Tag Archives: volunteering

Volunteering for the Challenged Athletes Foundation at the New York City Triathlon

I’m no stranger to volunteering. From Syracuse 70.3 to countless stints at Ironman Lake Placid, I’ve embraced the spirit of giving back to triathlon. After all, it’s given me so much, brought some phenomenal people into my life, and ultimately shaped who I am; the least I can do is peel off wetsuits and manage transition bags for a few hours. A few weeks ago, though, I had an unparalleled experience when I volunteered with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) at the New York City Triathlon.

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Although several friends are involved with CAF and other likeminded non-profit organizations like Achilles, I had yet to volunteer for this type of group. The week of the race, my duties were routine:  I emailed my athlete, exchanged phone numbers, and answered a few questions he had about traveling from the airport to his hotel. Some of my responsibilities centered on these logistical uncertainties—how to get from the hotel to transition, how early to leave the hotel on race morning, etc.—and since I sort of did the race in 2013, I was able to answer course-specific questions.

This is where “standard” volunteer duties ended and paratriathlete handler responsibilities began.

On Saturday, the day before the race, we met at the mandatory briefing, which was held in Midtown Manhattan. There was a separate presentation for paratriathletes and their handlers, and I did my best to absorb as much information as possible: the classifications, the scoring system, etc. We also reviewed rules and identified appropriate instances and protocol for an athlete asking for help, and we continued this conversation as we brought our athlete’s bikes to transition to Riverside Park.

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Racing chair on the left (for the run) and handcycle on the right (for the bike)

There are several areas on the NYC Triathlon course that are not ideal for paratriathletes.  Luckily, since both my fellow handler and I had done this race, we were able to pinpoint a few problematic points, and in some cases, we were able to scope them out. When our athlete arrived at these spots during the race itself, he had to clearly ask for assistance (i.e. “May I please have some help here?”) so he would not get DQ’ed for receiving unsolicited help. Anyway, after getting his handcycle and chair situated in transition, we talked through our race-day plan once more and agreed to meet the following morning at 5:30 a.m.

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A unique aspect of the NYC Triathlon includes its transition setup: there are two (yellow and red) that run along the Hudson River, and your transition color dictates your swim wave. The yellow transition contained pro males and females, plus elite age groupers, all females, and a handful of dudes. After the final wave of the yellow transition was released into the Hudson, there was a 20-minute break, and then the paratriathletes were released at 7 a.m., which meant these folks had clear water. My fellow handler and I helped our athlete down the ramp to the swim start, and he simply exited his chair, and then we hightailed it 0.9 miles south to the swim exit and waited.

Now, I’ve worked swim exits many times. And yes, I am a total endurance sap who cries during every Ironman Lake Placid video. But I was on the verge of tears at the swim exit.

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Watching these strong, capable, absolutely relentless individuals swim 1K was incredibly humbling and inspiring. All too often, we get caught up in the data, paces, and accolades we chase while pursuing the perfect race. We worry about minutia: which goggles to wear, which ring to be in on a hill, when to take a gel. We analyze metrics. We obsess over those 15 seconds we lost in transition. And we take it for granted.

I’ve taken race experiences for granted. But seeing my athlete navigate this race in his chair—pushing him up the steel swim ramp exit, lifting him in his chair up four steps into transition, helping him back into his chair after he fell due to pockets of sand in transition—instilled a new sense of gratitude in me.  It also made me quite anxious. He entrusted me with parts of his race, and I wanted him to have the best day possible. This responsibility stressed me out—volunteering in this capacity allowed me to have a direct impact—but it gave me a greater emotional connection to his experience. And ultimately, this higher investment led to a greater “reward.”

If you have the opportunity to volunteer for one of these organizations, do not pass it up.

Triathlon Training Log – Week 34 (July 18)

So a little race occurred in my backyard today.

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Gear. Everywhere.

More than 4,000 triathletes took on the New York City Triathlon, an Olympic-distance race under normal circumstances. However, due to extreme projected heat, the run portion was shortened from 10-K to 8-K before the event began. The run course was also cut short last year, but it happened as the race was going on—meaning some folks did the entire 10-K loop while others did 8-K or even 5-K. Per usual, it was a blistering hot day … and it sounds like it’s currently a scorcher in Lake Placid too for the Ironman folks.

