Sunday, May 5, 2013

2013 Another review of SG Ironman from Michelle

I don't know what it is about the Ironman that gets me emotional, pumped up, and inspired when I am not even one of the athletes doing the swim, bike, or run.  Wait, yes, yes I do.  Let me explain here...

I have assisted as a volunteer doing swim support in dozens of triathlons over the past few years.  I have only participated twice in actually "doing a triathlon - sort of" twice.  In two different years I have done a mini sprint as a team.  It was a super small venue at the Diamond X Triathlon with mostly family. My team of me and my sisters came in last place both times. The first year I swam (less than a quarter mile) and ran (5K) and my little sister biked (12 miles)  we came dead dead dead last - really sad. The second year we did the same triathlon at the Diamond X. My older sister swam, my little sister biked and all I did was run the 5K. We were last again, but not quite as bad as the year before - so I don't count running a 5K the same as doing a triathlon.  I am a far cry from a real triathlete.   This coming July I am going to do it solo and see how it is to do it alone.

The only way I consider myself involved in triathlons is from the safety of a kayak or stand up paddleboard or at an aid station. My husband owns a Kayak and SUP rental shop in Hurricane Utah  - DIG Paddlsports
 We go out regularly together and either give the St. George Tri Club added safety and support on their weekly swims, or we are at the local triathlons giving water support during the event.

Here is the thing about volunteering at the Ironman event... I get butterflies, Like I would if I was actually competing!  It's the weirdest thing.  I get jittery and nervous and emotional with the competitors.

Our adventure started Friday night at the Swim Support meeting at the lake, we got our assignments and instructions, then played on the water with our friends in swim support we have worked with many times before.  We are beginning to feel like family after so many times of doing this.

Last year's event was frightening for water support.  Of the 50+ volunteer swim support that came last year, only about 10 or 12 of us returned to this event. Those of us that returned are connected. We enjoyed the water and relaxed as a team the night before the big event. Feel free to read last year's report here:

Bill and I chose to camp at Sand Hollow reservoir instead of going home and having to wake up at 3:30 am to get to the lake in time. We set our alarm for 4:15am and had a friend lined up to wake us up if our phone alarms didn't work. After relaxing on the beach listening to great music, eating food and reminiscing with old friends, we went to bed.

Me: (groggy)  what the hell... who the freak would think of calling me this early, it better be the kids and someone better be dying!
Snookie: (my good friend Michelle Snook aka "Snookie")  WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP!!!!!!!
Me: holy hell... what are you smoking... I have another half hour I am sure of it.
Snookie: (giggling) NO YOU DON'T!  GET UP SLEEPY HEAD!! *giggle giggle*  GET UP!!!!  *giggle giggle*
Me:  I am going to kill you now. after I wake up from my nap.  I am going back to sleep.

I lay there half awake pissed off.  I am really going to kill her. All i can think is, what is she snorting? And will she share?  (Just kidding, I don't do drugs and I doubt she does - maybe.  I now am questioning that.)

4:15am - Bill and I roll out of tent and get ready to go.
4:45am - Water support meeting - I see Snookie and threaten her life if she ever wakes me like that again. Good thing I love her.
5:00am - We split up into teams and get prepped to hit the water. This year I am more cautious than the year before. I opt out of an SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) in case there is wind again.  I LOVE stand up paddling, but in the wind, a kayak does a lot better than an SUP.  Stand up paddling is a heck of a lot more fun and allows me to move, stretch out, sit, stand or lay down or do yoga if I get stiff.  I take a kayak, square floatie, whistle, 2 bottles of water, my own PFD (didn't do that last year) and put on my wetsuit.  I am told by the Search and Rescue Kayak Captain, Michael Caifa, that if he could only have one - a warm and buoyant wet suit OR a PFD (life jacket), he would choose the wetsuit. that made me feel a LOT better about the year before and I realized that my outcome from that event was better because I had worn my wetsuit for the first time.  It is now THE thing to put on first.  It keeps me warm in the cool morning air and I go for a quick jog to warm up.  Lots of people are standing around shivering and me in my obnoxious way said to them "you guys, go run around a little, it feels great!"  They just look at me funny and eat the free donuts and coffee.  :)
6:00am - All swim support is on the water and getting ready for the start. The only thing cold on me is my toes.

The sun is beginning to rise and I am in the best place on the planet at the moment.  Sand Hollow Reservoir at sunrise is stunning.
Almost 3,000 athletes are competing in this Half Ironman race. Over half of them are first timers.
We are ready for them.  The water is calm and gorgeous, but it was that way at the beginning of last years race.  I am starting to get the jitters as I recall the experience from the year before.  A quick prayer is said as I paddle, Please Lord, let us enjoy safe waters this year.

