Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ironman Louisville 2013

Well my friends, I am suffering from a serious Ironman hangover! A wise person once said the Ironman is like Christmas but the days after are like a New Year's hangover and truer words have never been spoken. Although I didn't race (um, duh) I still managed to keep busy all weekend.

Saturday morning Autumn and I got up for a 14 mile run at 6:30 and it was largely uneventful until the end. We tried a new hydration product we got at the Ironman Expo called zipfizz. Jury is still out on it but I may do a little product review after this week's training. The last 3 miles started to get tough and something about passing up that 13.1 mark hurts a lot. But it wasn't until the last half mile that I wanted to lay down and cry. Oddly enough, I never ended up terribly sore from that run and actually felt recovered pretty quickly afterwards. Funny how proper (ish) training works.

Anyway, after the run I took The Colonel to pick up the moving truck so he and his friend could at least move the furniture from the apartment into the new house. All I really needed for them to do was move at least half of the sectional and maybe a mattress so I'd have a place to crash! We picked up the truck then I headed downtown to volunteer at bike and gear check in. It was 11 am and already warm but not too humid and I'm sure I looked like a total poser in my compression sleeves from the run but I was beyond excited. Ironman Louisville volunteers have quite the reputation so we were all there with bells on and met each individual athlete to take them through transition to set up and drop off their things. I met a lot of really interesting people and they were all in good spirits. Even the one extremely nervous guy who had me walk with him through transition twice and repeated the process out loud 5 times with me. I guess it worked because when we parted ways he finally said, "I think I'm excited!" The diversity of the athletes was unbelievable including a guy from Ukraine who hardly spoke English but was still very polite and thanked me for my help. It was a fast 4 hours out there and it wasn't until much later that night that I realized I hadn't peed all day. Never a good thing. When we finished our shift I went back to the apartment to eat lunch with the boys and help move a couple of things. I never really got hungry on Saturday which is another pretty bad sign so I ate half a sandwich and then got to work. I moved a few boxes and fragile pieces into the house then decided it was time for a nap around 5 or 6. I couldn't get comfortable and couldn't really sleep so after about 40 minutes I called it and got back up to move some more. We took the truck back around 7 and had gotten everything big over to the house. Huge thanks to the guys for taking care of everything! I tried to turn the house into something liveable before eventually getting to bed around 10:30. Tried to eat a little dinner but didn't want much and once again had trouble sleeping, waking up every hour at least.

My alarm went off around 5:45 on Sunday morning so we could get down to work in transition by 7. I nibbled some oatmeal then left to pick up Autumn. We got downtown with plenty of time to spare and ended up being assigned to the area just outside the changing tents to direct the men and women appropriately. In my opinion, one of the best jobs out there! It was a beautiful morning and it was so fun to watch the swimmers!

The pros made it out of the water in less than an hour and surprisingly (to me at least) so did a number of age groupers. Directing traffic into the tents wasn't too bad at first since they trickled in for a while and the pros are so quickly in and out it's like it never even happened. An hour after the start though things started to get really hectic! They started pouring in and they really felt like the 3300 athletes that had signed up! The men's tent started to get really crowded and hot (or so they said) so they decided to just change in the grassy area outside of the entrance. This made our job a lot harder as I played bouncer outside of the women's tent entrance so no one could sneak a peek of course and had to literally start waving my hands and jumping up and down so the women could spot me in the crowd and know where to go. I learned eye contact was key and once I locked eyes with one they would come towards me naturally and the other women around followed. For the first time in my life I wished I was taller so they could see me easier among the trees. A lot of men made the "I wanna go in the other tent!" joke but only one woman even pretended to be interested in switching sides. Can you blame her? Men are stinky! Among my many talents, I also learned I'm really good at dressing wet people in compression gear. I pulled down a lot of rolled up shirts and sleeves and managed most of them without losing a single gel or tablet out of the pockets. There's a lot to be said about learning on the fly! The chaos seemed to last for a long time but before we knew it the 3 hour shift was almost over. It was heartbreaking to watch the last swimmers fight their way in. Not everyone made the cut off but those last few finishers were in great spirits and got some major TLC from the volunteers since we were less swamped. When it was all said and done we'd gotten through our 3000+ athletes and reorganized their gear bags before taking a breather.

