Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Volunteer Report: IM Boulder 2014

All week this was a slight twinge of regret to not be participating in the inaugural Ironman event in Boulder. In addition to being the city where I attended college, I have done considerable training and racing in the area and have always been proud of its status as a triathlon and cycling Mecca.


Fortunately, I was participating as a volunteer so while not at all like being an athlete, it still gave me some great perspective on the event, most notably the finish.


Way back in January or February of this year, my brother Ted and I both decided that we wanted to participate in the 2015 version of this event. While it might not sell out right away, it could. Sometimes a race gains enough momentum and the next thing you know, half the state wants to participate. One sure way to get a top spot in line (and not pay out the steep fee for a foundation spot) is to serve as a volunteer at the race.


We signed up early which means we had lots of choices for which job we wanted. Some are definitely more desirable than others. We ended up going with finish line responsibilities including handing out medals, finishers shirts and, as it turned out, a lot of bottled water.


Months went by but soon the day of the race had arrived. In the weeks leading up to it, I received regular updates from our volunteer “captains.” These are folks who are in charge of a particular area. For example, an aid station on the course would have a captain or two in charge. This was also true for the finish area. Patrick and Sandy were our captains and they were great. They showed a lot of flexibility with us and always expressed their appreciation at our willingness to help out. They were positive upbeat and respected that fact that folks chose to be here. Yes, were getting a priority registration place, but that’s still not the same as being paid.


On race afternoon, much of Boulder was shut down to accommodate the 3000 or so cyclists coming back into town at the end of their 112 mile trek that had taken them way north and then off to the east before coming back into town. That, of course, greatly restricted vehicle traffic. Ted and I opted to park about a mile or so out and ride our bikes to the Pearl Street area.


If you’re not familiar with Boulder,Pearl Street is a four block pedestrian mall right in the middle of downtown and less than a mile from theUniversity of Colorado campus. The area is home to several restaurants, bars and shops and on warmer days is dotted with street performers with varying degrees of talent.


We found a rack to lock our bikes and after some wandering around, finally figured out where we were supposed to be. We met our captains and in short order, we were folding finisher t-shirts and placing then inside finisher hats. These had to be arranged on tables (and once they were full into large boxes) so that they could be handed to athletes quickly upon their crossing the line. No one wants to rush someone who just finished such a race, but on the other hand, you do want them to keep moving through the area so that nothing backs up and messes up the finish for those coming up behind them.


Once the t-shirts were more or less ready, we found ourselves handing out water bottles to a lot of the other volunteers in the area. Of particular note were the photographers who had been out covering the event on motos. It was not the hottest of August days at 85* or so, but it was warm, more so on the black-top.


We started adding bottles to two giant tubs by the case load and then covering them with bags and bags of ice. As they sat directly in the sun, it did not take long for these to turn into an ice bath. Having finished some hard races, there’s nothing quite like having a bottle of really cold water handed to you upon right after crossing the line. My goal for the day was to make sure no one was handed a bottle of warm water.


The master race clock over the finish line had now passed the 8 hour mark those of us in the area were stealing glances down the finishing chute, looking for the winner. After what seemed like any awfully long wait, he finally came into view.


As the athletes approached the finish line, they climbed up a slight rise and went around a gentle turn on 13thStreet with the arch sitting about a block south of the mall. Those factors, combined with the Ironman branding on the fencing created a dramatic effect. I can only imagine how it must have looked from the perspective of a finisher.


Despite leading for most of the race,Richie Cunningham had yielded his lead around the halfway mark of the run. As a result, Boulder residentJustin Daerr was the man in front at the finish. In fact, he was way out in front. True to form, veteran race emcee Mike Reilly created all of the drama appropriate for the moment. Daerr had tried for years to win an Ironman event and this was his first. There was quite a crowd, but I got a couple of shots of his approach:



I was not in position to get any pictures of the first women’s finisher, Danielle Kehoe but I did hear her interview with Reilly and she was great. As has been documented in Slow Twitch and several other places, she came out of the water dead last among the pros yet still managed to rally back on the bike and run to win the overall race. She talked about that and told the crowd that if you ever think you’re out of a race, you can always make up the time. That could not be truer than it is in a race of 140.6 miles. It also makes a good point about the importance of pacing not only within discipline but among all three.


Gradually, more pros crossed the line, followed by the leading edge of age-groupers. The latter group continued to grow and soon I found myself either handing someone a water bottle or dumping more cases of bottles into our tubs. We made multiple runs for ice from a trailer about half a block away and while we always seemed to have an adequate supply, I also felt like I was going through it rapidly.


In addition to water, I also took a turn at handing out medals. It was a privilege to congratulate a finisher on their accomplishment, but I think most people I saw were far more grateful for the water!


Since, like so many other races, your name is printed on your race bib, I was able to call most finishers by name as I handed them a bottle. A few were too out of it to acknowledge anything but some said thanks and appeared to be happy to be done. There was a small handful that had to be escorted down to the medical tent. Fortunately it did not appear that anyone was in extremely serious condition. I’ve not heard about anything else happening out on the course so my fingers are crossed that this one went off without serious injury or illness.


Faster than I might have thought our five hour shift at the line ended and it was time for us to ride back to the car and then meet our wives for dinner. I regrettably did not get to see my coach or a couple of friends finish but that’s okay. I did track a couple of people during the day and I felt like I was with them in spirit if not in body.


The day ended with a return to our hotel in nearby Broomfield but the end of the day is not the end of the story. There’s a reason we stayed nearby Sunday night. Ted and I were up early Monday morning.


That however, is a subject for my next post.


Thanks for reading!

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