6:55am - The pros are off!  WOW!  Crazy fast - I think the fastest swimmer was done with a little over a mile swim in just about 20 minutes.  Holy. Cow.  Swim Support does very little for the pro wave.  We just watch in amazement.  These guys KNOW what they are doing.  They have done this numerous times. They really don't need us too much out there.  Awesome to watch.  Incredibly impressive to us non-swimmer types.

The next wave is started, I think it's the young guys under 29?  Now the "fun" starts, most of these guys are first time competitors that underestimate the swim and their own nerves.  Many didn't listen to instructions like "stay on the outside of the buoys"  "Go that direction, then turn.", etc...  Now we get serious.
I love this stuff.
I love being there for them.
Now each group of athletes is being sent off at regular intervals and swim support is in full alert. Swimmers are coming in droves, thousands of them.  I see several friends that take the time to lift their heads up, catch their breath, support their friends they are swimming with, or just promised to wave "Hi" to me, I can't tell who anyone is when they are too serious about going fast.  :)  All those black wetsuits and swim caps, they all look the same to me.  As one of my friends on Facebook said to me "Hey keep an eye out for me, I will be in a black wetsuit and pink swim cap" "Me too"  "Me too"  several of my friends chime in - Amber, Cherie and Liz are Phazes clients and competitors. They amaze me, and I love them.  It made my morning when they looked up and yelled at me.  "IT'S MY PEOPLE - I LOVE MY PEOPLE!".  I see other faces I know and love, Polli, Braydon, and past Bootcamp clients.  It was so good to see them out there.

My toes are still cold.  I shiver and think - Do I REALLY want to do a real triathlon and get in freezing water?  Duuuuuuude - these people are nuts.  I can't believe I want to do this.

Competitors are allowed to hang onto a kayak or buoy to get rested, stretch out, get their bearings or calm their anxiety before moving on as long as the kayak is not in forward motion along the course. During the course of the swim, I do get several people that need a little support and hang onto my kayak.  One woman from Ventura, Ca. is feeling some serious anxiety which can  be dangerous.  I ask her name and where she is from and then I ask her what day it is and where she is.  She looks at me like I'm the crazy one and answers.  I smile and tell her "good answer - you got the answers right.  Do you want to continue?  Can you pull yourself together and finish this swim?" "Absolutely!"  "Awesome California girl!  Catch your breathe for minute.  This Simi Valley California girl is cheering you on!"

Polli thinks she had a cracked rib or something and is in serious pain.  She asks me to paddle over to her.  "You okay Polli"  "Hell, I don't know. This freaking hurts."  "Do you want me to take you out?"  "F NO! I am finishing this thing!"  I love this chick.  She goes from kayak to kayak and eventually gets to my hubby who stays with her, and eventually tells her that she only has 10 minutes to finish (A LIE).  She swears, kicks it in and KILLS it!  (and then thanks Bill for telling her that lie).

A lot of swimmers get off course A LOT.  We do a LOT of course correcting when swimmers get swimming the wrong direction.  Our job is to be there for them, assist them when they need assistance, correct their course, we are actually not told to stay out of their way.  In general, we do stay out of the way, but there are times when getting in the way is necessary.

I am afraid I made a couple of swimmers upset.  One man was swimming perpendicular to the course. I was stationed inside the buoys  the swimmers were supposed to stay on the outside of the buoys.   We are told that if they do NOT stay outside the buoys,  Ironman staff (not volunteers) can disqualify them.  So we volunteers are supposed to do everything we can to keep them on the other side.  We yell, pound on our kayaks and do all we can to get their attention.  But some of these athletes have earplugs and never look up to check their position.  They can't hear a thing!  I have loud voice and  I am screaming at this guy, pounding on my kayak, paddling closely right next to him and he is NOT changing his course he is headed straight toward the island instead of around it.  He doesn't hear or see me.  I decide to blow my whistle that is normally for emergencies to get attention from the life boats on the outside. NOTHING! Crap.  I maneuver in front of him and he hits my vessel with his arm mid-stroke, looks up and yells at me to get out of his way.
Me: You need to turn around and get on course.
Him: I am on course!
Me: You need to get on the outside of the buoys.
Him: I am! Get out of my way! You are not supposed to hit us with your kayak!  (He is FUMING MAD!!!
Me: I can get in your way if you don't hear me yell at you to get back on course. Now turn around before someone decides to DQ you!

It took him a while to realize he was wrong and headed the wrong direction.  he was SOOOO mad at me.  but what was I supposed to do?  He swallowed his pride and I could tell the "Thank you for volunteering" was one he wished he could end with "B!+(}{!"
I told him to have a great time the rest of the race.  He rolled his eyes at me and moved on. Obvously upset at the idiot that ran into him with her kayak.  I have no doubt he is probably telling great stories about the stupid volunteer that ran into him with her kayak.  :)  Oh well....

