Volunteer Recap and Lessons Learned

This is the only picture I took all day. That’s how hard I was working. Also, I’m terrible at taking pictures.

On Sunday, I was up bright and early (wait, it was before bright and early) to volunteer at Iron Girl Columbia.  I had to be at the race site at 4:30, which meant leaving my house before 4.  I had friends telling me I was crazy, but really, it was something I needed to do.  I get so much from volunteers at races that I need to give back.  Besides, volunteering at races is so much fun!  (Except for that early thing.)

Iron Girl Columbia is a sprint distance race, and the race gets a lot of beginners, but don’t let that fool you – this course isn’t a waltz.  The swim is .62 miles, the bike is a hilly 16 miles, and the run is 3.5 miles.  So it’s longer than your average sprint.  But it’s a great challenge.

I worked at body marking until I destroyed two different markers, then headed to swim finish.  I definitely learned a lot about racing at swim finish.  I’ve worked at the finish before, but I’m usually further back.  This time, I was at the edge of the water.  There were a bunch of people stationed at swim finish, and we’re definitely ready to deal with a lot of issues that come up.  Thankfully, we didn’t have to deal with any of them.

Well, there was one.  And ladies, I need to talk to you about this problem.  I was unaware it existed.

Our coordinator referred to it as “suit check” and then made his wife explain it.  Sometimes, women do the swim in looser fitting attire, and as they get out of the water, their top pulls down and there are boobs all over the place.  So we had to remind ladies to pull up their suits on many occasions.  I only got flashed once, so that’s a good thing.

But let’s give this some thought here.  If you’re doing the full race and not just the relay, you shouldn’t be wearing a top loose enough that it can fall down that much.  If you are, it’s clearly not supportive enough.  (I suppose there are likely women out there who don’t need a sports bra to run, but those were not the women we had to remind.)  Even if you’re wearing a sports bra, if you can fall out of it, it’s not the right size or shape for your body.

Yes, oftentimes when lady triathletes get out of the swim, they grab the top of their kit and bra and yank them up, because when you stand up and all that water drains out, it’s natural that your kit will pull down a bit.  But it shouldn’t actually be going anywhere significant.  I usually have to pull my top back up over my bra because it has slid down a bit, but the bra has gone nowhere.

So take a look at what you’re wearing and maybe consider something a bit more supportive.

Now, back to the race.  The volunteers at swim finish aren’t allowed to touch you, as that’s technically outside assistance.  The boat ramp was slippery in spots, and it was tough to not be able to reach out to help, but we wanted to follow the rules.  There was an older woman who I offered an arm to, and it wasn’t an issue, and if someone seriously needed help, we obviously would have provided it.

Unfortunately, this race had a hard time cutoff for the end of the swim, and there were still some ladies making their way in.  The last two ladies out of the water before the cutoff were probably very confused as to why we were screaming so much at them to keep swimming and practically shoved them towards transition.  But once the cutoff hit, Kristin and I walked further into the water and offered assistance to the ladies getting out of the water.  They couldn’t be double DQed after all.  But it was heartbreaking to watch.  One woman had two spectators waiting for her, and they knew she hadn’t made the cutoff.  I very much appreciated that they weren’t angry at us, instead they just kept cheering.  The woman exited the water and started crying because she was so overwhelmed that she finished.  Her friends were hugging her and the volunteer captain came over to give her the bad news, at which point, she just started sobbing.  They were awesome to be there for her and remind her that she had finished the swim, and that was a huge accomplishment (and it is!)

A few of the other people were angry (understandable), and the poor volunteer coordinator had to deal with their anger.  If you find yourself in this situation, remember that the volunteers aren’t the ones who made the rules.  In this case, it came from the police – we couldn’t let any cyclists out onto the road after a certain time.  The volunteers just often end up being the ones who have to give the info.

After swim finish, Kristin and I headed to the run course to cheer.  After about an hour of this, my energy was seriously flagging.  I had wanted to be there for the end of the race, but I was exhausted, and ended up leaving a little after 11.  I still had a great time and was so glad that I took the time to volunteer.  I’m definitely putting the race on my schedule for next year to volunteer again.

Storing and Displaying Racing “Stuff”

I generally feel like I haven’t been racing all that long, but I ran my first half marathon in 2010 and haven’t stopped since.  So over all of those years, I’ve accumulated a lot of race medals and other related things, and I thought it might be fun to share how I store and display and encourage others to do the same.  I’m always looking for new and fun ideas.  (And yes, I know there are plenty of people who just throw their medals into boxes in the back of their closets.  Clearly, that is not me.)

Race medals as of the beginning of August.

These are my running medals.  I’m not exactly sure how many are there, but there were some years where I raced a lot.  My runDisney medals are on their own separate hanger, partly because I love them and partly because I actually have the second hanger bar hung lower because the medals are so huge.  Assuming all goes well at this year’s SpaceCoast Half Marathon and I get the fifth and final medal in the series (plus the second piece of bonus bling), I’m considering getting a separate hanger so I can display all of my awesome space shuttle medals.  I don’t often race for medals, but I definitely want those five shuttles.