General training notes: Nationals is quickly approaching—t-minus three weeks!—so we will be doing a lot of race-specific preparation on the bike and run: wattages, paces, efforts, whatever you want to call it. The city experienced killer heat and humidity this week, but I really can’t complain because that’s what I’ll face in Omaha.

Monday – a.m. CompuTrainer ride at Tailwind Endurance

Easy 75-minute recovery ride that left me hungry for the rest of the day. I did not miss those hunger pangs that accompany zone two work.

Tuesday – a.m. run in Central Park

Another round of race-paced cruise intervals: 3×12 minutes with three minutes easy between each set. These feel better and better each week, so let’s hope the pace feels sustainable off the bike in Omaha.

Wednesday – a.m. CompuTrainer ride at Tailwind Endurance

We repeated Sunday’s strength workout that centered on low cadence sets. Those intervals did not feel great, but they made the five-minute sweet spot blocks between each feel easy.

Thursday – a.m. run in Central Park; p.m. swim with Bearcat masters

Easy six miler in the morning and 2,500m of IM sets after work

Friday – p.m. swim with Bearcat masters

Apparently masters is not the place to be on a Friday evening—there were just four of us in the pool! On the bright side, that gave the infamous Russian coach plenty of time to work with me on IM technique. It turns out my body position for freestyle is perfect, breaststroke is my second strongest stroke, and my butterfly needs a lot of work. In total, I swam 2,800m.

Saturday – a.m. brick (bike-swim-bike)

Another solid Sportz Saturday outing: twenty miles to the Palisades pool; about an hour in the water for a tech-based swim; and 20 miles back home to NYC. This was my third consecutive day in the pool (who am I?!), and it was noticeable in a good way. Thinking ahead to my post-Nationals life, I have decided this means I will do the exact opposite of avoiding the water during the off-season: I actually want to spend a lot of time splashing around.

Sunday – off/volunteered at the New York City Triathlon

After sort of doing the New York City Triathlon in 2013, I do not have the desire to do it again. However, I have volunteered in the past, and today, I put my Sherpa skills to good use as a paratriathlete handler for the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

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This deserves its own post, but it was an incredibly rewarding and humbling experience. Seeing what goes on behind the scenes to make sure these athletes have smooth experiences was eye-opening.

How often do you volunteer at races, events, etc.?

Ironman Lake Placid 2013 – The Volunteering

Happy Monday, everyone!

Thursday’s post discussed the workouts I did in Lake Placid, and today’s post details the volunteer experience.

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As you may remember, I volunteered at the Ironman Syracuse 70.3 last year and loved it, so when my teammate told me she goes to Placid every year to volunteer, I jumped at the chance to make the trip.  We spent five days in the area, and it was my first time visiting in six years.  Back during high school basketball, my team played in a tournament there.  I hadn’t heard of triathlon at the time, and we didn’t get a chance to truly explore and experience the village.  I blame the chaperones—ha!

Anyway, it took 4,000 volunteers to help the race run as smoothly as possible.  Believe it or not, the volunteers actually outnumbered the athletes! (Three thousand triathletes registered, and close to 2,700 raced.)

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Serious bike envy.

A few months ago, my teammate signed us up for “gear bags out,” a shorter shift that lasted slightly less than an hour and a half.

Here’s how it worked:  After the triathletes exited the water and jogged to transition, they grabbed their bike gear bags, entered the changing tent, and made necessary clothing changes for their 112-mile ride.  Then, volunteers working inside the tents slid the bags (now filled with swim gear) back outside.

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From there, 30 or so volunteers organized the bags in numerical order and then placed them back on their respective racks.

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Even though our shift was short—we finished in a little less than an hour and a half—I loved being in transition; a true hot spot and high-traffic area, this location lets you see everyone coming in from the water and heading out on the bike.  Not only do you get a front-row seat of the actions, but you also get to help the triathletes—you can beat it!

Plus, completing a shorter volunteer shift gave us plenty of time to spectate!

