Monday, May 9, 2011

Ironman! a Volunteer story

Ironman! a Volunteer story
Friday Night Bill and I camped out at Sand Hollow Resevoir so we could make it to the 4:30am meeting for the Swim support. We slept like crap - music echoing off the hills from those at the Bike racks keeping an eye on the security for millions of dollars of Bike equipment. So our alarm going off at 4:15am was like... pain... real pain. But I was excited to get in the water and be a part of this amazing day around so many amazing athletes.

at 6 ish we were loading our kayak into the water to go get in place. the sun was not yet up but just a tiny bit of light trying to peak over the hills. I was surprised to find out the water was warmer than I expected. in fact I was expecting to be freezing. I wasn't!

What a GORGEOUS morning. Blue Water, Blue skies, Red hills and sand...
Bill and I were situated in a 2 man kayak on the east side of the island about 3/4 of the way through the Water course. Bill was designated section leader of Section E on the swim. So we got to boss people around - another favorite pastime.

I was impressed as I watched the swimmers go by - first the Pros... speechless... amazing...

I suck at swimming.
so watching these guys hardly lifting their heads out of the water and going in a straight line...
A M A Z I N G...

cuz I suck at swimming.

Last time I tried to swim at Sand Hollow to "try and train for a triathlon".... I sucked. I basically got in the water and shivered and swam about 10 yards and got out. and I NEVER could get myself to put my head under water.

So, yeah... watching these guys swim this strong for 2.5 miles. I was impressed.
Not much to do on kayak support on the back side of the race for the pros and the people in the first half of the race. they are strong and steady and not needing much support.

it was the second half that things get exciting for water support - at least where we are placed in the water. I hear the Starting line area gets a lot of action with water support. but we don't get a lot of action until the ending half.

We only had to have one man hang onto our kayak and work out some cramps.
They are allowed to hang onto to the kayak as long as we don't go forward. If they come out of the water they are out of the race.

I know of about 7 people who ended up being pulled from the water. I heard Last year it was around 30 people pulled out of the water.
Some were just too cold, some too cramped up, some just exhausted already. It's a combination of the water temperature, the adrenaline and the exertion they put in that puts their lives in danger in the water.

I have OOODLES of respect for anyone who can finish even this much of the race.
In case you were wondering - the Ironman is a 2.5 mile swim, then a 112 mile bike ride then 26.2 mile run. - pretty stinking tough to do anyone one of these alone much less back to back.

When I was at the grocery store getting some food to pack for the campout, the checker asked me if I was doing the Ironman. "Oh yeah, I am SOOOO doing the ironman!" hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhhhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaa ha haaaa ahhhhhhh....
well not this year or the next anyway.
I just want to LOOK like I could. :)

One of the Hardest parts of the Ironman on the Swim support side for me was the very very tail end. there were about 4 swimmers at the end we were worried would not make it.
At this point there is enough kayak support for each swimmer to have a full support fleet for them. so Bill and I and another 2 man kayak teamed up to keep "Joe" (don't know his real name) going the right direction and motivated. It's pretty easy to get going completely off course and course correcting takes a lot out of a swimmer if they have to do it over and over. some swimmers actually swim twice as far as they others because of the distance they spend going off course and having to correct.
so "joe" had a kayak on either side of him keeping him pointed in the right direction. He was shivering and struggling. There was a moment when I really thought he would give up and ask to be pulled out. But he didn't he kept trying. His mind kept telling his body he could do this. At one point he was so weak his swimming form had him moving backward instead of forward! I have no idea why. (but then again - did I tell you I suck at swimming and would not make a great swim coach?)

When I saw the look of frustration and renewed determination in this guy's face, I realized he was not going to ask to be pulled out of the race and it was now our job to give him as much support and encouragement as we could. so I pulled out my bootcamp trainer hat (not really - it's a metaphore) and we all started cheering this guy on - counting down the time - telling him how much further he had - yelling at the top of our lungs:
and all the other stuff you tell a woman in labor... :)

Once again my 4 years of High School Cheerleading were useful.

I was emotionally invested in this guy's success.

We were about 100 meters from the finish line and their was 2 minutes left. His pace was going to have him just missing the cutoff time. I wanted to cry.