I scheduled us for 2 shifts but left a few hours between them so we wouldn't get too busy. Autumn and I went to Subway where I once again couldn't finish a sandwich and then relaxed for a bit near the bike in area. I was tracking several people and the app was good about estimating their time of arrival at transition and where they were on the course. Before we knew it Chris McDonald, who would eventually go on to win, came flying through and behind him in 9th place was our local hero and pro triathlete Mike Hermanson!

We saw a bunch more people come through including the guy standing up and peeing on his bike in front of us as he cruised in before heading to the finish line which was about a mile walk away. Along the way we saw a few more people we knew who had just started the run course and excessively cheered them on among others. We got to the finish line and it was already feeling electric with no one in sight.

Chris McDonald not only won but set a new course record of 8:21:34! That's around 4 minutes faster than the previous record and even though the humidity was down a bit, the weather was still no joke. We were finish line catchers so that meant we stood in line and as the athletes finished we greeted them with their medal and asked how they were feeling. It felt like forever before we really started getting finishers and just like in transition is started with a trickle but turned into a flood. Every athlete has a catcher so it was a fast moving line after a while. Medical staff and water are on hand right away in case anyone needs it and they all took water but luckily not all needed medical. Most held onto us or let us hold onto them so they could stay steady and a good number of them stopped in the second medical tent further down the chute to just sit for a minute. I did have one very scary moment with a woman I caught who was in really bad shape. I won't go into the details but it was a really surreal experience that reminded me how precious the human body is and that it's capable of great things but it also needs what it needs to achieve them. I was told she would be ok and made sure the medical staff got her medal, hat and tshirt to give to her when she came around. I was definitely shaken up afterwards but after catching a couple more finishers in much better shape I was feeling a lot better. I got a lot of hugs and a lot of thank yous which just amazed me.

I'm not sure why I was surprised by the gratitude the athletes expressed towards me or any of the volunteers. I know when I'm racing I thank everyone I come into contact with and always remember how helpful they were and am overwhelmed with gratitude but when the script is flipped I'm confused. It just seemed crazy that these people who were in the middle of what might be the greatest physical challenge of their lives would stop and take a second to say thank you to me, a mere mortal! If I could have thanked all of them for their inspiration and graciousness I would have. And in case you're an Ironman athlete out there reading this, don't worry if you weren't the nicest to a volunteer. We understand you're priorities and vocabulary are altered and nobody takes offense when you say, "Don't touch me!" or grab for water/sponges/food without saying please or thank you.

I went home Sunday night pretty spent which seemed silly since all I did was work a race, not race a race but I did have to keep in mind that I had put in a 12+ hour day in the heat too so maybe I did have some clout on tiredness. I skipped dinner entirely on Sunday and opted for sleep. I slept a little bit better but still not great and woke up feeling awful and with a serious Ironman hangover. I went into work and took the train to hydration station. I drank and drank but still didn't pee until late in the day so I skipped yesterday's 4 miles and just went to the volunteer appreciation dinner instead. The athletes had all signed a banner thanking us and it was so nice to see and feel really appreciated. Of course I didn't actually eat anything other than salad and a piece of garlic bread at the dinner since nothing else was vegetarian friendly (seriously?) but I still enjoyed myself and it was fun to watch the highlight videos. Barring any unforeseeable event I'll definitely be back next year to volunteer and if you're around, you should too!

1 comment:

  1. Oh man... I'm so jealous... I want to do exactly that next year. I have always wanted to work the transitions or finish line. Can't imagine the emotion...

    How awesome you are to give up your day... its the volunteers that make these events go so smoothly! Big high five to you!!!!