Well, here we are at the end of our shift. We all volunteered to be swim handlers at the 2015 Oceanside 70.3 Half Ironman. I wanted to race this race but I missed the signup, so I went with St. George instead. The next best thing to racing is volunteering. It’s my chance to give back to the sport and to the racers. In my early days of racing I never really paid much attention to volunteers, in fact I really didn’t care about them. I paid my money and most of the time I was out there suffering just trying to finish. Then after my first volunteer gig as a swim buddy I started to really take notice and start thanking them as I’m running or biking. I’m usually a swim buddy and out there swimming with the slower swimmers. At Ironman events that’s not allowed, so I took the next best thing. Making sure everyone gets in and out of the water safely.
Race DayHanging out with TCSD before reporting.
The best part of being in the water is that you have access to transition and you don’t have to be down at the entry/exit till 20-30 minutes before the pro’s start. So I was able to wander around T1/2 and talk with some friends and give some final words of encouragement to other first timers I knew racing. Before I knew it, it was time for me to head down to the swim entry/exit. I really wasn’t expecting anything since when I’m running out of the water I don’t take any assistance and I’m off down to transition. However, I got to talk to some of the pro men and women before they got into the water and they thanked me for volunteering. Andy Potts is a nice guy on top of being fast in the water, and Jesse Thomas is flat out funny before the swim. I couldn’t recognize the women with their goggles on already and caps, but that’s ok. The gun went off and the mass flow of racers entered the water in waves in what seemed 3 minutes apart. All the swim handlers cheering them on as they marched towards the water. They even had the seals to cheer them on and provide some entertainment while they made their way to the start line. About 22 minutes after the start the pro men started to come in and I had to go over to the exit for safety reasons.
As the pro’s came in the mass of age groupers were not far behind. At about 45 minutes after the start it was madness. I was assisting swimmers up and unzipping wetsuits. I pulled up several of my friends swimming and cheered them along the run. Then I felt someone grab my hand and as I turned and looked at her she said, “I have no legs, will you help me?” I got down and picked her up and carried her to her chair that was waiting on the ramp with her legs. She was an amputee racing with CAF. Everyone was clapping for her and she was smiling. I was moved and inspired to be sharing her moment with her. Every day I listen to people complain about how bad of a day they had or are having, but here is a woman with no legs out there swimming and enjoying the simple things that we often take for granted. It was an honor and privilege for me to assist her. In a moment that seemed like it took 20 minutes had only taken a couple and I was back to action holding up swimmers who couldn’t find their land legs after being in the water for so long. As the slower swimmers started coming in we started seeing a lot of people disoriented so we spent some time walking up the ramp with them till they found their land legs and knew what was going on. I saw an older man who waved me over and I grabbed his hand. He really grabbed on strong and started to shake as I pulled him up and he stood up. He looked at me and said “I did it, I didn’t think I’d make it, but I did it!” I said “Congratulations, the hard part is done right!” We both laughed but when he took off his goggles he had tears and a smile ear to ear. He gave me a big hug and said thank you for being here, and said “I did it” one last time as he went up the ramp. I started to get teary eyed. (I’m starting to get teary eyed just writing this).
As less and less swimmers came in we know the swimmers coming in now were at risk of not being able to continue. Then the race official appeared and there were 3 swimmers who weren’t allowed to continue. It was a little heartbreaking to see. Some of those swimmers were in the water well over 1 hour and 10 minutes. Then the floatilla of boats, SUPs, and wave runners came towards the dock. It was the last swimmer in, and everyone gave him a cheering welcome back. We all knew he wasn’t going to make the cut off but he at least finished the swim which is a great achievement.
As I was helping him up since he couldn’t stand on his own we got to the race official and I heard the official give the DNF speech. It’s not one that I ever plan to hear for not making a cut off. I really hope he comes back next year and finishes the entire race. I could feel how deflated he got after receiving the news. Once all the swimmers were out we got the dock all ready to go for use again and I was off to the TCSD and FilAmTri tents to cheer on the racers. All in all for the day I walked/ran over 12 miles and cheering is a workout on it’s own. I was exhausted all evening. I tried to get my 8 mile run in but got 2 miles before I was done. I was sleeping by 8:30PM… ZZZZZzzzzzz
Maybe it’s been 2 weeks of hills, I’m not really sure at this point as everything is running together. There have been both physical and mental hills that have brought me up and down, but it’s all part of becoming an Ironman right? You learn to juggle the demands of your work, social, and training lifestyles as volume pick up and move you to what you once thought those limits are. Slowly as you approach them you start to feel that you get that anxious feeling in your gut and you press on. You slowly move past your previous limits and the confidence builds as you start to explorer the space you didn’t know existed.
So last Saturday I swim buddied at the San Diego Triathlon Classic. I was supposed to race in this race but after careful thought with my Ironman training it just wasn’t a good fit. Especially since I had a 105 mile ride from Solana Beach up Mt. Palomar the following day. So putting the pride aside I went and rode with this great girl who is also training for IMAZ at a slow pace for a few hours (probably not the brightest thing cause of the 105 mile ride the next day). Either way we had fun and it was great time…… I guess you might call it an Irondate! Then later that night I got my run in… again this was not a good idea. The upside was I ate a TON of carbs!
