. Their job is to swim, bike, and run. Your job is to stand. IM races have IM level lines - lines to register, lines to sign in, lines to get to other lines. Keep your triathlete off their feet the day before their race by holding their spot in line - you'll save them a few steps on race day.
10. Race day is their day. Shine the spotlight on them. Help however you can. Make sure they know you're proud before the swim even starts.