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More on that in a bit!

Have you volunteered for a race?

Packing for Lake Placid

Hey, friends—happy Thursday!  Is the week flying by for anyone else?  Although maybe it’s because I leave for Lake Placid today—woohoo!

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Even though I signed up for body marking and wetsuit stripping at Ironman 70.3 Syracuse last July, Ironman Lake Placid will be my first time volunteering this year. (Side note:  how did Syracuse take place more than one year ago?!) I’m traveling with one of my teammates who’s volunteered at Placid before (five times to be exact, so she has the weekend down to a science!), plus another friend who’s tackling the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run.  And being supportive triathletes, we made signs and t-shirts last night.

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Shhh, it’s a surprise.

Anyway, I finally got down to packing for the long weekend, and unsurprisingly, I’m bringing more workout clothes than “real” ones.

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Here’s what I’m packing:

For swimming – swim suit, wetsuit, BodyGlide, flip flops, three pairs of goggles (really), plus way too many swim caps.

For biking – my too heavy road bike, helmet, cleats, water bottles, biking shorts and jerseys.

For running – shorts, tank tops, Garmin, only one pair of sneakers. (I know—I’m proud of me too!)

Miscellaneous – sunglasses, sunscreen, lots of socks, etc.  Oh, plus a bag filled with snacks and nutrition.

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Hey, it’s going to be a long drive!

And like I said, I will have some “real” clothes, but I’m crossing my fingers that t-shirts, sweat pants, and running shorts will be the unofficial dress code.

Talk to you in Placid—and have a great weekend, everyone!

My 2012 Running and Triathloning Recap

Happy last day of 2012, friends!  How are you spending the last 24 16 hours (and counting) of this year?  Will you set resolutions for 2013?  Even though I’m not one to set goals when the clock strikes midnight (you don’t have to wait for a new year, month, or week to make a change), I do like reviewing what happened this year–on the running and triathloning fronts, of course.  Seeing which races and distances proved successful—and which turned into struggle fests—I can better make my 2013 training schedule and race calendar.  This post has been circulating the running, triathloning, and healthy living blogs recently—and a big thanks to Miss Zippy for conceptualizing this idea—so with the new year only hours away, it’s time to reflect on 2012.

Best race experience?

Running:  The Seneca7 (during pre-Fitness and Frozen Grapes days). (The Boilermaker 15-K was a close number two!)

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This seven-person relay race around Seneca Lake promised everything—running (three legs and double-digit mileage for the day), eating (the swag bags contained nut butter and chocolate!), and lots of laughing.  At the beginning of the day, I didn’t know everyone on Team Run-On Sentences, but there’s nothing like running 77.7 miles to bond people.

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It was literally one of the best days ever, and four of the original Run-On members are looking to get a team together for 2013; I’ll keep you posted!

Triathloning:  Cazenovia Triathlon.

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It was my first triathlon in my hometown—I got to swim in “my” lake, bike on “my” hills, and run on “my” roads—and my family showed up in full force!

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Even though I completed brick workouts in the weeks leading up to the event, doing a true triathlon ignited a passion in me that I thought died during collegiate basketball.  After I crossed the finish line, I was totally hooked; deciding to give this triathlon thing a “tri” (sorry, couldn’t help myself) was a huge turning point for me, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me in 2013.

Worst race experience?

Running:  Tromptown Run (half-marathon).  In hindsight, training for my first triathlon and half-marathon simultaneously wasn’t the best idea.  Doing my first multisport event provided enough of a challenge (not to mention a learning curve!) that I could’ve done without increasing my mileage; if I hadn’t spent so much time running, I could’ve worked more on my swim and bike.  Anyway, this race itself proved to be my toughest run (mentally) of the year.  On the bright side, I can only improve, and looking forward (wayyy forward), I know I can and have run 13.1 miles … for when I train for a half-Ironman.

Triathloning:  Honestly, I didn’t have a disappointing triathlon (thanks to low expectations—ha!), but the swim portion of the DeRuyter Lake Triathlon ended up being especially brutal.  Wind and choppy water equated to my slowest swim split of the season.

