My life has been pretty boring without running and I have not done much blogging because there seemed to be no point without anything interesting to write about. This weekend that started to change.
My sister, Marcia, and I signed up last year as volunteers for the inaugural St. George Ironman Triathlon on May 1, 2010. I love volunteering at races because volunteers have helped me out so much at my own races in the past and I think it is critical that we give back to the athletic community.
Friday morning we headed out in a snowstorm (gotta love spring in Utah!) to go to St. George. When we got down there, we decided to check out some of the race sections. We first drove to Sand Hollow Reservoir where the swimming portion would be held. Tons of athletes were dropping off their bikes and we checked out where we would need to park in the morning.
After that, we drove most of the bike course, part of the marathon course, and checked out the race expo (pretty pathetic expo in my opinion). The bike and marathon courses were absolutely gorgeous, but we could tell why this was going to be the toughest Ironman course ever.
That evening, I ran from our hotel down to the park where the Finish area and T2 (bike to run) transition areas were located. We would be spending most of the next afternoon hanging around this lovely igloo.
Saturday morning came way too early when our alarms went off at 3:00 a.m. Shortly before 3:30 we headed off to Sand Hollow Reservoir. Marcia was going to sleep in the car and then watch the swim portion of the race. I was on the Dive team, mainly composed of Search and Rescue members. We were hoping to only be doing Rescue duties and no Search duties.
Can I tell you – it was very cold out? We had a couple of group meetings and then hung around freezing until it was time to load the boats. I was assigned as the helper on a Park Ranger boat with a hilarious diver named Ryan. Our main assignment was to follow along from the start of the race to the end, watching racers for signs of trouble, helping get racers that pulled out off of kayaks and surfboards, and then transfer them to boats assigned to get them to shore. If Ryan had to go into the water, then my job was to assist him in any way with his dive gear and not take my eyes off of him or the line attached to him until he was out of the water.
Luckily – no Search portion was needed. I did get to help learn how to get someone in and out of a dry suit – that is a lot of work and a 2 person job.
About 6:20 the boats, kayaks, and surfboarders all headed over from our dock to the swim area. We spread out to our assigned positions around the course. The sun came up around 6:30 – which gave us some hope of warmth because we were really cold on the water. We were really worried about the athletes because the water temperature was 53 degrees and some of them would be in for up to 2 hours and 20 minutes.
At 6:45 the professionals started the swim and zoomed off pretty quickly. At 7:00 there was a mass start of the non professionals. It immediately became apparent that some swimmers would really struggle. One lady from the beginning was fighting vertigo. Others would veer totally off course. Lots used the services of the kayaks and boards to rest and catch their breath before heading off (they could assist as long as their was no forward motion).
Our first rescue came about 7:30 a.m. A boarder raised her hand and we went over and got Jean (about 75) off the board. She was so hypothermic that she couldn’t stop shaking and the guys had to carry her to a seat. I wrapped her in a blanket and put my gloves on her poor feet and just tried to rub her and give her any body heat I could while she sat there spasming. We got her onto a transfer boat after about 10 minutes and then went back to work.
We had one more rescue about 8:30 of another older athlete named Bob. He was pretty hypothermic (not as bad as Jean), but his biggest problem was cramping, he couldn’t straighten his legs or move his feet.
It was interesting listening to the announcer and watching the final athletes try to make it before the 9:20 cutoff. They apparently dragged one final swimmer out as the horn went off and two others didn’t make it in time, but still finished the swim. All in all, I think the boats rescued about 20 swimmers. Marcia said a lot were hypothermic coming out of the water and many told me it took them a half hour or more before they could move enough to get on their bikes.
I ran about 1 1/2 miles back to the parking lot to meet Marcia and then we headed off for part 2 of the adventure.
We were scheduled to help out in the afternoon in the Women’s changing tent at the T2 bike to run transition area. Before the first woman competitor came in, we hang around and watched them finish the preparations for this crucial area.
There were about 6 teams in this area:
Bike catchers (the athletes would jump off their bikes and just shove them and someone would catch the bike and go hang it in the proper slot on the huge section of bike racks).
Bag grabbers (as the athlete would approach transition their number would be called out and this team had to find their bag among 2100 bags and get it over to the athlete).
Men and Women dressing area assistants.
Suntan lotion slatherers.
Oh – and the portapotties were critical here. 🙂
It was pretty amusing to watch the panic when the first professional was about 15 minutes out and the generator ran out of gas. The collapsing bike transition banner was pretty funny.
Pretty soon the excitement ratcheted up as we heard the roars as the leader came into town. This is a picture of Michael Weiss (of Austria and Colorado) coming off his bike and heading into the changing area.
Incredibly enough, he hit the portapotties and headed out for the marathon in less than a minutes time!
Things started hopping in our area after that. We were very excited when Heather Wurtele of Canada was the first woman into the changing area. She made a quick transition and was out of there and then it was about 17 minutes before the next two athletes came through.
Our transition team involved the following: Some of us would wait until a female athlete came through the bag area and then one of us would run alongside her helping with her bag and hat as they started stripping off gear and guide her to the changing room. In that room we would then help dump her bag and help (if they wanted help)them as needed to get out of biking gear, get on running gear, gather their planned equipment and head off on the marathon. A lot of psychological, cheering, providing water, slathering on sun screen, guiding them where to go, etc.
Once the final cut-off for the bike portion passed, we were exhausted and decided we had been involved enough and crawled back to our hotel and into bed.
Incredible day with lots of excitement and awesome athletes. I’m sure glad it was yesterday because today there were 30 to 40 mph winds and it would have been a killer on athletes that were already being pushed past their limits.