On Sunday, I experienced both the best and worst of my weekend.
I was up even earlier than I was on Saturday because I had volunteered to help at a bike aid station for the Challenge Half (70.3km race).
Selfies with the front facing camera on my phone don’t work well in low-light situations… This was taken when I arrived at the transition area to sign on.
I told them I am very un-coordinated and they replied that I’d be able to just help fill water bottles and not have to hand them out to the race competitors.
I was given directions and headed out to the aid station about 11km out of town. I found it easily enough and started chatting to the only other lady there at the time. She had also done the Sprint race the day before. I asked if she’d ever done triathlons before and she said she does the Tamworth Tri Club races. Imagine that! That’s my club but we had never seen (or at least noticed) each other there before. We’ll probably see each other every time now. That’s usually the way it goes, isn’t it?
Anyway, it turned out that there weren’t really enough volunteers to have people just filling bottles so I was required to hand out full bottles of water to cyclists whizzing past at break-neck speeds. This was the most horrifying experience in recent memory. I was petrified of dropping a bottle under someone’s wheel and causing them to crash out of the race. Or worse, that someone would miss out on all the bottles and have to double back to get one or continue on and face hydration issues…
The worst part of it was that we didn’t have anyone to practice on! The first people I tried to pass bottles to were near the front of the pack. I think I dropped 10-20 bottles all up which isn’t a bad percentage considering the number we gave out. All the participants came through our station twice but not everyone took a bottle.
Some athletes were great. They slowed down a little, stuck their hands out well in advance, or called out loudly whether they wanted water or endura. Others were downright rude. One fellow yelled at me that I was supposed to run alongside him. I yelled back that I WAS running. I just couldn’t run as fast as he was riding and he called out for water as he was almost in line with me. He didn’t look like he wanted anything at all! Anyway, there was only the one guy who got narky.
There were many more who said thank you as they went past, even if they weren’t taking drinks. You don’t volunteer for something for the thanks but it certainly makes you more inclined to volunteer again.
Some of the riders rode a little to the right to make it obvious they didn’t need bottles. This was great for the volunteers and certainly easier on the others who did want a drink. Except for the odd person who got cranky because they were trying to overtake in the aid station and those who had moved right weren’t far enough left to make overtaking easy. Over a 70+ km race, how much difference is 5 seconds really going to make?
Posing for a demo photo while waiting for the last few riders to come through. Once the cyclist approached we had to quickly sprint a few metres to run alongside them so the bottle was moving forward and the momentum helped push it into their hand. At the same time, you were watching for the next cyclist coming through (now at your back), trying not to run into the next volunteer, and watching the cyclist’s hand to try and line the bottle up with it!
It was harder work than my race the day before. Honestly. If I’d been wearing a heart rate monitor I’m sure my readings would have been through the roof. Too much pressure and responsibility.
I will be happy to volunteer again but not in that role. It’s not for me. This as the worst part of my weekend. I loved being able to cheer people along on the other side of the road as they headed out through the other aid station. When we weren’t busy on our side of course! Most people didn’t acknowledge the cheers at all, but some did. And if I could make a difference for just one, then it was worth it.
We gathered around to cheer the last 2 or 3 riders through. I think they were probably close to the cutoff times. I really admire the back-of-the-pack-ers (especially in longer distance events). Sure, the elite athletes and those at the front of the pack work hard, but in a couple of hours, they’ve finished. I think those athletes who continue slogging it out for several more hours are the ones who really deserve respect. They just keep going and going and going, pushing their bodies. They are the ones with real endurance.
To sign off at the end of my shift, I had to make my way to the finish area. I stood at the side of the finish chute clapping complete strangers home. Many of them had their partners or children join them for the last few metres. It was beautiful to watch and brought a tear to my eye at times. These people had been racing for over 5 hours! Incredible. I can’t even imagine that. My two hour races are my limit. Most of them would have families and full time jobs. Where do they find the time and motivation to fit that much training into their lives?
Then all of a sudden, I spotted someone from the Tamworth tri club. I cheered extra hard. About 20 minutes later another Tamworth fellow came in. His two little girls joined him for the finish. They had competed in the kids events the day before. It was beautiful.
I have never really watched a race before and certainly nothing of that distance. Every one of those competitors was an inspiration to me. I have no desire to step up to races of that distance, but their commitment, determination and passion for this sport was evident.
Standing at the finish line (admiring their finisher medals – see earlier post) and joining with the crowd to clap them home was an amazing experience. This was the highlight of my weekend. Even moreso than my race, I think.
I’m glad I was able to share a little of their dreams – by watching them finish, and by volunteering so the event could be held in the first place.
I’m extra glad I didn’t cause anyone to fall off their bikes and injure themselves. To be fair, this may be attributable to their skill as cyclists rather than any skill on my part.
As much as I love the beach, the view from my front verandah when we got home was pretty hard to beat too.