Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Training Guide for Spectators of Running Races, Bike Races and Triathalons

I have done a lot of spectating in my time.  I have spectated at triathlons, duathaons, bike races and running races. Hundreds of running races. I have spent countless hours standing by the side of the road caterwauling in the general direction of friends, family members and thousands of people I have never seen before and will never see again. Don’t mess with me. I’m in the elite sideline club that you can only join after your marathoning husband tosses a sweaty pair of insoles in your general direction and expects you to catch them.

I began my spectating career cheering for my mother, who never really appreciated my efforts. She became particularly annoyed with me when I was ten, standing on the shore of a lake during a canoe race. I used my entire lung capacity to inform everyone in a 3 mile radius she really needed to pick up the pace. Some weeks later she was running a 10k and passed out due to dehydration. I didn’t see this as any excuse not to finish strong.

There is definitely a difference between the casual spectator and someone who really puts a little effort into it. Here’s 8 ways to tell the difference:

1) Those of us who know what we’re doing train an Eagle Eye. Some noobs get cocky and think they don’t have to remember what color shirt their athlete is wearing or know their approximate split times. Big mistake. There are thousands of people out there in some races. Nothing sucks more than totally blowing your chance to cheer. And if your job is more serious, like handing out goo or something, you should feel really bad if you fuck up.

2) If my father, your father or pretty much anybody says they are going to watch the marathon on a bicycle, we don’t agree to join them. You just don't want to be that guy who rides out on the course one handed trying to take action photos of your son and almost mowing down three other runners at mile 16. My hands are getting sweaty just thinking about it.

3) We come prepared with implements of spirit. Clapping will kill you after a couple of hours. Your hands will begin to become chafed and bruised about the thumb/palm area. This is important to keep of in mind if you are spectating > half marathon or over or any sort of biking race or triathlon. 

I carry a cowbell, which is less injurious than clapping but not without danger. Last week at the triathlon, I was banging the cowbell against my leg because my arm got tired and I developed a cowbell shaped contusion on my thigh. I did not take a photo of it, but here you can see a cowbell blister I got on my finger last fall:

One time I saw a spectating family who had various hand percussion instruments. It was delightful.

4) We aim to catch our athletes a whole bunch of times during the race. This is easier if the course is a loop. You can zip across the middle and probably manage to see your athlete three times if you plan it well, have a scooter or you can sprint with giddy up. I was immensely pleased with myself in Boston. The marathon is a straight shot, a level 10 spectator challenge in all cases. I saw Tom four times. I memorized the commuter rail schedule and shoved my way onto that trolley like a sumo wrestler well-acquainted with the L Train.

5) We do not inform athletes they're almost done. This is always a bad idea.  During the NY Triathlon, a guy told Tom he was almost done. He said this right at the beginning of the run. Meaning Tom was almost done... except for that last 6 miles in 102° heat. No one is almost done unless they can see the finish line, and then they can figure out for themselves they’re almost done.

6) If we’re going to tell anyone how much further it is, we are incredibly sure that we know exactly how much further-- unless the athlete is your nemesis and you want to break ‘em. Sometimes people who don’t run don’t understand how exactly long a tenth of a mile is when you’re totally exhausted. 

7) We don’t just stand there looking all resting bitch face, or even worse, poking at our phones. I saw a woman today totally engrossed in her phone; her boyfriend climbed out of the water and ran by... and she didn't even notice. Good spectators are equal opportunity cheerleaders. We cheer for everybody. Even if we’re waiting for our dad or daughter or uncle. We give a good jolly bellow for everybody else too. You’re just standing there anyway you might as well do something. And it’s gratifying how the athletes appreciate it.

8) We do not spectate near water stops, on-course bands, drummers or DJs. We do not go where the spectator guide tells us to go, squashed between a sheep herd of uncreative spectators. We also do not stand near the finish line. There’s always a crush of revelers there anyway, plus once someone sees the finish line, they have their own personal little party going on in their head.

