Heather Jackson - Ironman Arizona From The Sidelines
This past weekend I had the opportunity to experience an Ironman in a way I don’t usually get to: from the sidelines. Since turning professional five years ago, I think I’ve only been able to attend 2 or 3 races as support crew or as a sherpa for friends and family, as I’m usually toeing the start line myself or else at home training for an upcoming event. Calling my season after Kona and going into full off-season mode, I had been looking forward to being in Arizona without the stresses of racing. Despite the cold and rain, we had an absolute blast cheering everyone on and it was refreshing to take in a race from another perspective.
A few observations from the sidelines at Ironman Arizona:
1. Spectating is extremely inspiring! When spectating an Ironman, it’s crazy to see the vast array of ages and body types and the corresponding athletic performances. We saw 70 year olds out there crushing 20 year olds. We saw larger individuals absolutely flying by skinnier ones. We saw some of the fittest bodies you could imagine brought to a walk, as “less fit-looking” bodies flew by them and went on to win their age groups. It reminded me why triathlon is such an amazing sport. There is no “typical” or “ideal” body or age for this sport. Everyone can have their different strengths and weaknesses and you never know how those will play out on race day and who will get to the finish line first. It makes triathlon so unpredictable and thus exciting and inspiring to watch. From young to old(er), big and small, I saw all types of athletes pushing themselves to the well and it was just really inspiring to watch the effort of so many throughout the day.
2. Spectating is very tiring! Let’s start with the 4:30am alarm that I hadn’t seen since Kona and then add a full day of riding our bikes around the course, driving out to the bike course turn-around, driving back, maneuvering our way onto the run course, and of course the nonstop cheering, cheering, cheering. I lost my voice about halfway through the afternoon. I definitely didn’t wake up Monday as physically sore as if I had raced, but I think I was as tired, if not more! This was just a gentle reminder for me of what all my supporters, friends and family go through each race when they are there to spectate, and to never forget to thank them for sacrificing an entire day just to help me and be out there cheering for me.
3. Spectating is super exciting! On Saturday the day before Ironman Arizona, I wasn’t sure if I was going to wake up on Sunday to watch and instead wish that I was actually out there competing. Due in part to already being in full off-season mode but also because the day got more and more exciting as the race developed that I never wished I was out there racing myself. We totally got caught up in tracking individuals and getting the different splits and then moving to the next part of the course and seeing if the splits changed at all. It was so exciting to follow the individual age group battles, almost more than the pro race because you really had to watch for the age group numbers on the back of calves. Don’t get me wrong- the pro race was really fun to watch, especially the tight battle in the men’s field and some of the come-from-behind performances. But the pros are out front in the race and each one coming towards you is in the next place. Watching the age groupers, each racer coming at us was the next surprise… Was that a 41? Was she in 30-34??? You have to stay on top of your spectating, which made it really exciting!!! You have to be in the moment, paying attention, remembering athletes and their kits, getting splits for people in the same age group as well as other splits for other ones… It was nonstop exciting action!
Congrats again to all Ironman Arizona finishers! It was a pleasure to cheer everyone on and reminded me of how fun being a spectator is! It was inspiring to see so many different types of athletes out there battling it out and it was also a good reminder to always thank my support crew who spend their day out there at a race. I am working on my calendar for next year as we speak, but it will definitely include an opportunity or two to get to a race to cheer on friends and family from the sidelines!
Thanks for reading - HJ