Volunteering for the Syracuse 70.3 Ironman, Part I

Hey, everyone!  I hope you had a restful weekend!  As you know, I spent Sunday volunteering for the Syracuse Ironman 70.3—what an amazing experience!  I’m still teasing out some reflections, afterthoughts, and takeaways, so look for that post later today.

Day as a Volunteer

2:50 a.m. – Woke up before my alarm went off—I was that excited!

3:00-3:20 a.m. – Got dressed, chugged two cups of coffee, and ate a banana—there was no way I could stomach a “real” breakfast at this hour.

3:30 a.m. – Left the house.  It was still dark.

3:57 a.m. – Arrived at Jamesville Beach Park.  I was one of the first volunteers who arrived, so I waited in my car for about 15 minutes.

4:15-4:20 a.m. – Congregated at the volunteer tent with fellow body markers and reviewed the proper procedure:  With our permanent markers, we would write each triathlete’s race number, or bib number, vertically on both arms and both thighs; on their left calf, we would write their race age. (For the professional athletes, we just had to mark a “P” on their calf.)

4:30 a.m. – Assembled outside the transition area and began marking the early-bird athletes.

5:15 a.m. – MaryBeth arrived!

She came right over, gave me a hug, and I marked her appropriately.  We chatted for a few minutes, and then she went to layout her transition gear, get into her wetsuit, and prepare for the race.

5:00-6:30 a.m. – About 20 people comprised our body marking team, and in total, we marked around 1,100 athletes.  I even got to mark one of the professional (and very cute!) men!  Although the conversations were relatively short, I really enjoyed welcoming each athlete to the competition, shooting the breeze, and talking about the triathlon. (The big question of the day was if wetsuits would be permitted, and I got to break the good news that the water temperature was 75.3 degrees, which meant it was wetsuit-legal.) There were more men competing than women, but I probably marked an equal number of each.  One interesting thing I noticed during this process:  nearly all of the female athletes sought out female body markers, but the men didn’t seem to gravitate toward same-sex markers; in fact, I marked several very fit and good looking 25-35-year olds.  It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!

6:45 a.m. – Headed down to the waterfront to help out with the wave organization.

In order to reduce congestion in the water and traffic on the bike/run course, triathlons began with wave starts for the swim. Divisions are broken up into “professional” groups (known as the “pros”) and age groups (individuals referred to as “age groupers”).  Since the pros finish the triathlon the quickest, they have the earliest starting time for the swim.  Down at the shore, I held up a sign for the women’s pro swim wave. (In this picture, the pro women waited outside the corral because the pro men occupied it.  After the men took off, the women filed into the area, and the next group moved up.)

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Thirteen women stood in front of me, and it was crazy knowing they were some of, if not the fittest women I’ve ever seen in-person.

7 a.m. – After the National Anthem, the male pros were off.

7:03 a.m. – The professional women started three minutes (I think) after the men.

7:10 a.m. – MB’s wave started, so I snapped a few pictures.  I lost her in the crowd, but I think she took a starting position on the left.

7:23 a.m. – The first pro men finished the swim.  This is insane—they swam 1.2 miles in 23 minutes!  The pro women had an astonishing showing as well—the first swimmer finished in 24 minutes, and the other pro women posted times around 25-28 minutes. (There’s a generally accepted notion that the person who places first in the swim rarely/never wins the overall triathlon, and this hypothesis held true at the Syracuse 70.3:  Two male pros completed the swim in 23:10, but they placed fourth and sixth overall.  The female won finished the swim took second place overall.)

7:30 a.m. – Watched the rest of the waves begin.  During the starts, I stood near the lifeguard tower, manning the chip/swim cap station with a few other volunteers (in case an athlete lost their swim cap, misplaced their chip, etc.), which was about eight feet from the starting line.  As each wave inched to the corral, the group engulfed the lifeguard tower and volunteers, and we would be standing next to the athletes, which was pretty cool.  Let’s just say I especially enjoyed being surrounded by the 25-29 and 30-35 men’s waves—just a perk of being a volunteer!

