Monday, November 30, 2009

Motivational Movie Monday

Here's a fun motivational commercial featuring one of my favorite cyclists.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Race Day Jersey

I spent a little bit of time watching cyclists go by during the 2009 Arizona Ironman race last weekend. I was trying to determine what color jersey and helmet would stand out and be easy to spot on race day.

Most people wear different combinations of black, blue, red, and white - making people wearing those colors more difficult to spot. The only color that really seemed to stand out to me, was yellow. It didn't have to be a completely yellow jersey - just some yellow stripes were usually enough to make the jersey stand out. So my new mission is to find a race-day jersey with some yellow in it. Ideally the yellow will be up in the shoulder, sleeve, and chest area where it will be most visible while riding. I also don't want to wear a jersey that advertises for a different race or a cycling team.

Here's one I found online at that fits all of my criteria. It's also a racing cut jersey (tighter fit), so it might be perfect!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Volunteering at the 2009 Arizona Ironman - Third shift

After my second shift ended, I took the opportunity to go run a full loop of the run course. The marathon portion of IMAZ is a 3-loop course, so by running one loop, I was able to preview the whole course. It was a fun run because the course was all setup with cones, motivational signs, chalk drawings, and directional arrows, but no athletes. It was great to be able to see the full marathon course, exactly as it will be on race day next year.

My third and final shift on race day was from 7pm - 9pm.

I arrived around 6:30pm for my final volunteer shift of the day. I was expecting a relatively easy shift. My assumption was that there would just be a handful of volunteers 'standing guard' at the gate, making sure only athletes or people with the correct 'ticket' were allowed in to transition, and then checking again to make sure that that number on the gear bag matched the number on the wrist-band or ticket.

The reality was quite different. When I strolled over at 6:30pm, there was a HUGE line of athletes waiting to get their bags. I'm not sure if they were worried about a stampede, or theft, or maybe a combination of both, but the athletes (or their designates) were only being allowed into transition if they were escorted by a volunteer. So here's how it was working:
  1. Athletes lined up at the gate
  2. Volunteer checked the wristband on athletes, or tickets on non-athletes to ensure they were allowed to enter
  3. Each person had to wait until a volunteer could escort them in
  4. Another volunteer checked to make sure their race number matched the bag number when they left
So, I was one of several volunteers escorting folks to their bags.

About half of the people in line were athletes that raced that day. The other half were people with a ticket allowing them to pick up the bags for a specific athlete. I always tried to line up with and escort an athlete so I could talk to them about the day.

Whenever I escorted an athlete, I would ask them if they wanted to walk with me to get their bag, or if they wanted to wait by the exit and I would get it for them. It was about 50/50, with half asking me to please go get it for them because they were having trouble walking, and half saying that they wanted to walk or else they might stiffen up too much. Whenever they wanted to wait - I would run to get their stuff so they didn't have to wait too long. Whenever they wanted to walk, I would ask them how they did, if they ran into any problems, and congratulate them on their day.

Although it was slower when they wanted to walk, it was very cool to get to interview all of those athletes right after they finished an Ironman. I talked to one guy who was thrilled with his day even though he had three flats on the bike course, and only had enough equipment to change two flats. So he ended up waiting for the course mechanics to help him fix his third flat for almost 45 minutes! I walked with two different pros - one who finished 12th overall, and one who didn't even start the run because he said he was having such a bad day. I talked to several first timers, and just as many multiple-finishers. I got advice on everything from where to line up for the swim start, to what to put into my special needs bags, and what to eat before, during, and after the race! But the coolest thing was that every single athlete was so thankful for the help. And not just the help I was giving them, but the help they got all day from the 3000+ volunteers. It was very gratifying to receive thanks on behalf of all the volunteers that helped make the race happen

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Volunteering at the 2009 Arizona Ironman - Second shift

My second volunteer shift was immediately after the first.

9:30 - 12 noon:
By 9:30am, the transition area was clear of all athletes and everyone who was still racing was out on the bike course.

During the first transition, athletes come out of the water, take off their wetsuits, grab their bike gear-bag, and then change into cycling clothes. The wetsuit, goggles, towel, cap, and any other equipment or clothing from the swim get stuffed into the T1 bag and tossed in one of several large piles and bins.

Our job during this second shift was to clean out the changing tent and gear bags area of any trash or misplaced equipment. Then re-collect all 2500 T1 gear bags, and put them back in order from 1 - 2500 so the athletes would be able to recover them at the end of the day.

This shift wasn't nearly as fun as the first shift, but since there were so many volunteers, we had the tent cleared out, and all the gear bags in place and in order by 10:30am. Since nobody would finish the bike section of the course before noon, it meant the second shift was essentially over and all the transition area volunteers went and ate lunch together in the volunteer tent.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Volunteering at the 2009 Arizona Ironman - First shift

The 2009 Arizona Ironman was held on November 22 this year.

I volunteered to work in the transition area, handling Gear Bags

GEAR BAGS: Like Bikes, athletes are required to rack their gear in separate bags the day before the race. These bags will be checked in the day before the race as well as race day retrieval and assistance to the athletes with these transitions. Volunteers will help get athlete bags and help re-rack the bags so the athlete can retrieve it post-race.

All the gear bags, lined up and ready for racers

I signed up and worked three separate shifts on race day:

7am - 9:30am

The gear bags transition area is a mad house during the morning swim-to-bike transition. I specifically picked this time slot because I wanted a high energy, exciting volunteer job.

The race starts at 7am, and the transition area is right next to the swim start. So all the volunteers in the transition area walked over to the swim start to watch the start of the race. If you've never seen the start of an Ironman, it's definitely something to put on your to-do list. Over 2500 athletes are treading water, just waiting for the gun to go off. When it does, the relatively calm morning lake is quickly transformed into a churning, white water river with feet and elbows flying everywhere. It's really amazing.

