Monday, May 21, 2012

My First Triathlon Experience - As a Volunteer

On Saturday I got up at 4:30 am. Not for a race I was running in, but to head out to Team Magic's Cedars of Lebanon Triathlon to volunteer.

I wanted to volunteer for a Tri before actually completing my first one to take some of the mystery out of my own race day. It was my first time being on the volunteer side of a race and it was actually really fun even though I didn't I went out by myself. I could see myself volunteering for other races in the future - it was that fun!

Since they were short a few volunteers, I did a variety of jobs - from unloading post-race food from cars, to body marking participants, to directing racers on the run, and helping break down the finish line and transition area after the race.

Body marking was actually a fun job - I mean actually getting to write on people's skin with a permanent marker? Awesome!

Tip #1 (especially for the ladies): shave the night before or morning of the race. I know this seems like common hygiene sense, but I am not really one to shave my legs every day (men, of course, you aren't required to shave - lucky!) and I feel it would be a little less awkward to let someone mark me up if I have smooth legs!

Back of the transition area just before the start of the race.
Another mental note I took was to not unrack my bike from my car until I've picked up my packet and have my credentials to enter the transition area. At most races only participants are allowed in the transition area. At this race if you hadn't picked up your packet yet, you had to go down to the pool deck to get your race packet, thus passing transition and then back tracking. Something small, but a detail that can make race morning go smoother.

Just before the race started, I moved to my place where I would be for the race. I was stationed at the run exit/finish entrance to direct racers where to go as they exited and then again when they came in for the finish line. So in my opinion, I got to see one of the best parts of the race - after they get off the bike and are starting the run. Most racers Saturday looked really strong, so I have high hopes with my upcoming bricks planned I will perform similarly in my own race.

So, for each runner that came out of T2, I would say something like "stay left, in between the cones". I even had an official looking vest AND a flag (too bad no picture evidence). Surprisingly there were about half a dozen racers that tried to turn right even though A) I verbally said left to everyone and B) I was blocking the right exit AND there was a sign with an arrow pointing left. Goes to show you how discombobulated you can get during a race!

Another funny story was the lead racer coming back from the turnaround on the run. He goes, "I thought this course was flat!" It was funny to see even the fastest guy out on the course making jokes and having a good time. I think that's one of the things I enjoyed most about volunteering - seeing all of these participants, whether they were the lead of the pack, middle of the pack or the last racer on the course, having fun, smiling, and accomplishing a goal they set out to do.

The final racer was a man who had a double leg amputation. His wife and son had been waiting for him near the finish line and the race staff had given them permission for his son (around 3 or 4) to run the finish line with him. I still get tears thinking about this moment in the race - it was so special to witness him taking his son by the hand as they crossed the finish line.

Another Tip  - As one of the race participants was leaving I asked why a lot of people brought their stuff in those large plastic painter's buckets. He was so kind to indulge me by describing how 1) it's helpful to sit on when putting your shoes on and 2) you can throw your gear in it as you finish each leg so you can keep everything organized. So say after your swim leg, you put your shoes on (while sitting on the bucket) then you flip it over and throw your goggles and swim cap in it. It was a helpful hint I think I'll use.

He also told me to only compete with myself at my race - don't compete with others on the course. A good reminder to run my own race.

All in all it made me super excited for my own race - although I'm only 2 weeks into training, I feel ready. I know by time July 21st rolls around I will be ready to accomplish the distance. Oh, and next time you participate in a race - thank a volunteer. It felt good when people thanked me as they walked to their cars!


Ailed said...

I ran my first triathlon a week ago and one tip i can't express enough is to have something to help identify your bike on the rack. I had a helium ballon and in a sea of bikes it make it easy to spot which one was mine. Oh and mentally go through the race several time because I developed a serious case of race amnesia and had it not been for visualizing I would have been a lost duck. Enjoy the race!

Lisa said...

Longtime reader, first time commenter.

If you're going to judge racers by whether their grooming choices (shaved legs) meet your standards, maybe you're better off not having hands-on contact with them.

It makes me sad and angry to read women so blithely judging other women by how decorative the judgers deem the judgees, especially in a context that's about objective performance and not subjective preference.

Big Life, Little Blog said...

Lisa - thank you for commenting. I wish you would have left your email address so I could reply properly as I hate the way the Blogger platform replies to comments. Anyway...

My observation of the leg shaving was purely out of my own insecurities of not wanting to be judged for my own prickly legs when someone I don't know gets up close and personal with them. I could care less who shaves or doesn't shave their legs, *I* just don't want to be in a situation where a stranger touches my leg and it has a week of hair growth on it - my person preference for MYSELF.

Maybe I wasn't completely clear in the way I wrote this out, but I in no way thought anything about whether people had shaven or unshaven legs and the only thing that made me think of this tip for myself was actually a man who had stubble on his legs and reminded me of my own unshaven legs. Again, I think since I directed it at the "ladies" your comment was triggered honestly; however, you have passed judgment on me by jumping to an assumption of what my opinion was on the matter, which I did not write and is not at all what I thought.

kate schmate said...

This is a GREAT recap and what a cool experience. So fascinating, since I've never seen (only heard) about triathalon experiences. I love the bucket idea!! (You can borrow a bucket from me if you need one!!)

Just going to share a random story... I had an old coworker who was an avid marathoner, and she told me a story about one of her first triathalons. She competed with her husband, and after it was over, she told him what a bad time she had during the swimming portion. Apparently someone had pushed her down while swimming, and she was frustrated. Her husband replies, "Yeah, you were going too slow! You were in my way." He had pushed her down! Needless to say, they are no longer married...... ;)

Diana P. said...

Awesome idea to get familiar with the process of triathlons by volunteering!!! One thing that is different for various races is when it's best to unrack your bike. For the Wet Dog, you actually may want to bring your stuff from the car right away and then go pick up your packet. The way they do it there is transition area racks are 1st come, 1st serve, not by expected time or anything, so if you go there directly, you can pick your spot more freely. Also, pretty much anyone can go into the transition area before and after the race there, so not having your packet yet won't be a problem.

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