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Sep 15

Volunteer Report: Ironman Wisconsin 2010

I am finally getting caught up on blogging, blog reading, and life in general after a busy weekend.  It was totally worth it though.  I had an absolute blast in Wisconsin.  Here is how it went down.

I did most of my packing on Friday except for the cooler and my bike gear.  I had a sprint triathlon, the Reeds Lake Triathlon, on Saturday morning and wanted to be able to leave for Wisconsin right after that.  The race on Saturday started at 7:10 and I was done before 9:00 and on the road by 11:00.  I’m eventually going to do a full race report on the triathlon for posterity, but for now, I’ll just give you the overall results.  I PR-ed despite a longer swim course than last year.  I rocked out a 22 mph pace on the bike for 17 miles and then averaged sub 7:00 minute miles for the 4.9 mile run finishing in 1:37:58.  This earned me 51/860 overall and 9/86 in my age group.  It was a great way to finish out the tri season.

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After the race, I loaded up the rest of my stuff and headed out.  I arrived in Madison at around 4:00 after 6 hours of driving (hour time difference).  It rained the entire first half of the drive, but thankfully as I rounded Lake Michigan and headed through Chicago, the rain let up.

My first stop was at my temporary home for the weekend – Babcock County Park campsite #7.  I set up my tent before driving into the city.

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Monona Terrace, the site of the race, was about 10 miles away from the campground.  I had originally planned on biking between Monona Terrace and the campground, but the first couple miles of the ride would have been a little hairy especially at night.  So, instead I drove most of the way into the city and parked about 2 miles away at a local park and then biked the rest of the way.  Let me just say this, biking in Madison is awesome.  There are a ton of bike paths, lots of bikers, and bike racks all over the place.

I spent a while wandering around Monona Terrace and familiarizing myself with the area.

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Holy bikes! This was a little less than half of the bikes racked in transition.

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Lake Monona was gorgeous.  It was very blue and nice and calm.  It is almost a shame that the swim course is two loops because the lake is plenty big enough for one big loop.  I suppose it is easier to have lifeguards and kayaks out on a looped course though.

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The capital building is the tallest structure in Madison so you can see it from pretty much anywhere in the city.  It is really cool looking at night when it is all lit up. 

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I took this picture from the top of Monona Terrace.  The lake is behind me and the finish line is on the street directly in front of me.

After walking around a bit, it was time for dinner.  The lady at the information desk noticed my Notre Dame t-shirt (she was also a fan) and recommended the Brocach Irish Pub.  Brocach is Gaelic for “badger den” which is appropriate for Wisconsin Badger territory.  The restaurant was excellent.  The food was delicious, the beer was cold, and Notre Dame was on the TV (they lost though – shit).  While sitting at the bar, a couple sat down next to me wearing Ironman gear.  I started talking to them and learned that they were both competing the next day.  We ended up chatting for about a half an hour.  They have been doing IM races since 1996 so they had lots of good advice for both training and racing.

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During my stay at the bar, I sampled some of the local brews.  I had an obligatory Guinness, but I also had a glass of New Glarus’s Spotted Cow and Lakefront Brewery’s Riverwest Stein Lager.  Both were excellent.  I’ll definitely be back again in the future.

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After dinner, it was time to head back to the campground for an early bedtime.  It was going to be an early morning on Sunday.

Race Morning

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I got up on race morning at 5:30 and drove back into Madison.  I parked outside of the city again and biked to Monona Terrace.  I checked in at my volunteer station before heading out to watch the swim start.  I was standing next to the where the athletes were watching them put on their wetsuits and get in the water.  I was checking my phone to see what The Lazy Marathoner’s number was and what her support crew’s t-shirts looked like.  As her blog was loading, I looked up and she was literally standing in front of me.  How awesome!  I introduced myself, helped her zip up her wetsuit and wished her luck. 

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I headed up to the top of the Monona Terrace to watch the swim start.  The pros started at 6:50 followed by the age groupers at 7:00 AM. 

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Apparently, there were a lot of swimmers that didn’t get in the water before the canon went off.  For some reason, a lot of swimmers were hesitant to get in the water early and ended up getting a late start.

