Wednesday, May 21, 2014

IMTX 2014- Volunteer Experience

       So Friday of last week was my birthday (27- my favorite number!) and I decided to spend my birthday weekend doing some strategic planning. My boyfriend and I drove to Houston Friday night to spend some time with a friend of mine, and then woke up early Saturday morning to head to The Woodlands, TX to volunteer for IMTX. I signed us up for Run Station #4 (Team RWB's station!) during the 10a-2:30 time slot, but since the swim is the part of next year's race I am most apprehensive about, I wanted to get there in time to see it. I have never done a mass start triathlon before, much less one with 3,000 participants. There are videos on YouTube, but nothing substitutes for the real thing- getting a lay of the land, seeing how the gears turn, etc. 

       Unfortunately, even at 5:30am on a Saturday, there was of course traffic on I-45. We got around it and used my skills at backroads to avoid the traffic and road closures, parking at a middle school near where our volunteer station would be. The swim start was at 7am, and I set out power walking from a mile away right at 6:50. I knew I would miss the start, which was a bummer, but I wanted to at least see the course and how the start was laid out. I got there just in time to see the back of the pack reaching the first buoy, so I still got a great feel for how it all worked.  

The swim start after participants had taken off. 
        Having never done a mass start, I'm already- a year out- trying to strategize my morning. I was relieved to see parts of the start were shallow enough to stand, as I have had problems at past tris starting form treading water (just hard to hit my rhythm!). This year's race was also the very first time in the race's history that wetsuits were legal, adding a whole other layer to the game. My awesome boyfriend actually got me a wetsuit for my birthday- a great Zoot full body sleeveless number- and I'm looking forward to testing it out. I am a strong swimmer, but when cold water hits my chest, I lose power trying to remember to breath. And by "cold" water, I mean mildly chilly, because I am a weenie when it comes to water. I may trade in my current suit for a Tri Suit, and purchase a wetsuit later since in Texas it's already well past wetsuit weather just in the past week, but I will definitely be investing in one before this race, and possibly before my 70.3 in September.

     As far as starting goes, from the videos, it looks like a good way to get your face busted. I know mass starts are part of the Ironman tradition, but I am humble enough to know I would absolutely not have my best swim starting up front. I am thinking it will be good to find somewhere middle-to-back in a place I can touch and go from there. I am aggressive, and definitely hit back when jerks try to swim over me or continually hit my face (I never start it because hey! you are only saving a few seconds and you are a jerk!) so as long as I can have a calmer start with a bit of space, I feel good about being able to catch up with those of my pace and get a good split. 

Under Gibbons Mill Bridge
        The first 3,000 yards or so of the swim is nothing spectacular. Lake Woodlands is a man-made lake with no major current from any rivers (just a natural current from the creek it dams) and although it is wide, it's manageable. However, the last part of the swim is what makes it super cool. Rather than returning to the start, swimmers turn down a canal and finish at the end of it. The water gets choppy from sheer numbers of flapping arms, but it didn't seem as overwhelming as some race reports I have read made it out to be. It was awesome for spectating though- so many great places to stand where you were merely feet from athletes, cheering them on. 

Condos and apartments line the swim course, and residents wake up early to start the party.

     Another great feature about IMTX is how spectator friendly it is in general. Much like the Boston Marathon, the day is treated by many residents as a party, and even if someone doesn't have an athlete in the stakes, they come out and make noise anyhow. 

My view from on the bridge of age groupers as they began to pass.

Some of the first swimmers, trailing the pros. 

The crowd around the finish, watching swimmers race to transition.
    The crowd was too big for me to get a clear idea of exactly how transition worked, but it looked like athletes started at the bottom of the hill, stripped their wetsuits and got their bags from volunteers, and then ran up the hill to the bike corrals. 

So many bikes! I was loving the pink one on the left.
        Watching people come out of the swim to their bikes was fun! We saw one female racer run up to her boyfriend who was standing near us to give him a quick kiss. He yelled after her as she ran off that if she lost because of that, he'd leave her. I'm only pretty sure  he was kidding. Hope she finished well!

        After the field was out on the bike course, we headed to HEB to grab some breakfast and then started to make our way to our volunteer station. I wanted to check out the market and expo, but no one seemed to know where it was exactly, and we didn't have enough time to get lost. Also, I didn't have money to spend on all the stuff I'd want to buy, so it was probably for the best! 

      We basically completed our lap around Lake Woodlands to end up at our run course spot. The course itself is along the trail around the lake, and mostly shaded. This is great news, since the race is historically way, way too hot to be racing a marathon. But, you pay $700 for a race, you run in whatever weather comes, so some breaks in the shade are great news.

Us in our day-goo bright orange volunteer shirts. I spotted a lot of people who had my hat on from the Austin 70.3!

