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6 Tips for Being a Superstar Race Sherpa

Race day means many things to different people, but to those chosen few who have been selected by their friends to Sherpa for a race, the expectations can be high. Your work as a support crew for your athlete can help make their race day into the best ever! Here are six tips for being a superstar race sherpa.

1. Know your athlete.

Discuss with your athlete what they need from you in order to support them in the best way possible for their race day mental health. Do they like to be reminded of the entire weekend schedule of packet pick-up, transition check-in, and warm-up swim time? Or do they like to zone out with their headphones and favorite pump-up tunes, seeing you at the last minute to toss that iPod your way? First-time racers can be overwhelmed with the process, especially at big races, so be ready to help navigate if needed. Be flexible with your plans — if your athlete wants to eat dinner at 4 p.m. and go to bed, then the early bird special it is.

2. Bring the supplies.

Pre-dawn transition check-in? Great, bring the coffee. Super long lines at the subpar Porta Potties? Cool, you’ve got extra TP and hand sanitizer waiting. I always make sure my Sherpa has a couple of extra hair-ties on them for a last-minute hair ER. Keep extra nutrition (know what your athlete likes) with you in case they need it on course. (Disclaimer: be sure to check race rules; some races, such as Ironman brand, will disqualify an athlete for taking assistance from spectators. However, most running races do not have this stipulation.)

3. Know the course.

Also, please see no. 1 again. Does your athlete hate the swim and need a smiling face as they exit the water? Or does your athlete hit a wall at mile 21 every time and need words of encouragement and a cowbell in their face? Plan how you will get around the course with all of the goodies you have with you. Might I suggest a beach cruiser? Just because your friend is running a marathon doesn’t mean the Sherpa has to!

4. Be the paparazzi.

For many athletes, this is their big moment after months of hard work. Take photos of your friend whenever you can — trust me, they will want to see how bad-ass they look as they dominate their race course! Some athletes will want you to post updates on social media so that friends know how they are performing without having to download any race-tracking apps (which always seem to crash anyway). But, probably a good idea to discuss this with them ahead of time — they might prefer to fill people in on their own after the fact.

5. Bring your spirit!

You are your athlete’s biggest fan — let the world know! Posters, cowbells, motivational speeches … all of these and more are just the best when you are out there on course. If you have ever run a race, you know that a well-timed cheer or motivational poster can give you that extra jolt that is needed to push through.

6. Celebrate post race!

You did it — you managed to Sherpa for your first race. Oh, and your athlete completed their challenge as well. Time to celebrate. The post-race fog can be overwhelming with such an achievement so be prepared to help with a change of clothes or a cold adult beverage. Know what your athlete likes to eat and drink after a race, and know if they are going to need reminders to eat, change, go to the bathroom, call their mom … Now that you are reunited, take some celebratory selfies and get ready to rehash every detail of the race!

Congratulations on your successful Sherpa quest — the biggest compliment is to be asked to do it again, so get your cowbell and backpack full of snacks ready for next time.

Have you ever been a Sherpa for someone at a race? Any other tips you’d add? —Cara

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