After watching the swimmers start, I headed over to the Bike Out area.

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John Flanagan III was the first guy out of the water and on the bike.  He ended up setting a course record on the swim with a time of 44:56 – nearly 2 minutes faster than the previous record!  The next swimmer out was nearly 5 minutes behind him.

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As the pros came through followed by the leading age groupers, the stream of bikers was fairly constant, but not too congested.  However, once the masses started to head out on the bike, the bike out was a total clusterfuck.  Despite the dozens of bikers trying to all mount their bikes at the same time, I never saw anyone crash or get upset with having to wait.

As luck would have it, my camera battery died before The Lazy Marathoner headed out.  After seeing her head out on the bike, I decided it was time to move on.  I made my way back down to where my bike was locked up stopping to watch the athletes exit the helix.  I can’t wait to ride down the helix myself.

After that, I headed back to my campsite.  I decided to go out on a little bike ride of my own.  I really didn’t have a destination in mind, I just wanted to check out the area.  Like I said before, there are a ton of bike paths in Madison so a lot of my ride was on them.  I did run into something I had never seen before though.  A bike path that you had to have a permit to ride; walkers and runners didn’t need a permit.  It was $4 for a daily pass or $20 for an annual pass.  I decided to be cheap and go another way instead.

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I biked for about an hour before it was time to each lunch and head back to Monona Terrace to volunteer.

Volunteering

Next up, six hours of helping sweaty naked men.  Who wouldn’t like that?  In all serious though, volunteering was by far the best part of the entire weekend.  I worked in the transition 2 changing tent.  It was incredible to see the athletes come in after biking 112 miles knowing that they still had to run a marathon.  It was a real eye opener and learning experience for next year.

There were about 25 volunteers in our room.  The athletes would run into our room carrying their T2 bag which they had picked up in the room next door.  One of the Pointers (that was their actual volunteer title) would point each athlete to a general area – left, right, or middle.  Then a volunteer would ask them if they wanted any help.  If they did (and most did), we would dump out their bag and begin to sort through their stuff.  Simple things like setting their shoes next to each other, grouping all the energy gels and food, laying out their socks.  They would take what they wanted and then we would put the remaining things as well as their bike helmet and shoes back in the bag which they would leave with us.  We also had water for them if they wanted it while they changed.  Some athletes would change into fresh clothes for the run while others stayed in the same trisuit the entire race.

As the pros started to come into T2, they would be and out in less than a minute barely pausing to sit down.  However, as the day progressed, the athletes would spend more time in transition both to rest a little bit and to make sure that they had everything they wanted.  The T2 bags also got heavier as the day went on.  For the pros, all they had in their bags was a pair of running shoes, maybe a change of socks, and some energy gels.  Some athletes though had everything but the kitchen sink.  I had one racer with a hat and gloves (it was 70*F out), rain poncho (not a cloud in the sky), two pairs of shorts, two shirts, two pairs of socks, both a hat and a visor, Fritos, a PB&J, a plastic bag first aid kit (band-aids, medicine, gauze, tape, etc.).  He ended up changing his socks, taking his running shoes and eating the PB&J.  This was definitely someone who wanted to be prepared for anything and it is probably what my T2 bag will look like next year.

Some of the athletes in transition just wanted to take a minute and rest.  So, while they were resting, I would chat with them to see how their day was going, how they felt, etc.  I had a lot of racers ask me if I was signing up next year and also had a lot of athletes who were doing their first IM and were in my shoes last year.

