Sunday, November 1, 2009

My First Sub 12-Hour Ironman - A Day as an Ironman Volunteer

From Nov 2008

In April 2008 I completed my first Ironman and only my second triathlon. Yep, I went straight
from Ironman Volunteer to Ironman registration. I figured it would just be crazy to make an
Ironman my first triathlon so I decided to do the Soma ½
as my very first multi-sport event. I came from a running
background, if you can call it that, and made the transition to triathlon this year. I’ve probably done 20 or so races as a runner and to be honest I’ve never paid any attention to the volunteers. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful to have them out there, but I would have been just fine grabbing my own water off the aid station table as I ran through.
You always hear this “We couldn’t do it without the volunteers” blah bah blah. Then came my fist Ironman.
In the interest of time I will summarize my first Ironman in April of 2008. Let’s just say that all
13 times I tried to quit ended the same way. A volunteer making some small comment that, for
that few seconds, made me think I could really do it. I did finally finish and I attribute a lot of it
to the people out on the course. It wasn’t anything complicated, just a simple “Hey Eric you can
do it”, or a 65 year old lady on the B-line highway, all by herself, cheering my chubby butt along
as I went by. My defining moment came as I got off my bike midway through the third lap and
was ready to throw in the towel. I was going to grab the next sag wagon and call it a day. It was
so bad I even contemplated just rolling into oncoming traffic. That, you see, would totally work
as an excuse for all the people I had told that I was going to finish an Ironman. So there I am, 20
feet from the sag wagon and my ride home, and this little old lady on the side of the rode told me
I looked “cute” in my spandex shorts. I mean come on…you can’t stop after that. Well, once I
made it to the turnaround I decided that if by some miracle I finished, I would be there in
November to cheer my little heart out. Six months later it was IM AZ and my turn to give back.
I really only remembered a few parts of my own Ironman so I wanted to be out there early. Up at 4am, and out the door; just like I was racing. I was there for the swim start and then ran along the lake to make sure I was able to cheer for “MY” swimmers. Those are the ones who go at least 1:20. I know they must have thought there was some crazy guy screaming on the bridge but I was going to let them know we were here for them. I then made my way over to the Phoenix Triathlon Club aid station on the north side of the lake.
John, Scott’s son Brandon, and a few other PTC members along with two huge trucks were
waiting there for me. John opened the first U-haul truck, which was full of our “props” and I
thought two things. First, what did I get myself into and second. John Lierle has way too much
time on his hands. I mean come on, an entire U-Haul full of “props”? I say, if you need power
tools to put together an aid station you have gone just a little overboard. After receiving our
building permits we got to work and about 20 minutes later I looked around and there were at
least 20 PTC members hard at work. We finished with close to an hour to spare and it was a sight to behold. I even made a comment that if we didn’t win first place I was going to resort to
violence. With about 30 minutes until the first pro came through, I snuck off to get dressed.
We all know that our aid station theme was western and I knew my 15 bucks spent at the
Goodwill would be a hit. I slid on my 46-inch overalls and plaid shirt. Then came the cowboy
hat and finally my pillow. I found someone to help me tie my shoes and I was set. I did not know
it at the time, but it seems the pillow was a little more convincing than planned. I heard a few
comments about how I may have taken the off season a little too seriously. I was ready now.
Bring on the runners! With a few last instructions from John and Mary Knott, I took my place at the #1 aid table. I was the water guy and ready to be a darn good one! I held the cup just so perfect, poised to give it to the first runner who came though. I even cut to the front of the line to make sure I got to give water to the first runner who came through. Then I saw the bike leading the first place male runner. It was game time! I double-checked to ensure my shoes were tied and confirmed my running path was clear so I could run with him and it would be a flawless hand-off. I was finally giving back to my triathlon family. The first place male neared and I took off at the perfect time.
I held his pace so he wouldn’t miss a beat. I extended my arm with pin point accuracy
and...nothing. He didn’t want my water. I’ll tell you one thing, he was lucky to be moving so
fast. By the time I decided if I should trip him or just throw the water at him he was gone.
Whether warranted or not I was offended (not really, OK…some). As many of you will come to
find out, I never claim to be normal. I even pride myself on being a little quirky as my friends put it. It was my day to give back and this guy didn’t even want my water. Well I recovered fast and continued to hand out water for the next few hours. I did get over it but I still wasn’t all that happy when someone passed me by.
Around 5pm I started to get tired, OK, very tired. I had planned to “Go, Go, Go” until the
midnight cutoff but I was running on empty. I sat down in my chair, cheered and did what I
could. The runners were having a hard time with the concept of running between the red
directional tape and the red eight-foot tall cowboy M-Dots, so John moved me to the entrance of
our aid station to direct traffic. So there I was, looking like I weighed 300 pounds, sitting in a
chair on a comforter and telling these super fit athletes they could do it. Then I remembered what a few encouraging words did for me in April. I sprang into action! It was time for me to shine.
A piece of advice for those of you who race Ironman, make sure you wear your bib with your
first name on it during the run in front. When we can personalize your cheer it makes a real
difference. I started with “Good job, you can do it.” Then I found that if you use their name “Hey
John you are looking great!” they would look over and smile. I could see it in their faces, for
those few seconds they were in their happy place. All the pain and thoughts of quitting were
gone. It may have been all in my head, but I really felt that I was personally doing something to
help these racers achieve their goal. This went on for a few hours. “Julie you are smokin!” or
“Jose, man your are looking good!” Even a few offers for a date if they came back and got me
after the race. I ended with a session of letting everyone who went by know that in just a few
hours they would be able to start working on their off season bellies, while rubbing mine own of
course. I left a little after eight both mentally and physically drained. I wanted to stay until it was over but I had nothing left. I was happy and had given back to the people who just six months earlier had helped me get through one of the toughest day’s of my life.
A couple of side notes: Take a second and thank John Lierle and Mary Knott. They put a lot of
time into making sure we took first place as an aid station. I thought Mary was going to be sick
all day, she was so nervous for Dan Beaver who was racing to qualify for Kona. I also bet John
Lierle ran at least a 5k that day. I would also like to thank everybody who was out there. I now
know where the saying “We couldn’t have done it without you” comes from. If you’re not racing
or you have friends or family who want to see what our crazy sport is all about, volunteer
somewhere. It’s your chance to give a little back to our community and some day it might just be
what you need to get you through a tough day. In my very short time on the PTC board I’m
starting to see just how much it takes to put these races on. It was a day I will never forget and I
can only hope that in some small way, with less than 12 hours of my time, I was able to help
someone hear the phrase “YOU ARE IRONMAN!”

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