Triathlon Medals as of the beginning of August

These are my triathlon medals (and one swim race medal), which hang separately.  Clearly not as numerous, but I’m pretty proud of these.

As you can tell, these all hang near windows, so they’re tough to photograph.  They’re all in the basement, which is where I also keep my treadmill and bike trainer.

Army Ten Miler coins, with plenty of space for many more years of running

The Army Ten Miler does finisher’s coins, which I absolutely love.  Clearly, I love this race, as I’ve only lived in DC since 2007, and I’ve run the race every year starting in 2008.  It’s one of my favorite races all year, and I even forced myself through it last year, two weeks after Augusta 70.3.  If someone else could run it on prosthetic legs, I could certainly run it on tired legs.

I keep all of my race bibs on a display my sister bought me.  It’s designed so you can hang them straight on the hooks, but I have so many that I ended up putting them on rings and hanging them this way.  It’s getting to be a bit much, so I may take some of them down and put them in a box for safe keeping.

Hanging above the bibs is my first marathon bib.  That one will always be special to me, so it gets its own spot.  I’m considering doing the same with my Augusta bib.

In front of my treadmill, I have these two things hanging on the wall.  The clock is actually an award from Giant Acorn, and I love that it has the wacky squirrel on it.  (Also, it tells time, which is useful.)  I also have a poster that I got after my first marathon, which is great inspiration when the training gets tough.

Finally, I have a box of stuff.  This is where I toss things that I want to save after a race.  In here, I’ve got programs from some of my first races, cool handouts, the rack labels from my Rev3 races (I’m not sure why I need to save these, I just do), stuff from virtual races, etc.  I should probably go through this and figure out what I no longer really need to keep, but it doesn’t take up much space, so for now, it’s fine.  It’s also a good place to put my bibs once I cull through the hanger.

How do you store your racing stuff?  Do you keep any of it or does it all get tossed right away?

 

Does Cheating Expose a Deeper Problem?

tswedensky / Pixabay

I’m not going to lie – I love Marathon Investigation.  This started as a way to track down people who cheated to get into Boston.  And it was amazing to see just how many people cheated, and the incredibly inventive way that they cheated.  The site then began to profile other cheaters, mostly people who cheated to get on the podium, but they also occasionally point out people who simply cheat so they can claim they finished.  They also pointed out people who bandited races, either by copying someone else’s bib or running with an old bib (or without a bib at all).

Don’t get me wrong – cheating is always wrong.  I have seen course cutting so many times at Disney races and it makes me mad every time, even though those cheaters would argue that by cutting the course, they didn’t hurt anyone.  I can understand this argument.  They didn’t push someone else off the podium or take a Boston spot or take aid on the course that they didn’t pay for.

But by cutting the course, by lying about their finish, they are harming the sport.  They are saying that it is okay to lie so that you can get a finisher’s medal and proudly proclaim that you finished the race.  I don’t understand this at all.  Why would you want to lie about your accomplishments?  What do you really gain?  And the fact that this doesn’t make sense to me says that there is probably something wrong in how we look at racing.

This week, a teammate of mine got called out by Marathon Investigation for cutting a race course.  She had previously been disqualified by that race.  I admit that I didn’t know her well, and I haven’t talked to her since the piece was published.  I don’t know what happened, but the evidence does not look good for her.  She is no longer on our team, but that doesn’t mean that she is being shunned by the group.  Instead, the leadership has opted to reach out to her and offer assistance.

[W]e have reached out to the athlete and offered to find any resources that will be helpful to her in dealing with this. While it is right and mandatory to speak out against cheating and doping ALWAYS, we also recognize this is a human with feelings. We can all shame her mercilessly on social media and drive her deeper into a hole, or we can try to help her resolve any issues so they no longer hurt her or anyone else around her in the future.

I can understand being in the middle of a race and wanting to quit.  (And sometimes, quitting is the smart thing if you’re sick or injured.)  I have definitely been in races where I’ve thought “Hey, I could just cut the course there and be done!”  Of course, it wasn’t a serious thought.  I It was about as serious as thinking “I could just grow wings and fly through the rest of the race.”

I also know that there have been races that I have been determined to finish because I didn’t want to tell people that I didn’t.  The fear of failure is honestly often my training motivation when I’m just not feeling it.  I don’t want to not finish a race and have to share that.  Not with my friends and family – they don’t care.  But since I do put all of my training out on the internet, it is scary to think that I might have to also share that I failed.

But you know what?  A DNF isn’t failure.  Things happen.  Injuries, illnesses, weather, heck some days you’re just not feeling great for whatever reason.  A DNF says “I tried, and it wasn’t my day.”

