Depending on the course layout, long-course triathlons rarely are spectator-friendly events, as the participants often are out of sight as they swim, cycle and run around the circuit. This Saturday's Pacific Crest Weekend Sports Festival long-course triathlon is the rule rather than the exception, but with a little forethought you still can get a few good glimpses of your loved one or friend during the competition. As a participant in the 2011 race, I have a few tips and suggestions about prime spectating spots where you can either cheer on or heckle (I make no judgments) your favorite race participant. (Below you can also find maps for the running-only races.)
Once the swimmers depart from the boat ramp at Wickiup Reservoir's Gull Point, tracking your racer is pretty difficult until he or she finishes the swim, unless your vision is exceptional and you know the participant's stroke mechanics by sight. However, if you station yourself along the shoreline that stretches toward the first buoy, you may be able to wish your loved one good luck before departure on the 72-mile journey that is Pacific Crest. My best advice at the swim, however, is to know your participant's race number/location in the first transition zone (that's T1, for anyone interested in picking up triathlon lingo).
This year's T1 setup is supposed to be the same as it was in 2011, which means that it will be divided into two sides by a large aisle, and each side will contain rows and rows of bicycle racks. Race participants have no say in where they rack their bikes in transition; placement is determined by race number. If you position yourself near your racer's spot in the transition zone but on the outside of the netting that screens the area off (transition zones are for race participants and event personnel only), you should be able to offer a quick word of encouragement before the bike leg. Make sure you are on the appropriate side of the transition zone at the start, as you likely will have difficulty crossing over once the race gets going. Last year, from the time I got into the water to warm up until the bike-run transition about four hours later, I did not once see my sweet mother — who accompanied me to Pacific Crest last year — as she was on the opposite side of T1 from where my spot was located.
Additionally, spectators who are directionally challenged or are unfamiliar with the area may want to consider taking the shuttle to Wickiup rather than driving. Participants and spectators alike can ride for a relatively small fee, and the shuttle also takes spectators back to Sunriver after the last participant exits T1. Riding the shuttle means you do not have to worry about getting lost on your way back to town or finding a parking spot once you get there. Instead, you can stake out a nice spot from which to watch for your participant.
The bike course remains open to traffic during the race, so it may be tempting to travel up the Cascade Lakes Highway to track your triathlete, but please refrain. Motor vehicle traffic can be dangerous to riders, not to mention irritating, as they huff and puff up to Mount Bachelor and then fly down to Sunriver. As was suggested in the The Bulletin's 2011 Pacific Crest preview, spectators may consider driving the course in the opposite direction; I remember a number of spectators along the course and several locations along the highway where the road is wide enough to pull over and park the car and cheer. (But pick and stay in a single spot instead of weaving in and out of traffic.) I think my favorite spot to see spectators was at the crest of Mount Bachelor, which marks the conclusion of the significant climbing. A little cheering up there is encouragement indeed for weary legs and lungs. Back in Sunriver, T2 at Three Rivers Elementary School is a pretty good location from which to observe because the area is not as chaotic as T1 and you can situate yourself close to where your participant will pass by. During last year's race, my mom stationed herself near the path that led into the transition zone after the bike dismount, and we were able to have a brief conversation before I entered T2 and proceeded on to the run.
The finish line is the obvious location to view the run, of course. But because the Pacific Crest run is a single 13.1-mile loop, it is a long wait for spectators after T2. A savvy spectator, though, with a bicycle and a course map could zoom around to several intermediate spots on the run course to offer encouragement and still reach the finish line with time to spare. Do not underestimate the value of popping up intermittently. I had a fairly extensive running background before starting triathlons. Even so, the run always feels like the longest portion of the race to me, and it feels as if the farther I run, the farther I am away from the finish line, so a little personal attention to break up the run can go a long way. If you do opt to spectate in such a manner, please travel along the roads, stay off the course's paved pathways and be cautious if you do need to cross them, both for your own safety and that of the participants. And cheer loudly. The racer you are there to support will appreciate your efforts.