10 Things a Sherpa Needs to Do or Not Do on Race Day


As I wrote in my one of my more recent post, I was a Sherpa for my hubby who just completed his first Ironman in Cozumel.  It was such an experience, but as I mentioned I was not fully prepared for my Sherpa duties.  With that being said, if you are planning on being someone’s Sherpa for an endurance race, here are some things I learned that I thought I would pass along, so you do not make the same mistakes I did.

Nutrition. Nutrition. Nutrition.

Yes, nutrition is just as important for you as your racer.  You are preparing for a potentially 17-20 hour day and you need to eat and drink appropriately. Hydrate!  This is not an easy spectator’s sport; you will be doing a lot of exercising yourself.

Unfortunately for me, I did not think that far ahead. I did bring enough water and Gatorade, but nothing else edible. Good thing one of our Team Z cheer run stations was located at our hotel where I was able to grab couple of Cliff Bars.

Cheering not at my planned cheer station.

Map Out Route.

Before the actual day of the race, look over the course map or even drive it to scope out where you want to be to see your racer. Very important, logistics on race day might be more difficult because there might be road closure due to the race.

Even though the coaches had several meeting with the Sherpa’s on where to go, it did not seem to matter.  I still did not park my scooter on the right side of the road of the swim start; thus making it to a couple of cheer stations impossible.

Bring Sunscreen.

If you think you don’t need it. Think again. You will be burned and not even realize it. If you are a mom and walking around with small babies- cover them up. Please be cautious the sun is very hot when you are just sitting in it.

I was smart; this is one of the few things I actually brought with me and I reapplied often.

Pack an Umbrella.

Bring a small umbrella that folds up to about 6 inches and you will find that when you have it over your head when the sun is beating down it will keep you cool.  However, if you are at the race finish line please fold it up as it will block someone’s view and there is a good chance maybe poke an eye or two.

This would have been helpful when the pouring rain came in. But, no, why would I bring an umbrella?!?!

Pack a twin size flat sheet or large towel.

Remember your athlete is going to finish the race and be very sweaty and simply want to lie down immediately. Most areas will be grassy or dirty. Rather than have them get all sticky with dirt, leaves and uncomfortable twigs toss a small sheet down and let them take a few minutes to just regain their strength again.

Of course I did not receive this suggestion until I was an Ironman Sherpa, but this makes a lot of sense.  

Plastic bags/garbage bags are your friends.

Not the most eco-friendly suggestion, but bring a couple of gallon zip lock bags and one garbage bag. The Zip lock back is multi-purpose. You can use it to hold your racers wet gear after the race. You can use it throw your garbage in throughout the day; trash cans are generally not plentiful around a race course. You can use to carry around snacks.

Bring the garbage bag for rain protection or wind protection. They are great to cut a hole in the bottom of the bag to stick your hear through and it will protect you and your bag from the rain and wind.

Yes, I brought Ziplock bags with me, but no garbage bag. After it started pouring rain, one of my fellow Sherpa’s whipped out hers and used it to cover mine and her bag.

Never yell, “You’re almost there.”

Yes, you are there to be supportive of your Ironman, but three words you Ironman will not want to hear unless they are a 100 yards from the finish is “You’re almost there.”  “There” in this instance is very relative, you might think 5 miles is almost there, but for a racer who has been on their feet for more than 10 hours, another hour seems like an eternity.

No, I did not yell this, but I had someone yell it at when I was running a marathon. I was a quarter a mile away from the finish line of my 4th marathon and I hear a woman yell, “Run hard, you’re almost there.” The last quarter of a mile was up a hill, I was running with a fever and I think the devil came out of me and yelled back with more explicit words, “You aren’t running the race.”  So my suggestion, just say “You’re looking good.”

Don’t forget your camera.

As a Sherpa part of your duties is to document pictorially your racer’s experience. Of course, it might be difficult to get great shots while your racer is passing on the bike or pick them out in swim, but try to take as mention pictures as you can. Ironman is something your racer will never forget regardless if they had a good race day or not.  Believe me, they will appreciate them.

I had both my camera and my iPhone and used them both throughout the day. I used the iPhone to capture my hubby’s finish. I practiced taking pictures on my camera prior to other racers coming through the finish and I realized my camera shutter was too slow and I would not be able to capture the moment. So, I decided to video it and I am so glad I did; the video truly captures the moment and of course, me yelling.

Check out the video.

Be Flexible and Calm.

Being a Sherpa requires flexibility. You never know how the day truly will go. You might have to move to a location/cheer spot more quickly if your racer is having a good day, or you might be waiting the full seven hours for your biker to come through hoping they made the time cut off.

Because I was not fully prepared for the day, when dropping my hubby of at the swim start, I parked my scooter on the wrong side of the street. What did that mean? It meant that my entire morning of going to the cheer stations was not happening. Since I could not cross the street due to the street closure, I sat in a shady part of bike out and took pictures. Not ideal, but I did get some great shots.

Enjoy the day!

Enjoy the day!

Most important thing to remember, enjoy the experience and be there for your racer. Luckily for you, you have plenty of time between each discipline to hop into a bar for a drink or run into Starbucks for a cup of coffee. Take advantage of the time to relax.

Good luck with your upcoming Sherpa duties and I hope these tips come in handy.