My athlete Rhonda who just did her first ever triathlon back in May finally reached the podium Saturday as well. She took 3rd in the Athena division which she earned. The Tri Classic was her A race and she even surprised herself. You can follow her journey on her Facebook page “Living Instead of Existing”. She didn’t know it at the time but I decided to stay and watch her finish and cheer her on going across that finish line. I’m proud of her her finding this new found love of not just triathlon but being competitive. As I’ve been a mentor for her the goal for this season was for her to just have fun and enjoy the sport, clearly it is. Next season will be pushing a bit more (like I haven’t done enough of that) for some possible podium spots in the Athena Masters and also increasing 1 or 2 races to Olympic distances in her preparation for a 70.3 early 2016 with possible IMAZ 2016.
So now to Sunday’s fun…it really wasn’t much fun. It sucked and it sucked a lot. Started at 6Am 1 whole hour early and I knew there would be hills and a damn mountain so I used my road bike (I think I should have kept to my tri bike). My road bike is an aluminum frame which I refer to as a tank. I’ve had that thing for almost 5 years and never once had to change a tire or tube. I put thousands of miles on it and it truly is a tank. I knew I was going to be slow and I knew it was going to be a 9+ hour ride. Yes you see that big mountain in the middle of the elevation chart that was a 7-8% grade for 11+ miles? I had to ride up it and the gearing on my road bike in it’s easiest gear was a lovely 4 MPH avg going up it. I’m not going to lie I wanted to quit going up and just go downhill. My brain was telling me to quit and just turn around but my legs just kept peddling up even as I saw friends of mine going down. I stopped and let my HR go back down since the sun was beating down on me and climbing up hill keeps me in my Z4 and Z5 for long periods of time. On these stops I made the mistake of looking at my map on my phone and talk about the longest mile.. I thought to myself man I’m going 4 MPH this is going to take me 15 damn minutes to get to the top this is just dumb and why did I do this. It was about this time that my legs wouldn’t let me turn around that I finally caught up to my buddy Marcus and I thought to myself that if he can do this than so can I. Finally made it to the top with him and another guy named Steve. We caught the girls just before they went down it was a fun quick reunion (I hated all of them at this point because they beat me and weigh half of what I do.) It was at this time where mother nature decided to shower on us.. A LOT! Yeah that wall of rain was what I went through on the way down. My friend Carrie happened to snap this picture as she was going up and I was going down. At the end of the day we all got across the finish line we got our medals we endured mother nature’s 100+ heat and flash flooding. Congratulations to everyone we made it out alive and our legs truly do hate us now.
I heard someone say that after 6 hours of straight exercising something happens to you. They are right and it’s different for everyone and for me it was interesting that it was my legs that kept me going forward and not quitting when everything that I read and listed to told me it would be my body that was telling me to quick and it would be my mind telling me to stop. I felt that urge to want to keep going, that confidence that you can do this. You can finish it. People still call me crazy and say that this is not normal behavior. I would have said the same thing 3 years ago as well. But for me this is becoming the new normal and I like it. One of the best choices I made in my life was losing weight and getting outside of my comfort zone of inside the bar.
Those of us who have raced have all heard the announcer say if you need a swim buddy they can be found over by here or there or out in the water wearing a particular color swim cap. For most people the swim is the hardest part of the triathlon especially in open water. But for those of us who live in California we have the pleasure of surf entries along with swimming along the coast with some swell. For most first time people it’s a lot to handle mentally and they aren’t sure they can even do it. What goes through your mind when you move from swimming countless laps in a swimming pool to having to swim 200-250 meters off shore through the surf? That’s where Swim Buddies come in. They are the one’s who are there if you need it and to help keep you focused at the task at hand and so that you don’t feel as alone out there.
I took the chance to volunteer at as a Swim Buddy at the Carlsbad Triathlon this past July 14th. I was a little nervous at first I didn’t really have a lot of surf entries under my belt as a triathlete. Now I had tons of surf entries as a kid and as an avid body boarder and I was curious if they would be the same. Well I signed up and decided that it was giving back to the tri community and I’d learn from it. I had volunteered for the Tri Club of San Diego at the SDIT Expo and got a lot out of it and really felt good about it and I got to meet some great people. Being a Swim Buddy was nothing short of the same and super rewarding.
I started the day really excited, it was almost as if I was racing that day I felt really good about the weather and conditions. Once I got there and signed the typical waiver paperwork those of us from Tri Club that volunteered made our way down to the beach and kind of went over everything. I was really shocked at how many people had come out, took all the nervousness of being a first timer right away. I was asked to be a floater in the surf (Yeah the guy getting beat on by the waves) and just be there to encourage people trying to get out and they could do it. There were a few people that I swam out with to the turn buoy and they thanked me as they made the turn. It was a really rewarding day even if that was all the help I could give, but I wasn’t done. As the other waves had started I noticed a swimmer without a cap and without goggles and she was struggling just to make it to the first turn buoy. I swam over to her and offered to swim with her along the way, and she said that would be great. As we swam I had to call life guards over to her so that she could rest on the boards we had some conversations. This was her first triathlon and she was extremely nervous about the swim and wasn’t sure if she could do it. Her older brother had talked her into it but she didn’t want to give up so we kept swimming and stopping at the lifeguard boards to rest. As we reached the last turn and swam up to the beach she was so excited to have finished it that even I got excited to watch her finish the swim and be a part of her first triathlon experience. As we finally reached shore she walked over to me and gave me a hug and said that she would not have been able to do it without me being right there helping her through. As I swam back out to help the last of the stragglers swim in the overwhelming gratitude from the swimmers towards us was just undeniable. That is what being a swim buddy is all about and now I am totally hooked! If I am not racing or tied to work, you can bet that I’ll be volunteering as a swim buddy when I can.