There were a lot of interesting athletes and I wish I could remember more of them, but here the ones that stick out the most:

  • I had a racer who was doing his first triathlon ever.  Yep, you heard that right.  I asked how he was doing and he said, “I have already swam further than I ever had.  And biked further than ever before.  And now, I’m going to go run further than ever before.”
  • One guy was resting in a chair and pulled out a plastic bag.  He went on to say that it was ashes of his friend who raced in previous years but died last year.  He was supposed to scatter the ashes on the course, but couldn’t bring himself to do it.
  • Another guy wanted to know the score of the Packers game.  It was relatively slow at that point, so I checked the score for him on my phone.
  • I did see one blind triathlete although I didn’t help him directly. It was incredible to see him navigate through the transition area that I thought was hard to get around as a seeing person.
  • After helping one guy, he stood up, shook my hand and said, “Kevin (we had on name tags), thanks for your help, it’s been fun.”  It made my day to be able to help him.
  • Towards the end, a guy came in who was visibly upset, but not at any of the volunteers.  It just wasn’t his day on the bike course – he got 5 flats!  Despite having a bad ride, he was never rude, thankful for the help, and determined to make it through the run.
  • Finally, I had a guy offer me a $100 if I could find him a cheeseburger.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t help him there.

During the down time between racers, I chatted with a few of the other volunteers.  Todd, a veteran volunteer (and Ironman), was very helpful both in how to assist the athletes as well as for how to train for next year.  He is going to be back at IMWI next year volunteering again, so I am going to have to look for him.

The time flew by and before I knew it, 5:30 was fast approaching which meant the last riders would be coming through.  5:30PM is the bike cutoff time.  You just have to be to the dismount line at 5:30 to make the cutoff and can then spend as much time in transition as you want. Thankfully, it was not our job to break the news to the athletes coming in after 5:30 that their day was over.  I can’t even imagine having to do that to someone.

I also want to mention how grateful each of the racers were for the volunteers.  I can’t even begin to count the number of times I was thanked for volunteering.  To me, the racers were the real heroes.  They were the ones doing all the hard work but they still took the time to thank everyone that was helping them along the way.

After having volunteered, I can’t imagine doing an Ironman without first volunteering.  I was even talking with some other volunteers and saying how it should almost be a prerequisite to signing up.  To me, the experience was just as important as the long bike rides, long runs, and long bricks that will be part of training.

The Finish Line

Once I was done volunteering, I grabbed a quick sub from Subway and headed out to the finish line.  I missed the pros finishing, but apparently, the winner, Joe Gambles of Australia, beat Chris McDonalds course record by nearly 5 minutes finishing in 8:38:32.  Not only that, but this was Joe Gambles’s first ever Ironman!  On the women’s side, Gina Crawford of New Zealand also set a course record besting her own previous record by over 9 minutes and finishing in 9:27:26.

I knew from checking the athlete tracker online that The Lazy Marathoner was on her last 6 mile leg of the run and making great time.  Having an iPhone was almost essential for a race of this size. Being able to track athletes, send/receive email, and have the GPS was a huge help.

Here she is crossing the finish line (she enters the frame at about 20 seconds).

Make sure to head over to her blog and congratulate her on an awesome race.

After watching at the finish line for a while longer, I headed over the to the volunteer tent to see if they had any other jobs that needed to be done.  I ended up working in the volunteer tent handing out food to the volunteers.  I worked with a guy named Chris who is a cop in Madison.  He too is planning on racing next year.  In fact, they have a whole group of officers who are going to race next year as it will be on the 10 year anniversary of September 11. 

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By 10:00, I was exhausted.  As much as I wanted to stay until midnight to see the last of the finishers come through, I knew that it was going to be an early morning for registration and a long drive back to Grand Rapids, so I decided to head back to the campground.

2011 Registration

I arrived back at Monona Terrace at about 7:00AM for registration that was scheduled to start at 9:00AM.  Despite arriving 2 hours early, the line was already about 200 people long.

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And this was just the line for volunteers – the line for the general public was separate. 

Thankfully, they opened the registration an hour early and the line started moving.  Again, I had lots of friendly people around me in line.  The time passed by quickly as we exchanged stories about previous races, training advice, etc.  There was a couple behind me with the husband who had just finished racing last night and the wife who was signing up today.  They alternate years so that only one of them is training/racing at a time.  I shared this with Jennie, but I don’t think she is onboard for alternating years so I’m on my own each year.

