Two weeks ago The Woodlands hosted the inaugural Ironman Texas. Talk about exciting! I live 10 minutes from the start and finish of the race, so naturally I had to participate in some way. So, I volunteered!
I really wanted to help out during the week and on race day, but my work schedule didn’t allow for it. I thought about using a PTO day or two, but things are crazy and I didn’t want to be out of the office. So, I opted to help out only on race day. My assignment was aid station #9 and our goal was to keep the athletes properly hydrated and give fuel like oranges and pretzels when needed. We were originally supposed to report for duty at 10:30 am, but that changed to 11:30 am since runners weren’t expected to hit the run portion of the race until at least noon. I met up with tri-buddy, Kelly, and one of her teammates, Shannon, at a local restaurant and we talked about what else? Triathlons!
When we made it to the aid station, we helped set up a variety of things:
Power Bar Perform (sports drink)
Cheese balls (you know, the puffy snack kind…kinda strange, but whatever!)
Power Bar gels
Power Bars (which we sliced into about 5 pieces to hand out)
Once we were all set up, we had a little time to hang out. This was perfect, because the men leading on the bike were about to come in! Chris Lieto was 1st off the bike:
It was exciting stuff watching the pros dismount their bikes and then head out on the run! Most of them took water, but there were a few who wanted Perform and soda. At some point, we watched the leaders pass a 2nd time and were surprised that we never saw Chris Lieto again. Later, we heard that he had some Achilles issues and pulled out of the race. But it was awesome seeing some of the pros run by with the leaders were escorted by bikes.
Here's the aid station I worked at - can you tell everyone is ready to help? In fact, the question we constantly asked - "What do you need?".
Here's Scotland's Catriona Morrison heading out on the run - she went on to win the women's race:
Here's Kelly and me ready to help:
My shift ended at 2:30, so Kelly and I headed over to the finish line where it was just a matter of minutes before the pros would be finishing up. Seeing the pros finish was amazing – Spain's Eneko Llanos came in first with a time of 8:09 and some change. Terry O’Donnell from the US came in 2nd and carried an American flag down the chute. The crowds went wild and the energy at the finish line was incredible.
Next, I had to head home for a few hours for a neighborhood block party. When I returned to the race, I saw a facebook post that said one of my blogger buddies, Jessica, was about 3 miles from the finish. I headed over to watch and saw quite a few folks I recognized from the local training groups finishing up. To me, this was so much more exciting – seeing “normal” people finishing the race and hearing Mike Reilly say, “John Smith – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!”
After watching Jessica finish up, I headed over to the aid station again. The vibe I felt on the route, was much different than the one over at the finish line. In fact, I told my hubby that it seemed more like a war zone. I saw one guy stop on the side of the road to empty his stomach (yuck, but it does happen!), another guy was stretching at the curb and lots of people were doing what I call the “survival shuffle”, where you are tired and just putting one foot in front of the other in an effort to just finish. But hey, an Ironman ain't easy, right?
At the aid station, there were lots of requests for soda and water. The calls for ice were rare, as were the requests for gels and perform. I think by this point, most folks were all gel-ed out. We did have a few requests for broth, which must have been added to the aid station later in the day. What I found amazing is how no matter how exhausted the athletes appeared to be, they were all so appreciative of our support. Many said thanks and a lot said “Thanks so much for volunteering out here”. I wanted to tell them thanks – thanks for being such an inspiration. We gave lots of encouragement – lots of shouts of “way to go”, “stay strong”, and lots of clapping…by the end of the night my voice was getting a little raspy.
My shift ended at 11:30, so we (Kelly, Melissa and I) headed over to the finish line again. This was truly inspiring! It was great to see the folks we had just seen 2 or 3 times at the aid station finishing the race. Some had huge smiles, some were crying and many were running as fast as they could. Some folks gave the crowd high fives, one man did the airplane arms and one practically skipped down the chute. The music was blaring, the crowd was dancing and slapping the sponsor signs that line the chute. The air was noisy and full of energy…it was amazing! Finally, a guy finished with about 2 minutes left on the clock. We anxiously awaited the final finisher…..
And nothing. The clock hit 17:00:00. That was it. Sorta anti-climatic.
About 7 minutes later, as spectators were beginning to leave, we could hear the crowds grow louder. There was an athlete coming! Okay, so it was after the 17 hour cut-off, but it was still exciting. The crowd went wild and the guy had a huge smile on his face. Now that was the ending we were hoping for!
After the race, I found my fellow blogger and friend, Vic. He had a tough race with some back issues, but still did an awesome job! As we were leaving we stopped to talk to some folks for a minute and saw a bike headlight coming toward us….it was another athlete! The man on the bike in front of the woman told us that her name was Ali. Next, Ali came by running at a pretty good clip. Behind her were 6 medical guys on bikes – they were lined up in 3 rows of 2. It was pretty cool to see. We cheered for her and as she made her way around the circle and to the finish line, we ran next to her (from behind the barracades of course) and shouted cheers along the way. She finished the distance and even received a medal….Ali, you may not have made the cut-off, but to those of us who were out there – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!!!!!
Talk about the perfect ending to an awesome day! AMAZING!