Around 7:50am, the fastest swimmers start to come out of the water. These are mostly the pro athletes, and since there aren't too many of them, it's pretty easy to spot them as they come up the chute and have their gear bag ready as they run by.

At 8:10 it's starting to get really busy. Numbers are being yelled out by the volunteer with the bull-horn as we rush around trying to locate bags for each person as they come through.

By 8:20 - the age-group athletes are coming in 100's at a time. At this point, it's better to get out of the way and just point the athletes toward the right section because there are so many of them coming through at the same time. Luckily, this mad rush only lasts about 10 minutes, and then it slows down enough to be manageable again.

This video is taken during the 'rush'. Posted on YouTube by govenice

By 8:30, the massive wave of people has started to slow down a little, and over half of the bags have been handed out, making it easier to find bags for the remaining athletes.

At some point during the mass of people coming through during the last 10-15 minutes, one guy picked up his bag and went into the changing tent to get ready for the bike. Several minutes later, he came back out to the gear bags area in a bit of a panic because he was missing one of his cycling shoes. Our volunteer captain announced that we had an athlete missing a shoe, so all 30 of us quickly searched our area to see if maybe it fell out of his bag and was lying on the ground. Unfortunately, it was nowhere. We even started looking in the remaining bags to see if we could find a matching shoe - but no luck. I can still see the look on his face, and I remember thinking how that might just be the most horrible way to end an Ironman attempt. It was pretty clear that the shoe wasn't in the gear bag area - so I could only imagine two possibilities: 1) the guy didn't pack his shoe, or 2) some other athlete ended up with the shoe in his bag and brought it into the changing tent. So I immediately ran over to the changing tent and started scanning the floor for a single SIDI genius, size 10.5 shoe. After only 30 seconds of looking, I FOUND IT! I asked the guy standing next to the shoe if it was his, and it wasn't. Then I picked up the shoe and held it over my head. "Is this anyone's shoe?" I yelled. No reply. So I ran it back out to the gear bags area and shouted to the athlete, "Is this it?" His face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. I really felt like I saved his day. I wrote down his number (#837), so I could keep track of him online and make sure he finished (he did).

By 9am, most athletes are through transition and on the bike. The few athletes that are still coming through get lots of help because the ratio of volunteers to athletes is very good at this point.

9:20am is the swim cut-off. From transition, I can hear the announcer at the edge of the water encouraging the swimmers who are close to the stairs to hurry up and get out before their time runs out. Then he announces that the swim is cut-off. Anyone still in the water is DONE. After the cutoff, I took a rough count and there were around 40 gear bags still left in the transition area. That's 40 people who paid close to $600, and probably trained for the better part of a year, and didn't finish the swim.

Overall, it was an awesome experience. I only got yelled at by one athlete when I mis-heard his number and held up the wrong bag for him. I thought I heard 1054, but he was 1064. So I quickly switched bags and he was on his way. I didn't take it personal - he was jazzed and racing. Everyone else was very thankful and polite. And finding that shoe for #837 was the highlight of the morning.

Things I learned during the first shift:

  • Tie a ribbon or use bright colored tape on your gear bag so it's easy to spot. I'll probably be coming through transition during that 8:20-8:30 rush, and the bags with a ribbon tied on them were much easier to spot.

  • Go into the gear bags section in the morning before the race and figure out where your bag is (which aisle and which row) so you know exactly where to go after the swim.

  • Yell your number to the person with the bull-horn as you come through the chute. He'll relay it to the volunteers, and they'll have your bag off the ground and ready for you.

  • Pre-open sunscreen bottles before you pack them. I saw some athletes struggling to open the foil cap on new bottles of sunscreen.

  • Cinch the top of the bag closed to make sure nothing falls out. Around half of the bags were not cinched closed. I'm honestly surprised only one athlete lost an important piece of gear.

  • Stay calm and smooth going through transition. Some people were really acting like a chicken with their head cut off and it just made then slower, not faster. "Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Motivational Movie Monday

The countdown has started! I'm heading back over to the Arizona Ironman finish line area this morning to sign up for the 2010 race.

It may seem a bit crazy to take time off from work, vacation in Arizona, and wake up at 5am every single day of your vacation just to sign up for a race that costs over $500 to enter, and might take as long as 17hrs to finish. The truth is, it often seems crazy to me. But I've had this event in the back of my mind for over 20yrs. My first exposure to Ironman was back in the early 80's on a show called Wide World of Sports. Take a look back to 1982 and the televised race that started it all for me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting ready to get ready

It's less than two weeks until the 2009 Ironman Arizona race in Tempe Arizona.

For those that don't know, an Ironman is a combination of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run - all completed in one day, in 17hrs or less.

I'll be heading out with the whole family on Friday November 20th. Volunteering at this years event on Sunday, November 22nd. Then signing up for next years event on Monday, November 23rd.

The goals for this years Arizona trip include:
  • Sign up & pay for next year
  • Volunteer - handing out gear bags during the T1 transition
  • Book a hotel room near the event for 2010
  • Ride one loop of the bike course
  • Take a look at what food and drink is offered at the aid stations, and how efficiently the bike course hand-offs are made at aid stations and special needs
  • Scout the course for the best spectator spots
  • Figure out what athlete colors are easiest to spot on the bike and run course
  • Figure out how to keep the kids occupied and entertained during the race
  • Try to track an athlete using GPS to see how accurate it is
I've started to put together a loose annual plan. Roughly 4 -months of speed work, 4-months of distance work, then a much tighter schedule during the last 4-months specifically training for the 2010 Ironman Arizona event.