We need to remember to be supportive of people no matter what happens at their races.  We need to remember that we are all in this for fun (with the exception of the pros, who I hope are partly in it for fun), and that it will be more fun if we support each other.  Who knows what drives people to cheat.  But rather than point and laugh, we should offer help and be ready to listen when they want to talk.  Sure, some people may not want help. But simply by supporting others when they are successful and when they may be less successful, maybe we can reduce the number of people who think that they have to cut a course or lie about their finish times.

In sum, be nice to people.  It’s a simple rule.

Choosing a Distance

JarkkoManty / Pixabay

This weekend, I realized just how different my training is this summer as compared to last summer.  Last year, I was focused on 70.3 training, which meant much higher mileage, especially on my bike.  A 60+ mile weekend ride was the norm, and that was easily 4-5 hours, including a stop at the gas station for snacks, a bathroom break, and refilling water.

This weekend, I did have a 9 mile run on the schedule, so not so terribly different from last summer, but my bike ride was only 2.5 hours.   I didn’t have to start at the crack of dawn and I still had a good amount of my day left.  I have to admit, I really enjoyed it.

I got out around 7:30 and rode 17 miles, then joined up with the group at Princeton Sports and rode the same 17 mile course a second time.  Somehow, I swear those hills grew between the two rides.  It really was the perfect way to do the ride.  I had to push myself through the first part to ensure that I made it back to join the group ride, and the presence of other cyclists kept me moving through the second part.  I was still slower on the second loop, but some of that is likely also due to the warmth of the day.

(And no, I didn’t quite hit 2.5 hours – I was off my 8 minutes.)

I finished the ride not feeling completely drained, did a quick 2 mile run, went to the grocery store (sorry, fellow shoppers), managed to not buy all the food in the place, and by the time I was home and showered, still had plenty of time left in the day.

That’s not to say that I won’t ever race a 70.3 again, but I’m really enjoying the balance that I get focusing on the olympic distance.  I still worked out over 8 hours this week, and that’s with missing a workout due to work commitments.  So it’s not like I’m being lazy this summer, but I feel like I have decent balance.

Given what I have planned in my life for next year (a northern European cruise in August), I’m not sure a 70.3 fits next year, due to scheduling, vacation hours, and funds, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.  I definitely don’t want it to be a one-and-done type of thing, but I also think I may be an olympic distance athlete.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I think in running and triathlon, there’s this push to do the next thing.  If you run 10ks, you get asked when you’re doing your first half marathon.  Once you do a half, people ask you when you’re going to do a full marathon.  And don’t get me started on ultras.  I did two marathons.  I don’t have any desire to do another, not because I didn’t like them, but because I just didn’t want to be spending that much time training.  I still get prodded about doing a 140.6 triathlon.  I’m completely uninterested.  I need balance in my life.

Cheating Surfaces Again

People seem to always find a way to cheat.  Doping is nothing new in triathlon.  It’s clearly wrong, but it’s not new, and we all know it’s continuing.  The above is a screenshot from a post on SlowTwitch.  For anyone who can’t see the image, to summarize, a woman was caught letting air out of the tire of one of her competitors just prior to IM 70.3 Syracuse.  Thankfully, she was reported, disqualified, and the victim’s tire was reinflated.

I’m sure more reporting will come out, and I would very much like to hear from this woman why she was messing with someone else’s bike (allegedly, she claimed she was trying to inflate someone else’s tire, but got the bikes confused – if so, why did air come out of a tire and not go in?).  But the sad thing is, this isn’t a unique situation.

When athletes dope, they’re only risking their own health.  When someone messes with someone else’s equipment, they’re risking injury to that other athlete.  You might think that letting air out of someone’s tire will just make them slower, or make them have to stop to change the tube (thinking there was a puncture in it).  But this could also lead to a crash and physical injury to the athlete (or to other athletes if the crash takes down others, which can very easily happen).

You hear of all sorts of suspected sabotage.  An athlete’s seatpost suddenly drops during a race because the clamp has been loosened, even though it has never fallen before.  An athlete leaves transition and finds her brake pads are misaligned and rubbing (though this can happen from the bike being accidentally bumped in transition). Tires mysteriously go flat.  Items disappear from transition.

Of course, some of this can happen randomly or by accident.  I don’t understand how you can accidentally grab someone else’s shoes in transition, but I suppose it’s possible. And when something mechanical goes wrong on your bike, sometimes that’s just dumb luck.

But sometimes, it’s because people have decided that sabotage is a great way to cheat.  Conveniently, I’m not really competition for anyone, so let’s hope my stuff is safe.  But this really mars the spirit of triathlon.  I have seen plenty of people stop to help others during races.  We’ve all seen people helping others over the finish line.  That’s the sport I love.  And sure, you can be competitive.  You can push to be faster than someone else.  But the goal is that you are faster, not that you make someone else slower.  And there’s certainly no glory in getting there by cheating.