I like to consider where my athletes are likely to hit the wall. This is probably easier to figure out if you have some race experience or you read up on it. For example if you are watching a marathon, you need to be at around 22-24 miles. Closer to the finish, the runners can smell the end. But at 22-24, life sucks. 

9) We maintain a wonderkammer filled with motivational cheers:

You’re looking strong, triathlete. Keep it up. 
Looking fast, Ladies! (I always like to cheer for the girls)
You make it look easy, purple t-shirt!
come on NYPD!
You trained for this hill, runner! Show it what you got.
Nice stride, runner!
Keep up that nice easy stride, Pete’s Tavern! (I just read their t-shirts, I'm quick like this.)
Relax your shoulders, Runner.

Feel free to write these tips on a little scrap of paper for handy reference. Although I'm sure they're worth a sweatastic goldmine of karma points, consider them my gift to you, my spectatertot.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Tale of One Finger

Day 1: 

4th of july, I had a knife fight with a bunch of lovely purple asters. These dainties have stems like tree trunks. They laughed at my scissors so I got out a giant kitchen knife and starting swinging. Turns out my finger lacks garden-caliber tensile strength.

I was remarkably calm as blood started squirting all over the kitchen It's-just-a-flesh-wound style. After I shrieked we needed to go to the hospital STAT, Tom came running over with a tiny wad of sterile gauze and my insurance card. We dashed downstairs and I flagged down a cab with a blue schmata wrapped around my hailing hand.

TOURIST TIP: Flagging a cab by waving around a bloody blue schmata proved weirdly effective. A driver pulled over almost immediately.

“Take us to the ER!” 

We ended up at the urgent care place on 23rd Street which we remembered was there as we drove past it. First they made me fill out a bunch of forms which I bled all over. I wasn’t overly upset about the mess as I felt it expedited our wait time.

In the exam room, a medical assistant came rushing in. Initially I was pleased at the speed of the care until I figured out she was there to take my blood pressure, temperature and pulse. Meanwhile, I sat in the chair holding the bloody blue towel over my head to achieve elevation and pressure. I asked the girl whether she was checking if I was bleeding out. She ignored me.

Then came another medical assistant. He inquired whether I had a current tetanus shot. I told him luckily that dog bit me on the leg two summers ago and then there was that time I welded my thumb and also the incident with the cat and the hypodermic needle. So yes, I had a confidently up to date tetanus shot.

bam bam bam and 5 stitches later, I got all gauzed up. 

I had time to chat up the doctor. I wanted to know if she handled a lot of stitch cases. She said, "Oh yes, we’re right across the street from Eataly." 

I had not previously suspected the dangers of olive oil shopping. Or, more likely, cooking classes. We returned home. Tom decided to take a nap. Then we went to brooklyn for fireworks.

Day 2: 

Have been typing emails to people that contain sentences like:
  • going in lichen again.
  • pushoff unltss be ther
  • deep estimates5gf
  • internsl hralth for meaning

Day 3: 

I got a new bandage. It was purple. The nurse in charge of the bandage change operation told me that there was a glump of dried blood stuck on my stitches and she would need to “abrade the wound.” 

Abrade the wound? WTF. 

This is where euphemisms matter, medical professional people. Tell me you’d recommend a little exfoliation to freshen things up a bit and maybe I won’t demand a round of opioids or imagine myself passing out and sliding off the exam table onto the cold linoleum floor.

Day 4: 

Multiple people have advised against going into the kitchen ever again. For safety’s sake, I’m tending toward the recommendation.

Day 5: 

I stood in front of a corporate boardroom table pointing at slides with my purple finger. I noted for my audience this was really unexpected. Who knew a purple finger could be such a handy presentation device. 

Day 6: 

My finger and the empire state building.

My purple finger and the Empire State Building

We’ll see what the future holds. Stitches coming out Monday.