Although I know that completing an Ironman isn’t on many peoples to do list, I strongly believe that volunteering at one should be. In July 2016 I traveled to Lake Placid to watch the race, spend some time among the athletes and volunteer on the course. It’s a kind of tradition to go up and volunteer the year before you race, it also gives you preferred entry into next years race. For my part I wanted to be in that space, and feel the energy of the race, and look in the faces of the people who were accomplishing what I was hoping for.
The day of the race started for me walking with my aunt to watch the swim start. 6:30 in the morning the cannon went off for the pro females to start their swim. Shortly after the handicapped athletes get in the water, then the rest of them, wave after wave of everyday athletes filing into the water to start a race that ends 140.6 miles later.
The entire day was a roller coaster of emotion and it all started with that first cannon and the knowledge that one year from that day I would be on the other side of the barrier. Every athlete is allowed two hours and twenty minutes to complete the 2.4 mile swim, I stayed at the water and cheered and watched until the last person came out of the water to get ready for the 112 mile bike course. Watching the Professional athletes glide through the water is a thing of beauty, they work so hard and at the same time make it look so easy. However there is nothing that has stayed with me more from that morning than the woman I watched come out of the water right around the two hour mark. She thought she had missed the time cut off, and when the volunteers assured her she had 20 minutes to spare, she screamed in pure joy before taking off towards the bikes. Racing to win takes so much strength and training and commitment, but entering a race where you know it is going to take everything in you just to finish takes a level of bravery that I hope someday to aspire to.
I spent the rest of the day filled with awe, amazement and envy. I also spent the afternoon with quick trip to the emergency room but that is a whole other story. I chose to volunteer on the marathon course. Running is my first love so that is where I wanted to be for the majority of the race. I watched athlete after athlete run, walk, or shuffle by our volunteer station and wanted to know each of their stories. I wish I could have asked them what led them to take on this challenge and how did they know they were ready? I saw several blind athletes competing with guides. I saw people running past our station with the stony look of pure determination. I saw people moving forward when everything in their body seemed to be saying Stop and rest.
At the end of my volunteer time, I made my way to the finish line, it was a little after 10pm and the race ends at midnight. These are my people finishing the race, the ones who know everything has to go just right to make it across that line in time. Watching those last two hours of the race will stay with me forever, it was a culmination of everything I love about running and racing and the community behind it. The people that entered that oval and kept their bodies moving by pure will, you could see it by the look on their face. People who continued to move forward even when the clock had run out, committed to finishing the distance.
This post would be a book if I filled in all the incredible stories that I experienced that day, if you ever want hear the whole story, buy me a cup of coffee, clear out the rest of your day, and ask me about the time I volunteered at the Ironman.
The next morning I got up bright and early and made my way down town once again. I lined up with the other future Ironman hopefuls and put my name on the dotted line. One year from that day I would be in that same place but I would be on the other side of everything I saw and felt, I would be the one traveling 140.6 miles to glory.
Everyone should volunteer at an Ironman, it gives you a view of the best side of people, watching everyday normal people giving every piece of themselves to cross that finish line, you can’t help but feel inspired. I promise you, when you volunteer, you will walk away wanting to do the race, wanting to feel all of it for yourself.