Monday, May 5, 2014

The FUN of Race Course Marshaling

Last weekend I volunteered for the Appalachian Power Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon. I've raced it every year for the past four, so even though it was kind of a bummer to miss it, volunteering gave me a way to be a part of it. It's the season opener for many in the area.

[Sidebar: I am pretty sure that "Season Opener" translated from the Greek roots means "Cold as *$%* Lake Water." That part I was OK with missing out on. Other than that, the racers (and volunteers) got a near perfect race day.]

The first thing I did was recruit a friend. Equipment Coach was happy to go to see probably twenty of the Roanoke Tri Club kits go by with his Solar Connexion logo prominently featured on the sides! They were sharp looking!

Bob the Builder. Yes he can.

I took my job VERY seriously. With the orange and yellow vest comes great responsibility. And tremendous power (even if only in my own mind...bwah hahaha!)...which I took full advantage of, stopping cars with a single outstretched hand, and yelling what I hoped to be power-inducing phrases at the cyclists.

I set up my little station with folding chair (not used once the first cyclist arrived), bottle of water, iPhone. Then I sat down and waited (not long) for the first cyclist who was minutes ahead of everyone else, earning him a police escort! A resident pulled up to my stop sign in his car to watch, health reasons keeping him from walking. His daughter and her friend were racing.

Then, while keeping an eye on the traffic behind me (maybe six cars over 1.5 hours), I tried to take photos of athletes I knew. I clapped and yelled vague encouragement to the speedy front-packers. They wouldn't hear anything I said anyway. At this point, I was totally amped up!!

Then, when the mid-packers arrived, my mouth opened, and out spewed a near continuous stream of roadside cheerleading on this uphill portion of the course. I tried to assess body language and facial expressions to carefully select the right words for each cyclist. I quickly developed a repertoire of (I hoped) encouraging words that included such phrases as:
  • This is what you trained for!
  • Dig, dig, dig!
  • If it hurts, you're doing it right!
  • You've got great momentum up this hill, keep it up!
  • A happy racer is a speedy racer! (for those with smiles)
  • Nice and smooth (for those looking like they were about to go off the road)
  • Go get that guy! (pointing ahead)
  • That drink had super powers!
  • Believe!
  • You're a climber! I can tell!
  • You've got another gear, I know it! (I got thanked for this a few times)
  • Who will get to the top of the hill first?? (for groups of two or three)
  • Don't let that guy pass you!
  • You're eating this hill for breakfast!
  • This your first triathlon? One pedal stroke at a time, you're doing it! (end-packers)
The cool thing was really seeing the range of triathletes - the ages (13 - 75), the body types, the fitness levels, and the bikes. I saw at least a dozen mountain bikes out there which to me is a sure sign of a healthy local race that welcomes the newcomers. One thing that did not vary were the looks of determination from the very first rider to the very last (one of which had suffered a flat but carried on).

As I encouraged one of the final cyclists, she turned and said, "this is for my mom, I know she is watching me!" I told her I was sure she was and she was so super proud!

I wished I could know the story of each and every athlete out there. You know they have them. What led them to the sport, and what will this finish mean to them? I am so happy I got to have a tiny part of it all and I hope I didn't overstep my "Marshal" bounds. But I couldn't help but offer my energy in the only way I could, through my words.

Everyone should take the opportunity to volunteer at a race and see the bigger picture. I thoroughly enjoyed it and expect to do this some more.

I just looked for the blue Mill Mountain Star kits of the Roanoke Tri club and snapped away!

And for anyone curious about my recovery, I was back to see Dr. Davidson last Wednesday. I'm allowed back on the bike trainer and will continue walking through six weeks (May 14) when the abs will be at the point where I can't really do any damage. Then I can begin my gradual return to swim, bike, and run. I am feeling really good and pretty happy with how my recovery has gone!