Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sign-Ups for Ironman Arizona 2009

Since Ironman branded races have a tendency to sell-out a full year in advance, often on-site the day after the race, several of us decided to make the trek down to Tempe to sign up for Ironman Arizona 2009. Myself, Jon Peterson, and Tom Wortman volunteered at various locations on race day, then got priority line placement the next morning for sign-ups. We are all now $551 poorer.

I left rainy and windy Portland early Friday morning and arrived in Phoenix to warm sun, clear skies, and a light breeze. The rest of the day was filled with a short run/walk to shake off the sleepiness, dinner with some old friends of Jon, and then too late of a night with too many Jubelales around the patio table. 7:30am came early that next morning.

Saturday we were scheduled to be at the volunteer meeting at 9am and then mill around the race expo afterwards. We got to watch the athletes coming in and out of the water for the Gatorade Practice Swim in Tempe Town Lake, nervous men and women checking their bikes into transition, and supportive family members trying to hide their own nervousness as they helped shephard their sons/daughters/significant others from place to place.
Jon and his girlfriend Jessica wanted to head back to Scottsdale for a nap, so I stayed at the race site to take it all in. Some of my notes from people watching that afternoon:
  • What is up with the compression socks? Do they really make a difference? I think I will get a pair to see what the fuss is about. At least then everyone will think that I'm "in the know".
  • Wearing an IMAZ visor, tri top, tri shorts, and socks looks silly. Wearing it all the day before the race is certainly no exception.
  • Triathletes, on average, are very wealthy.
  • Riding your bike while carrying your 2 gear bags, cup of coffee, and toting your dog on a leash will not end well.
  • Race wheels sure are pretty.
  • Ironman boys are pretty too. And not always in a good way.
  • There are literally thousands of supportive friends and family members. It's incredible how they put up with us.
  • Cervelo city!
  • If you're breaking into a dead sweat and wheezing, just by wheeling your bike into check-in, perhaps you may want to rethink doing the race?

Race Day:
We were up at 3:45am, out the door at 4am, and into transition at 4:30am. My first volunteer assignment of the day was bodymarking, and we had to be there prior to the competitors entering transition at 5am. Being in transition in the dark, with carbon and metal shimmering in the gleam of the spotlights, totally silent, is an amazing experience. Then the music started (U2 I think..."It's a Beautiful Day"...) and one-by-one, they started shuffling in . Wiping the sleep from their eyes (those that managed to get any sleep), trying to down the last of their high-calorie breakfast, and quadruple checking their bikes before heading to us to get inked.

The announcer was directing athletes, as well as spectators. And soon it was time to broadcast "5 minutes until the pro start". The pros were in the lake already. The other 2000+ competitors were lined up in transition, anxiously waiting to cross the triming mat and file into the dark water. The air temperature was just over 50°F, the lake was around 62°F. It was not a warm morning.
The cannon blasted for the pros, the national anthem was beautifully sung, and then the cannon blasted for the mass start. With the sun rising up in the background, the stillw ater under Mill Avenue Bridge turned into a splashing, frothy caldron. The blob moved forward as a single unit, and soon was off in the distance past where we could see. I cried as the last few swimmers struggled to move forward with them, knowing that doggy-paddling 2.4 miles wouldn't be enough. The DNF (did not finish) was only 2 hours 20 minutes away for them. Far too early after 365 days of training and preparation.
My next volunteer assignment was the women's change tent as they come out of the water and transition to the bike. No one warned me of the carnage that would take place here. It was fairly mild at first. The pro women and fast age-groupers needed little assistance. But as the clock ticked on, ladies came in needing so much help. Shivering uncontrollably, unable to open their gear bag, let alone change clothes/don shoes/clip helmet. One gal could only stare at me with blank eyes as I stripped her of her wet clothes and then dressed her, much as I would a young child. I helped her to her feet and walked her into the sunshine, hoping the warmth would be enough to get her out on the bike instead of the medical tent. A few needed help beyond our capabilities and ultimately had to be pulled from the race. I cried again.
During the mid part of the day, we walked from spot to spot on the course -- the cross-section on the run course where the loops intersect, the bike turnaround, transition, the finish line. We couldn't help ourselves from clapping and cheering for every person. My hands and throat took at least 4 days to return to normal.

Onto volunteer assignment #3: run special needs. I worked the megaphone for awhile, asking athletes to raise their hand if they were on loop 2 and wanted their bag. As time went on, some couldn't muster the strength to lift their arm. They would instead lift their gaze, make eye contact with me, and slightly nod their head. I cried for the third time that day. Later on I helped retrieve bags and did more clapping and cheering.
Later that night we reached a point where we were all too exhausted to stay and decided to call it a night. I think we all felt guilty because there were still so many people out on the course far more exhausted and worn down than us. Next year... Our goal this time was to sign-up for 2009, and we still needed to pack, shower, go to bed, and be back out by 5am.

Four hours after my head hit the pillow, the alarm sounded. My normal routine would be to hit snooze and roll back over, but I was...EXCITED!!! Time to sign-up for 2009!!! We arrived to only about 25 other people in line. Huh? I thought this was a big deal? I've read of sign-up lines stretching hundreds deep. But, within 30 minutes, the line was far into the distance and we were glad for the early arrival. We huddled under our mylar blankets (there was a leftover box from the night before) and anxiously waited for registration to open at 6:30am. Finally! FINALLY! We were ushered into to the tent to a volunteer, forked over our credit cards, and got the magic slip of paper with the confirmation number for 2009!
Now, back home again, I'm excited to get back to training. My motivation has returned and I'm ready to dig in and rack up the training hours. Less than 360 days to go...