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Again, that just means there’s room for improvement.

Best piece of new gear?

Running:  Mizuno Wave Elixirs.

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I’ve been an ASICS girl for the longest time, but I’m really glad I switched over; these sneaks feel so light!

Triathloning:  As a swim-bike-run rookie, I had to get all the necessary gear—tops and shorts, wetsuit, bike, everything.  Today, especially during the winter, I’m grateful for my CycleOps Fluid2 trainer.

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If I didn’t have this apparatus, I wouldn’t be riding regularly.

Best running/triathloning advice you received?

Running:  “Run the mile you’re in.” (I think I read it in Runner’s World.) While running, it’s easy to get caught up the distance or time remaining.  During the summer, heading out for a 10-mile run seemed daunting, so I’d break it up into smaller chunks.  Sometimes, I could handle running five and then another five, or maybe eight plus two, but there would be those days that making it to the next mailbox was the goal.

Triathloning:  A lot of running advice translates to triathloning—don’t try anything new on race day, always have several (“A,” “B,” and “C”) goals and races, etc.  Overall, though, I’m still learning so much about the sport, and my cousin MB has been great putting up with all my questions and offering tips.  Most recently, she told me about her general fueling strategy on the bike.

Most inspirational runner/triathlete?

Runner:  How can I pick one runner?!  Everyone has overcome obstacles, challenged themselves, and pushed past their limits, which sounds inspirational to me.

Triathlete:  Again, same thing. (Although I do have a total soft spot for Craig Alexander now.) Each triathlete has a story to tell, and each has a unique journey that lead them to the swim start.  Inspirational people are everywhere; you just have to look.  I’ll freely admit to tearing up while watching the Ironman World Championships in Kona–crossing the finish line means much more than swimming, biking, and running.  And after being inspired by these athletes, how can you not want to do it too?

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?

Challenging myself, going outside my comfort zone, and ultimately making a lifestyle change.

Running/triathloning ups?

Tackling new distances—like my first 10-Kvolunteering at the Ironman 70.3 Syracuse and with New York Runners in Support of Staten Island, and finishing my first sprint triathlon.

Running/triathloning downs?

Where I was mentally during my half-marathon; and honestly, the end of the triathlon season bummed me out.  In terms of confidence, I hit a turning point during my third tri, and I felt like I was starting to somewhat figure out what I was doing.  That’s off-season motivation, though!

Surprise of the year?

The fact that I started triathloning—and having people call me a triathlete.  I still can’t wrap my head around it sometimes!  If you told me one year ago—when I was a wee college senior—that I would be swimming, biking, and running after graduation, I probably would’ve looked at you in complete disbelief and had a good laugh.  Now, though, it seems like such a logical transition, and I can’t picture myself not triathloning.

Let’s hear about your 2012:  favorite race?  Best piece of new gear?  Surprise of the year?

New York Runners in Support of Staten Island

There are many types of running—running recreationally, running a marathon, running off the bike—and whether you’re a weekend warrior out for a quick jog or a devoted runnerd training for a new PR, it’s all about moving forward.  On Sunday, I joined a group of 1,300 fellow athletes to run through the streets of Staten Island and distribute supplies to those in need.  Through this literal act of putting one foot in front of the other, we helped the borough symbolically move forward post-Hurricane Sandy.

It was only after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the cancellation of the world-famous ING NYC Marathon on Friday evening that New York Runners in Support of Staten Island, a grassroots initiative, began to form.  Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports-medicine physician at New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery, planned to run the 26.2-mile endurance event—as did 47,000 other runners—but used its termination as an opportunity to organize a runner-led opportunity to lend a hand.  He created a Facebook page that detailed the plan:  send runners—both those who trained to run the marathon and those who wanted to help—to the hardest-hit areas of Staten Island with non-perishable food, flashlights, blankets, batteries, and other items.  By Saturday afternoon, the webpage received more than 3,000 hits, and it now boasts more than 5,000 “likes.”

