Saturday, December 5, 2009

IMAZ Spectator Report, part 7

Spectating is harder than it looks! After watching the athletes go off on the swim, we walked down from the bridge to the water. Already there were swimmers struggling, and it was the start of many tears for me. It just hit me so hard, watching them swim, then having to stop and rest already. There are many, many hours to go. And I do understand there are a ton of triathletes that have a really hard time with the swim. Growing up a swimmer and spending a lot of time in the water, both in the pool, and later in rivers as a whitewater kayaker, I'm really comfortable. But I do understand the panic and anxiety some triathletes have to fight through. And it was just so heroic- that's the best word I've come up with to describe how Ironman athletes are. And having such close access- they are not even 5 feet away, so you can make eye contact and they can hear you cheering. It was very emotional. I was glad when our group decided to head back to the swim exit to see if we could get close to watch the T3ers get out of the water.

Our volunteer T shirts got us access everywhere, which was super cool. We waited around and watched the pros come up, then the melee began. A ton of athletes were getting out about the hour, 1.5 hour mark. Wetsuit strippers were in action- if you look at the left side of the picture, you can see the force with which the strippers pull off the wetsuits. And the chaos. The medical volunteers were around with blankets to escort hypothermic swimmers into the medical tent to warm up with heaters and warm broth. There were a lot more cold people than they first expected, and one of the head volunteers sent a couple of us to the transition changing tents to retrieve blankets. They didn't have enough cloth blankets and started using the foil reflective blankets, which were on a big roll in the changing tents. That was one of the few areas where it seems the organizers didn't plan as well.

After watching the T3ers get out, we were hungry and went to Tavern on Mill which is a bar that was doing some brisk breakfast business. We had the fair to middling buffet and afterwards we wandered around a little, and then headed over to the VIP tent. One of the Austin triathletes was a member of the Ironman Executive Challenge, which I never did figure out exactly what that meant. He did get passes to the VIP tent so he gave them to Chris and Kevin, who along with Natalie who was volunteering there, were able to get all five of us in. They had some nice Ikea couches with blankets, which we promptly took over and I had a nice little snooze. Spectating is hard work I tell you!

After the break, we headed over to the "hot corner" to watch the cyclists. The hot corner is where the bike course turnaround is, plus a turn on the run course. So if you want to camp out in one place all you, you can see most of the action. People were geared up for this, almost like a tailgate party for the most prepared. We pulled out of cowbells and yelled at everyone passing by for about a while, catching most of the T3ers as they finished their first loop. It had really warmed up, and once we ran out of water, we tried to get back into the VIP tent, but it was a no go. Only Chris and Kevin with their special VIP badges could get in. The rest of us went to hang out in the volunteer food tent, which was still pretty nice, with free pizza and sodas for the volunteers. And wearing out volunteer T shirts still got us in, even though our shifts had been over for hours.

We relaxed a bit, hanging out, and chatting, then wandered around a bit more. The transition area was hopping again, and the process for taking the bikes in was pretty cool to watch. The top of the line grabbed the bikes from the athletes and passed them off to other volunteers who read the race number and put the bikes back on their designated racks. They were all wearing gloves, which I initially thought was for all the bodily fluids that might be on the bike seat. I later learned it was more for the sticky factor, that race nutrition would spill all over the bikes and your hands would get sticky and gross very quickly.

We met up with the rest of the T3 spectators under the tram bridge to cheer on the runners. Catharine is the ultimate cheerleader, as she is tireless, has a loud voice, and cheers them on by name. The names are on their race bibs, but it's hard to maintain that level of enthusiasm, especially for random people. When T3ers came by, they were treated like rock stars, and hopefully that picked them up a little on the long run.

I was losing steam at this point, but the pros were about to finish, so I went to the finish line. It is a cool set up, with stadium seats on wheels brought in, and a big screen with live video of the racers on the course. We saw Jordan Rapp running the last mile and then coming down the chute to finish about 5 minutes ahead of second place. He had already won IM Canada and only entered IMAZ for fun and because he was still in great shape. And he wins it! He was really nice with the crowd, coming back for a victory lap and to slap hands with the spectators. The next guys came in, with Austin local Richie Cunningham coming in 4th. He won Longhorn about a month ago. After that, I was tired, so I rode Jamis back to the hotel for a shower and a nap.

Tomorrow, the end of Race Day: the finish line...

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