It was all I could do to keep from jumping in the water next to him and swimming to the finish with him. (but then they would have had to pull me from the water and waste the kayak support on me instead.)

When "joe" finally made it out - he had missed the cuttoff by a minute. right along side him was a woman and they were told at the same time as they were wrapped in a blanket that there were not going to be able to continue the race.

I wanted to hug him. so I did.

He looked dissapointed and relieved at the same time. I imagine he must have felt proud that he pushed through a tough swim that at midpoint none of us (and maybe him too) thought he would finish. I also imagine he must have been happy that he wasn't going to have to get on that bike and ride over 100 miles and then run a marathon. He looked exhausted. I was proud of him. I didn't know his name or where he was from or anything about him. But I felt like I knew him. And I was proud of him.

This portion of the race and my volunteering was over.
So we got on some SUP (Stand Up Paddle Boards) and played around for a few minutes before we headed back to our tent to warm up and nap before the second round of volunteering/playtime at the Ironman.

I went home for a few hours to play with my kids and kiss them all before I headed out the door at 5:30pm to got to run aid station support from 6pm - midnight. I was so excited for this portion of the race. I knew that the elite/professional athletes were done before I got there. The winner finished before 3:30pm.

(a side note: it's so weird differentiating the athletes as elite/non-elite. They are all amazing and elite in comparison to me. BUT - I have no idea what to call the FREAKS - I say that lovingly- who are in the first 50-100 or so finishers. other than superhuman elite. so I will just call them the "elite" to make it easier.)

For those of you who have to deal with St. George traffic on race day every yea all day or all weekend - I pity you. It took me FOREVER to try and get to the area of town I needed to be in to park and then walk over to the aid station. so many detours and roads closed all over the place. I thought I could cut over here - nope. try this route - nope.
I finally had to give in and follow the traffic to Bluff Street and then went to the church parking lot before walking to the aid station.

I went by myself this time. Bill decided to stay home with the kids and recover from no sleep. Me? I am a freak when it comes to a good party. I was ready to be up all night dancing with a crowd. - that is where my "eliteness" kicks in. I outlasted Bill and I was ready for a second round.

Apparently the aid station I had signed up for had been moved.
I walked over to where it was supposed to be.
I had signed up for aid station #11 - the theme they chose was HIPPIES - you know, Peace, love, beads etc... So I was all dressed the part and ready for some hippie love.

I found aid station #6,7,8,9,10 and then 12? what? where was 11? I walked back up the hill to number 6- they said go back down and told me where it should have been - between numbers 10 and 12. NOPE. I walk up the side street where all the runners were going up a hill and was hoping for an aid station there. NOPE. I walked back down the hill. I was really feeling for the Ironmen at this point. I was in a pair of sandals - I took them off since they were hurting my feet and now I was barefoot walking alongside the ironman athletes who for the most part were walking at this point as well. I had not swam 2.5 mile or rode a bike 112 miles. I had walked only a couple of miles (barefoot) up and down this hillside in the 90 degree weather and I was starting to get tired. I could see why this St. George Course was considered a tough ironman course - lots of Hills... I got to walk them barefoot.

I finally decided to settle onto aid station 12. I was done looking for my people. They would just have to miss me. SO - I was dressed in Hippie attire and hanging out with the Cowboys at the western themed aid station. They had country music playing when I got there - not my faves from the 60's and 70's. so... I was a little sad.
But I jumped right in. This group did have free dinner for me - grilled on the spot hamburgers. Yeah! I was freaking STARVING!
So this is where I stayed for most of the night. I didn't know a soul at this aid station. This is the first Ironman aid station I had ever volunteered at. I had done other aid stations elsewhere - but this was awesome! what a party. I am not a huge fan of the country western theme - But these guys knew how to make it a PARTY!
We handout out water, ice, cola, wet sponges, etc...
I have a thing about music - it has to be right. the right speed is critical especially when you need some energy to keep moving.
So - this guy - older guy - nice guy - at the aid station decided he didn't like the hard thumping rythyms of Kid Rock and "I'm a cowboy" and other Hard rock Style country music. So he puts on "Hey Jude" like 5 times... uh.... yeah.... nice guy... not a great running song.
I jokingly said something about it to him.
Me - "do you ever go running with music?"
Him - "Hey Jude is a great song."
Me - "I'm not saying it isn't, it just doesn't have good running beat. I love this song but it doesn't really pump you up."
Him - "well most of them are walking right now anyway."
Me - "yeah... well..."
I think I lost. He played it 5 more times. Maybe he didn't like me more than he liked the song. Not sure. I needed some hard thumping dance tunes.