Word of the event also spread thanks to Twitter, which is how I discovered it on Saturday.  When the tweet appeared in my newsfeed, I knew joining this initiative would be the perfect way for me to help Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. (After my power was restored Friday evening, I started researching ways to lend a hand, but it seemed like a lot of the groups had enough people-power for their specific goals.) I’m grateful to have the passion, endurance, and physical capability to be able to run; running is a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted, and if I can use my privilege to help others, then it’s a no-brainer–pay it forward.  After doing some research and filling out the survey—in which I signed up to run 8-10 miles and bring granola bars, toothbrushes, and tubes of toothpaste—I packed everything in a drawstring gym bag, laid out my running clothes, and set my clocks back an hour.

At 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, I arrived at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.  According to the Facebook page, organizers wanted volunteers to arrive between 8 and 8:30 a.m.  Even at the early end of the meet-up timeframe, I couldn’t believe how many people poured into the terminal.

Around 8:30 a.m., Dr. Metzl discussed the general game-plan and identified some of the noteworthy donations:  600 garbage bags; 1,500 Home Dept gift cards; and 6,000 KIND Bars.

As he relayed this information, I met Christine who flew in from San Francisco to run the marathon.  Since we both signed up to run 8-10 miles, we decided to be buddies for the day and met Valerie, our of the team leaders. (When filling out the online survey, runners had the option of signing up for different mileage ranges:  6-8 miles; 8-10; 10-12; and 12-14 miles.)

Throughout the next hour, team leaders and lead organizers continued to pass along information and answer questions.

I also met Jessica, Robin, and Rachel; both Jessica and Robin are runners-turned-triathletes like me, and Rachel was training for this year’s marathon.  It was really nice getting to know all the ladies, and thanks to our running backgrounds, we had so much in common. (As the day progressed, I learned how much overlap there is between the NYC running and triathloning communities, which is awesome.) As we chatted away, the first wave of runners and walkers boarded the 8:30 a.m. ferry, and before long, it was 9:30 a.m. and time for us to head over.

[Jessica, Rachel, me, and Christine en route to Staten Island.]

Originally, our group planned to go to Susan E. Wagner High School, which was turned into a shelter, but there was a greater need for us farther inland at the Midland Beach Distribution Center.  After we disembarked the ferry, Valerie relayed this news and told us that running to this location would increase our total mileage from 10-ish to at least 12 miles roundtrip.  No one thought twice about it; we needed to go where we were needed the most.

Leaving the terminal and beginning to run led to an immediate sense of heaviness and desertedness.  There’s no doubt jogging with an extra 5-7 pounds caused this fatigue—which wasn’t that much compared to the 25-pound backpacks others lugged—but as our group headed farther and farther inland, this weight went from physical to emotional.  Trees were ripped from the ground, side streets were still flooded, and homes were completely destroyed.

At one point, we stopped to regroup, and I talked to a resident who asked why we were wearing orange and wondered what we were doing.  After I told him about our group and the initiative at large, he said where we were standing would’ve been the start line of the marathon.  Instead of sleek banners, there was a rack of discarded clothes with a sign:  “Take what you need.”

I don’t know how to articulate this juxtaposition and do it justice; I don’t know how someone could stand at that street and talk to these people and still hold the marathon and have zero guilt.

Eventually, we arrived at the Midland Beach Distribution Center, which spanned an empty parking lot.

At this point, Valerie told us to help in whatever way we could—distributing meals, sharing information, or simply talking to residents.

The girls and I went to the food area, grabbed cups of hot soup and bags of fresh bread, and started walking farther inland.

During the next three hours or so, I didn’t take any pictures.  I’m usually not shy about snapping photos, but yesterday, it felt like an invasion of privacy; these were homes and lives destroyed.  Seeing families faced with the daunting task of cleaning up their homes and rebuilding their lives served as a humbling experience.  These individuals will spend the next days, months, and years dealing with and recovering from Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath.

At 1:30 p.m., our group reassembled and ran back to the ferry.

Even without the extra weight from our backpacks, it was still a heavy run back.  Although I was able to talk to Jessica, Valerie, and Robin about NYC triathloning, I also reflected on how extremely lucky I am:  to be part of the runner/triathlete community, to be unharmed by Hurricane Sandy, and to be able to help others.