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September 27, 2011

Race Weekend Tips for Friends and Family

Written by Dena Evans

postmarathon

Personal Best - October 2011

Race Weekend Tips for Friends and Family

Every athlete must marshal the vast majority of effort needed to accomplish a big goal race.  However, many runners and walkers who embark on an ambitious training season must rely also on the help and support of family and friends.  Whether providing rides, fluid support, space in the family calendar, or just emotional support, oftentimes these individual can be difference makers, especially since they are often the motivation for the individual to keep trucking when things get tough on race day.

 

While athletes get a great deal of advice and tips on how to manage their training and race, friends and family can be left empty handed when wondering how best to support their runner or walker.

 

Here’s a road map for every support person or team to take into consideration (since we wrote it – you don’t have to feel selfish about handing it out)!

 

Designate a czar of logistics

One common situation is that the decision for a large group of friends and family to come to the race creates additional stress for the athlete.  Everyone definitely means well, but numerous calls to ask about where to stay, when they can visit with the athlete, where they should watch on the course, and so forth, can increase the perceived pressure when nervousness may already exist.  Designate a family member who will serve as the traffic cop for this type of planning, someone who will coordinate flights and airport trips, hotel stays, dinner reservations, and various rendezvous with all those who wish to be included.  This person should be well versed in the details available on the race website for the course, the expo, and the post-race reunion area.  If a new person pops up who wants to support the athlete, the athlete can then confidently connect them with the logistics czar, who can walk them through the plans already in place.

 

Consider the Athlete

It is not uncommon for friends and family contingents to begin to build a life of their own as race day approaches.  Interest in various sight seeing expeditions, brunch or dinner locations, matching t-shirts, expo shopping trips, and more ideas may continue to grow and expand.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with making plans that don’t include the athlete, respecting the runner’s need for rest and calm before (and rest and recovery after) the race.  However, keep in mind the race that your runner has trained for and the needs they have in final preparation.  For example, if everyone wants to eat dinner at 9pm at an exotic restaurant, but the athlete expresses a desire to eat simple pasta at 5pm and go to bed early, consider compromises and alternatives (such as having one person from the group have dinner early with the athlete).  Race weekend isn’t a democracy; it is a narrowly focused time period with one specific and very demanding aim..  Be proactive, and ensure the physical and psychological needs of the competitor are paramount.

 

 

Determine a simple post-race plan, including a fall back plan if things haven’t gone well

At smaller races, athletes are easy to connect with after they finish.  However, at many large races, the post-finish process can be very crowded, and may take some time.  Cell phones have been left at home, at the hotel, or in the race baggage, so old-fashioned methods of communication must be relied upon.   Races often offer reunion areas, but it may make sense to pick an alternate landmark or process to find each other as the reunion areas may be clogged.  Friends and family need to be patient with post-race logistics.  Oftentimes races require a lengthy cool down area, and the competitor may not feel especially perky after running a 10, 13 or 26-mile race. If more than one person is racing, they may also want to greet each other within the finish area before heading out.  Determine a plan for reunion if things go as planned, and an option if things do not.  The runner should have a plan if forced to withdraw mid-race (read the race materials), and the czar of logistics should be well versed in this process as well.  The same goes for brunch, lunch, dinner or whatever is the first item of business after the race.  Consider that the athlete may not be in a position to eat a large meal, walk a long distance, or sit in the car for an hour.  Try to plan accordingly and be prepared to be flexible.

 

Marshal the energy of the support group into loud and visible demonstrations of support

Make a plan to provide an inspirational boost to the competitor or competitors in the race.  Large signs, strategic course placement, and clear visibility can be a huge boost, but require an organized plan to account for pacing and transportation variability.  Don’t miss out!  Think through how the group will get from point to point and how the problems that might occur can be addressed.  HOWEVER, again also consider the athlete’s needs.  Should they prefer a lower-key approach, respect their wishes and support as requested.  It is their day!

 

Race weekend can be an intense, but significant and memorable weekend on many levels.  Everyone involved wants to provide support, but the greatest energy must be saved for the actual task itself.  Keep that focus in mind at all times, and hopefully your athlete can look forward to a happy and unified reunion when the finisher’s medal has been finally placed around their neck.

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