This was my first time volunteering at Ironman, but being an athlete made me very prepared for all of my jobs over the past few days.
I had the hardest job at bike check-in: traffic flow. It sucked. There were 2400 athletes stressed out and not really knowing where to go. My job was to direct them out of the area. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the other person did what they were supposed to do in directing them at a corner. I had to argue with people and try to give them directions “around the first tree.” The reason the other person couldn’t do her job was because there weren’t enough volunteers. They could have used double the amount. People racked their bikes facing the wrong way and the athletes around them didn’t want to touch their bike. They called me over and I would re-rack the bikes. I gave myself a huge charlie horse from one of the bikes. Then I would go back to my job arguing with people about how to leave the area.
A new addition to bike check-in is the photographing of every single bike. My estimate is that the average cost of the 2400 bikes was about $4000-$5000. Ironman says that they do it for “security reasons.” I learned that it is to ensure that an athlete doesn’t claim that they had super expensive wheels, etc. and Ironman can say that they didn’t. It’s for Ironman.
It is because of the need to photograph the bikes that my job was harder because it cut off the direct route to the exit point. Ugh.
Women’s Change Tent
My favourite job of the day was working on the women’s change tent after the swim. I was so busy. I saw friends in the morning area and I helped with getting Morning Clothes bags checked in. I helped do up wetsuits. I wished athletes to have a great day. I was so excited.
Then I got to watch the swim start! I got to watch all the pros come through and cheer so hard. I cheered so hard for Heather Wurtele, the eventual winner who is from Canada, as she came through the swim area closely behind the first woman. I saw her again later with her huge lead on the run.
Once the age groupers started coming in, our job in the tent got busy. It was busy for two hours. Almost every woman who came into the tent was freezing cold. I saw on the ground and put their feet on my thighs while I warmed them up and dumped their gear on the ground. Then we would go through the process: jersey, arm warmers, shorts, butt cream, lip balm, nutrition, a sip of water, bike gloves, helmet, sunglasses. Being on this end was amazing. As the morning went on I got so good. I wouldn’t even LET the athlete put on her own arm warmers by herself. I dressed these women like children. Their fingers were freezing cold and just weren’t working. The longer they were in the water, the harder it was for them to put their gear on.
The two worst piece of clothing to put on were long-fingered bike gloves and compression socks. The smartest thing I saw were the hand-warmers in the bags that I then tucked into her jersey to keep her core warm. She said, “That’s a great idea!” I know how it is on the other side where the brain is not thinking, but on the volunteer side I was lucid. I focused solely on one person at a time. It’s not unlike being a doula, where 100% focus is on that one person.
Women’s T1 change tent was amazing and kind of changed my life. Being a good volunteer was amazingly important at that time.
Note: The photograph taken in the women’s change tent was done in a way that ensured nudity was not shown.
Run Special Needs
This station was way way way over-staffed. I felt useless and the time went by so slow. The best part was seeing the pros go by. I cheered Heather on as she loped by like an antelope, tall and strong. She was amazing. One of the other volunteers said, “That is one REAL athlete.” She looked so strong and was ahead of the other women by a huge amount.
At the run special needs, though, I saw some hurting units. There was one pro man who looked so defeated. Another volunteers and I talked about how tough it must be for a pro who was so far behind that it seemed pointless to go on. A pro doesn’t have the same experience as an age-grouper. If he doesn’t finish, it’s not because he can’t, but because there is no point. If he’s not going to win, he won’t get paid. He might as well save his body and try to win the next one.
One of the best things about triathlon, and Ironman specifically, is the fact that the professional athletes are on the same course as the age-groupers. There is no other sport that can boast the same thing. When I’m racing my goal is to finish the bike before the professional wins the race, but not at Ironman. They finish way before I get off the bike.
I was pretty excited to work at the finish line, but my experience was anything by exciting. Finding my way back was ridiculously hard and it was over-volunteered. It was so exciting to be back there, though. Congratulating the athletes after they cross the line. I was part of the group taking off timing chips. I almost got threw up on, but the woman ended up just dry heaving. My fingers have blisters from undoing safety pins, but I didn’t mind. The bad part of the experience was one of the other volunteers. He took to hugging me and putting his arm around me many many times. I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, but I made it very clear that I was uncomfortable. It was awful. Once my friend crossed the line I decided to leave.
One of the great things about being a volunteer was the power I had to go in and out of everywhere! At the finish line I went in and out of the areas with no issues.
All-in-all it was a great experience. I’m looking forward to finishing up my business at this race next year!