     The aid stations were instructed to be set up by 11am, so we got to prepping. We filled baby pools with ice and stocked them with coke, Powerade, sponges, and water. We chopped bananas and popped grapes off the vine. The race buys enough for volunteers to snack on too, which was great, because all my power walking had made me pretty hungry! 

Yummy spread ready to go- cookies, grapes, bananas, oranges, pretzels, bonk breakers, and potato chips.
       Working with the others, mostly from Team RWB, was a lot of fun. Everyone knew that we were playing an important role, so we all just grabbed something to do and got to it! We were set up well within the requested time, only to find out that the race leader actually wouldn't be reaching us until about noon. Oh well- nap time!

A great couple of signs I saw on the way to our station- never trust an Ironman Fart!

      Eventually, race officials on mules came by to tell us the race leader was getting close. From where we sat, we were next to the road at mile 110 of the course, so we all hopped up and stood closer to cheer the leaders. 

Official time truck passing by.

     The race leader zipped by right behind the time truck with a good 4 minute lead on his competitors. We knew from our position he would be there within 20mins, so we got busy making sure we had cold beverages ready to go.

Bike leg leader passing by. He would later be overcome on the run by the winner.
     Now, when it comes to volunteer stations, I have only ever been on the receiving end, but I knew what to do to not make anyone made, especially an olympic athlete. I held out my drink offerings, yelling clearly what I had. My engineer of a boyfriend had the great idea to hold a full bottle in his other hand for clarification. I did have to let him know that his idea was probably in vain, as seeing clearly and comprehending visual cues becomes really hard when you're that tired. The athletes were great about yelling for what they wanted, which grossly enough to me, was lots and lots of Coke. I don't care how hot and tired I am, I have never, ever found soda refreshing, but hey, they're the pros!

Race winner Bevon Docherty passing by on loop one. I'm impressed he didn't punch the spray-bottle lady, because I sure wanted to!
     It was really, really cool getting to help the pros out and seeing them race up close. These people are world champions and Olympic athletes, and us being ready to give them what they needed was crucial to them having a good race. I did get a little proprietary and bossy with a lady one time- she was spraying people with a misting bottle as they passed. Yes, it was a bajillion degrees out and sunny and yes, they were hot, but there is almost nothing worse than getting water on your sunglasses or soaking your shoes. When a race is hot, you're already wet, and have nothing to dry yourself with, so please, well-intentioned race fans, keep your mist to yourself unless we say please!

       About an hour in to the run, I realized we only had one sponge station, so I started my own (no one wanted my gross orange drink I had to offer anyhow). I grabbed a bucket and filled it with ice water and began soaking sponges in it and handing it out. I became much more popular! I couldn't keep up with the demand, and I and others were jogging down the course a bit, picking up the discarded ones to reuse. Completely sanitary? Nah. Do Ironmen care? Nope. Just gimmie the cold, cold water on my hot, hot shoulders!

     Our shift ended well before the end of the race. While I would have loved to watch the winners, we needed to get back to Austin and to our doggies, so we headed out. 

      I feel so much better about next year's race. Now that I have seen the course in action, I won't spend too much time obsessively studying maps and searching for videos, and can instead focus on personal improvement. I can't wait to earn one of these!
My new contender for coolest medal ever, next to the Austin Marathon one.

        I have a long way to go, but a good while to get there. Next year's race will be on my 28th birthday, which is so exciting for me. What a way to celebrate! I have been saving for the race fee since last  November, but I just couldn't wait anymore, so I paid what I had in savings, plus a little smidgen on my credit card (which my last savings will pay off next paycheck- whew!) and registered! 
It's official and no refunds- eeeek!

       Between now and then I have a Half Ironman in Onalaska, bike tours, Tri Waco olympic distance, a duathlon with the Esprit de She series, and the BCS marathon, as well as more half marathons and other events I won't be able to resist during training I'm sure. The anticipation is killing me, but hopefully it will make me work harder and get even stronger so that I am more than ready when the day gets here. 

      If you get the chance, volunteer for an event- big or small- and be involved! It is rewarding to help people of all levels as they face the biggest challenge of their athletic lives, and hopefully the good karma you store up comes back to help out when you're the one who needs an icy sponge!

See you in 2015, IMTX!

Austin locals- contact me about this great deal and help out Austin Pets Alive!!

Don't forget- coming up on June 3 is the showing of Half the Road: The Passion, Pitfalls, and Power of Professional Women's Cycling. Reserve your ticket today!

  Don't forget about my Reason 2 Race! Help out pets in need!

This blog is following my training as I get ready for the Athleta eSprit de She event season. Three events happen in Texas, the Duathlon in Dallasthe Katy 5k & 10k, and the Cycle Tour in Austin. I'll be doing Austin and Dallas, come join the fun! Enter Comp Code EDS57 for the chance to win some cool prizes!

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