I only pulled 2 swimmers from the water out of the dozen that needed to hang onto the kayak.  As water support we do not get to make the call on whether or not a swimmer is capable of continuing. We call in the Ironman official to make that call, unless the athlete insists on just being pulled out. So I give every opportunity for them to reassure me they are OK and can continue.  Both of the swimmers I pulled had the same problem - nerves, anxiety, fear.  It manifests as an inability to catch your breath and they get exhausted quickly.  The heart is pounding too rapidly to recover.  Drowning is most likely with someone that cannot get their nerves in check. This swim is something they could normally do and have done in other training, but it becomes an impossibility and endangers their lives if they do not keep calm or don't calm down quickly when they realize what's going on.

This was the other time I ran into swimmers... as I rowed from the inside of the course with a competitor in tow to outside of the course where a lifeboat was waiting to give more assistance.
I had to paddle across a thick path of swimmers still going for it.  I yelled and blew my whistle and tried to warn them.  SO I apologize to swimmers that got ticked off not knowing why that damn kayak got in their way.

This year -
Total swimmers I rescued: 2 in the entire two hours on the water
Total swimmers rescued overall with the rest of swim support: 14
Last year- I rescued 4 or 5 before getting blown off my board in the first 20 minutes of the swim
Total rescued off the water last year with the entire swim support crew: 490-ish... - crazy

As the last of the swimmers pass us, we join up and team up with the stragglers cheering them on, keeping them on course.  I have an older guy that had a "heavy right arm stroke" and needed to be constantly corrected to get on the outside.  I follow him in the rest of the way counting down the time left for him and keeping him moving forward.  He gets annoyed by my constantly correcting his course. I am just trying to keep him moving in a straight line so he doesn't swim longer than necessary.  I can't tell if his face he gives me every time I yell at him to correct is because he is mad at me or just that he is struggling.  Either way,  he is NOT in a great mood.  He probably is terribly annoyed at that silly blonde cheerleader type that keeps smiling at him and telling him "Keep going buddy!  You can do this!"  I can tell he doesn't like me.

He missed the cut-off time by a couple of minutes but he finishes that leg.

Swim Support is done for the day around 9:30am.  We are locked in Sand Hollow State Park for a while and can't get out until clean up begins for Ironman staff.  ... bummer?... The weather is perfect, the sun is shining, the lake is glossy calm...  hmmmm... what will paddlers do until we can drive out? Gee. We go paddling around the lake.  I grap an SUP and do some yoga and stretch and layout.  Some of us gather back at the South Beach and eat some burgers while sharing stories of this years Ironman in comparison to the previous year.

The weather was amazing!  Perfect!
I jokingly ask - "Ok you guys, who here said their prayers and asked God for good weather?"
ALL the people that were on the water last year that were hanging out with us at the trailer raise their hands.  :)

I was unable to go enjoy the rest of the race due to other commitments.  I love watching the finish line and really missed seeing that this year.  I cry every time someone crosses - no really I do. I get that involved emotionally in seeing them succeed.

Years ago I used to live right on the finish line of the St. George Marathon. Literally - the finish line pointed to my front door. I would sit out all day and watch athletes cross the finish line and I would cry and cheer for perfect strangers.  I may be a fool, but I am seriously impressed by the strength and determination these athletes put into completing such a TOUGH event. This year, I am FINALLY running my first marathon after being inspired so many years by so many others.

Maybe... if I keep volunteering and watching my friends do the Ironman....   nawwww....

Well.... maybe?

My friend Cathy Ford once told me a few years ago when I told her I could NEVER do an Ironman, she said to me, "NEVER rule anything out! You never know what you are capable of if you keep moving forward."

That is truth! Cathy did her first Ironman at age 40 AFTER losing a ton of weight and giving birth to 8 kids!  She inspires me.  My buddy Braydon doesn't fit the stereo typical body type of an Ironman athlete and competed in strong form!  There are so many on that course that overcome more than we spectators realize. I get teary eyed because I am NOT just a baby.  Well... maybe I am...  BUT.... These people are who I want to be.  They make me aware of my capabilities that are lying dormant inside me.  That I can do so much more than I think I can.  That my excuses are invalid!

I have NO IDEA if a half Ironman or a full Ironman is in my future. It isn't my current goal.  But my first marathon is.  AND my first SOLO Sprint triathlon is. Several years ago I couldn't even WALK around my block without passing out.  I will be 40 this year and am in better shape now than I have EVER been in!

The exciting thing to me is, I have witnessed people 20 years older than me competing in the Iron man for their first time.... So who knows?  No promises at this point of course.


NEVER rule anything out!

Maybe competing isn't for you..
That's fine.
But volunteering is for EVERYONE!
PS - I love seeing some of buddies in this video.  LOVE YOU PEOPLE!

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