While I stood in line, I booked a hotel for next year as well (another benefit of having the iPhone with me).  All of the hotels opened their registration at 8:00AM and I wanted to get something booked as quickly as possible.  Even though I booked at about 8:30, the host hotel had already filled up.  I ended up booking another hotel that is only a mile away from the race site instead.  I’m glad that I found something in the city rather than something 6 or 7 miles away so that we don’t have to worry about driving and parking on race morning.

At about 9:00, it was my turn to register!

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I was so happy to register that I was shaking with excitement.  It was almost a relief to be signed up knowing that now it is official, I am training for an Ironman!

Well, this turned out to be a really long post, so thanks for sticking it out until the end!  Stay tuned for plenty of updates.  I’m going to be focusing mainly on running this fall and won’t start an actual Ironman training plan until January or so, but I’m sure there will be plenty of bike rides and swims to go along with my running.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ironmanbythirty.com/2010/09/15/volunteer-report-ironman-wisconsin-2010

11 comments

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  1. Jon

    Sounded like an awesome weekend! You are a great blogger buddy for getting video of Kristin!

    That line for registration is WAY too reminiscent. Smart to get lodging booked now.

    Hilarious about the $100 for the cheeseburger! I can imagine after 112 miles that your brain might be “elsewhere”.

    Next year is going to be here before you know it!

  2. Jon

    Oh, and congrats on the top 10 finish in your AG! You have come a LONG way this season!

  3. lisa

    sounds like a cool weekend. best wishes as you train for your turn at the big event next year!

  4. Matt Oravec

    Dude killer TRI time buddy! What a way to end the season!!!

    Awesome volunteering experience. I am glad you had fun and enjoyed it! The events would NOT be a success without great volunteers. I like that they offer the IM spots to the volunteers which means you will have triathletes typically the main volunteers knowing what is going on and what to expect from the racers!

    Favorite picture… wave if you are peeing hahaha I would have waved the entire time I was waiting for my start at Steelhead!

  5. Aimee (I Tri To Be Me)

    That just sounds like it was an amazing experience!

  6. lindsay

    man i didn’t realize how hard it was to sign up for an IM! can’t believe you didn’t talk jennie into it yet…

    congrats on your final tri of the season. it always amazes me how people swim then bike and then run as fast/faster than me. people like that need to just-run and be olympians! :)

    awesome volunteering experience. the guy with the ashes, like you need any more emotion goign on as you are competing in an IM! really enjoyed hearing about your day. is it common to set up a tent at a campground and then abandon it and it not be stolen? (i have such faith in humanity i know)

  7. Ellen

    I found your blog by googling for IMOO reviews. I did it this year and it was my first Ironman, and it was an incredible experience thanks in a large part to the AMAZING volunteers like you. I didn’t sign up for next year, but I’d like to volunteer. Good luck with training, you’ll do great!!! The experience was way beyond my wildest expectations. If you want to read another race report, mine is at http://www.lifeinreviews.com (so far just the swim review is posted, but bike and run will be there later this week).
    Congrats on registering! You WILL be an Ironman!

  8. Jennifer

    Great post! I was hoping your would post about your volunteer experience!!

  9. Joel

    Hey – just found your blog via Caratunk Girl’s blog. I really enjoyed this “volunteer report”. So often, we read race reports and get to experience the day from an athlete’s perspective. I think this is the first time I’ve seen an IM from a volunteer’s perspective. Very, very good read!

    Best of luck with your training for next year’s race!

    You’ve just found a new follower!

  10. Maria

    Woo hoo for IM WI 2011!
    Funny stories about the guys in the tent, I think that would be the most interesting place to volunteer. 5 flats on the bike…damn.

  11. Kristin

    Wow!!! Thanks so much for all the shout outs and the video!!! So awesome!

    It was great meeting you before the race, it’s always so great to see a friendly face to help with pre-race jitters. Thanks for tracking me all day, too.

    Love the stories about the athletes in T2. I did that volunteer post in 2008 and loved it. I learned so much. I don’t recommend packing the kitchen sink though! It makes it hard to transition calmly and depsite the tons of volunteers, about 50% of the time I haven’t been able to get a helper. Navigating through a bunch of stuff you don’t need can be hard in the state you’re in during an IM. Just my $.02! :)

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