Around 10pm I was chatting with some guy in a golf cart about my aid station dilema and he tell me aid station number 11 was moved and he could take me there.
I would get to see my Friend Michelle Sullivan and her crew. so I quietly ditched aid station 11 and "Hey Jude" and went up the hill to the Hippies.

NOW the party could start!
Enter the dance party til midnight...

so we were dancing and singing and the music was loud and hard - they way I like it.
I was with an old friend and finished off an evening having a great time. AND my outift was right finally!

Around 11:30 the runners were few and far between. but we would have one here and one there still struggling to finish this race.

We would cheer and High Five all of them as they passed our aid station.
midnight - still 4 runners out there and the race was called. they would not even make it to aid station 11. I am not sure how many other runners were passed our aid station and in town trying to finish. One was 2 miles away from our aid station. I was torn up about having to turn off the music and leave when one more person was out there and needing all the support they could get. But technically - the race organizers wanted them to get off the streets. I did decide to leave. I got in my car and drove into downtown St. George to see the finish line. I actually had never seen it before. most everyone was gone when I pulled into town. There was the clean up crew and few devoted friends of runner still trying to finish the race they started. I saw a couple of guys standing next to the finish line. I asked if they were waiting for a runner they knew. nope. they were just there at the end to cheer on the last of the last of the athletes and this was their favorite part of the race. ME TOO! It is those who have persevered through unbelievable trials along the course and finished even when they are told they do not get honored by the crowd, press, medals, and accolades - they finish anyway. These are my heroes! So I stood on the finish line with these 4 other guys as the clean up crew were tearing down the archway. we saw someone coming in and we cheered as loud as we could. His pace picked up just a tad and he crossed that half torn down archway with the cheers of just 5 people. I wanted to cry. I am that way.
I chatted with these guys for a few minutes and then there was another runner - these people were alone. No family, no other support and no crowds. but they finished!
I think one of them was foreign and must have come a great distance to be here as he spoke very little Enlgish and looked like he wanted to say something to us there - but instead just in an accent I couldn't place said "thank you." It meant the world to me. I told these men I was cheering with I wanted to cry. They laughed and said "Ya, I know huh?"

It was nearly 1:00am I had a family and husband at home. I hated leaving but knew I had to. The race day was over for me. and I loaded up on Mountain Dew and Chocolate at Maverick and pumped up the music for my 30 minute drive home alone in the dark.
It was good to be home with my husband who had waited up for me.

Some things that impressed me while volunteering - ages - sizes and types of athletes.
There is a "type" that you expect to do this race. The majority fit that type - strong - lean - tough warriors - men and women = ages 20-40

But the others were refreshing - The older athletes some looked like they may have been pushing 70 or more!
The Larger athletes - I saw 2 at least that my judgmental mind would have never EVER placed them as capable of doing this event - way to prove me wrong you animals!

The Person with the artificial leg - wow.

And so many many many stories for each of them.

If you are like me you may have said "I could never do something like this." But what I love about this is that these people have proven so many people wrong. Because they did do this. Many of the athletes were older than me - by 10 years or more!
I know my friends that did this had once struggled with weight issues and trained hard to lose weight THEN started Triathlon training and THEN decided - WHY NOT?


I was able to give my friend Missy (Hyde) Payne a Hug at aid station 12. She looked amazing and left a sweaty mark on my shirt.

I kept looking for my friend Cathy Ford but never saw her. I had decided she must have been one of those FREAKS that finished earlier in the day. I later read on her Facebook thread she had to drop out at mile 70 on the bike course due to heat exhaustion. bummer - but she had a great attitude and plans on trying again next year.

Next year - the whole family will be doing it with me too. It's too good of a party and inspiring event to not be a part of in some small way.

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