7:40 a.m. – Headed over the wetsuit stripping area to lend a hand.  As each athlete completes the swim, most will start unzipping and taking off their wetsuit as they jog to the transition area; this multitasking—covering ground and transitioning—eliminates wasting precious time.  As a wetsuit stripper, I help up my hand and yelled  “Wetsuit peeler!” and “Wetsuit stripper!” to the athletes as they exited the water. (Holding a hand shows the athlete you’re available.) As the athlete approached, they would most likely have their wetsuit taken off to their waist, and it was my responsibility to get them to sit down and literally tear off the suit.  Needless to say, I couldn’t take any pictures, but here’s what a wetsuit peeling station looks like:

Something interesting about this process:  The majority of female triathletes sought out female wetsuit peelers, and most male competitors went to male peelers.  I was stationed next to a guy peeler, and nearly all the male athletes bypassed me and went to him.  Also, not all athletes took advantage of the peeler volunteers. (I can’t say if the pros used peelers because I was still watching the wave starts.) Those who did were extremely grateful—nearly everyone said thank you.

I saw MB come out of the water, and she was in the zone.  I was hanging out with the Fleet Feet group of volunteers, where MB works part-time, so nearly all of the volunteers knew her or knew of her, so as soon as she exited the water, our group’s coordinator took over:  “Here comes MB!  You two, peel her!  MB, we’ve got two peelers for you right here!”

8:40 a.m. – Got some rest, ate breakfast—I brought a Kashi granola bar from home and grabbed an apple and banana from the food vendor—and hung out by the volunteer tent.

9:30 a.m. – The first male pros finished biking, returned to the transition area, and set off on the 13.1-mile run.  Again, I still cannot believe the athleticism these guys possess—they biked 56 miles in basically two hours!  The first biker took 2:09 to cover the course, and he had a solid, three-minute lead on the second place athlete.  The top pro women took around 2:21-2:28, which is super impressive.  As to be expected, there was a gap between the pros and age groupers, and MB was with the first overall “wave” of women to finish the ride.  Our group cheered for her as she ran by and set off on the 13.1-mile run.  There were several CNY Triathlon members competing, and it was easy to pick them out (and cheer extra loudly!) because of their CNY Tri tops.

10:50 a.m. – Continued to camp out by the transition area and watched Joe Gambles, the first pro male, cross the finish line—in 3:53:51!

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Seeing his half-marathon splits is astounding; after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56 miles, he ran 5:40 miles!  Canada’s Angela Naeth took first for the women, posting an overall time of 4:16:27.

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I still cannot wrap my head around her splits—6:21 miles!

12:00 p.m. – Headed over to the finish line to watch MB cross.  She wanted to break 5:20 (conservative for her), so I assumed my post at what would be 4:55 for her. (She started her swim at 7:10 a.m., so I adjusted the overall time accordingly.) I’m glad I headed there early—she came charging in at 5:03!

I found her in the athlete tent afterwards, and we talked and recapped the race for a bit—she thinks I can do the Syracuse 70.3 next year!  I’ve added a half-Ironman (Ironman 70.3)/the Syracuse 70.3 to my fitness bucket list!

11 responses to “Volunteering for the Syracuse 70.3 Ironman, Part I

  1. That’s really really exciting! I am hoping to do a half ironman next year, I’ll just be happy to complete it. Awesome that you got to help out and see it up close; also races would never work without marshalls so your helping out brilliant!

    • It’s crazy how much training goes into completing a half Ironman … and even a triathlon, as I’m starting to discover. Volunteering gave me a new perspective on racing, and I think I’m going to help out with another local tri in July–the Musselman in Geneva, NY 🙂

  2. I think its great of you to get up that early & dedicate your whole day to volunteering at a race!! Dang his splits were fast!

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