Thursday, September 28, 2006

IMWI Weekend Adventure - Sunday 3

I did my best to relate the important points, although some details have been omitted for various reason. This was truly a learning experience for me - the first time I've been in a situation where I felt responsible for someone and was trying to move as fast as possible to take care of them while whole world felt like slow motion. It may sound silly now, but at the time I was truly, seriously worried about her health and safety.

As Iron Wil fell and I ran towards her I heard someone yell "Tracy!", then in a distant sort of way realized I was the one who yelled. It found it interesting that I, who routinely refers to her as Wil, reverted to her real name in a stressful situation.

I noticed other volunteers approaching her to help too, but they stood back as soon as they saw thatI knew her.

I knelt on the floor beside her and we talked for a few seconds - she was really having a tough time speaking and I was worried about her condition. Her head was in the race and I couldn't decide if that was a good thing or not - the big question on my mind was "did she understand she was hypothermic?" It was hard for her to talk but she asked about her swim time and how close she was to the bike cutoff and we talked about that for few seconds. I helped her up and hoped I could remember where the athlete warming room was because I was sure that's where she needed to be. She was clearly in rough shape and I was determined not to put any pressure on her to continue the race, so chose my words carefully. I put my hands on her shoulders, looked at her and asked "Tell me what you want to do."

"Run." The effort it took her to say the word brought tears to my eyes. But Iron Wil wanted to run, so I was instantly determined to make it happen.

I remember trying to say something encouraging as I gently took her frozen, shaking hands away from her chin so I could undo the buckle. As I removed her helmet I called for someone to bring me her bag, yelling her number at them as they ran for it. She put her left arm around me and we were already moving towards the door when they brought it to us. I remember telling them, probably too harshly, "put it in my hand" because I didn't want her to have to deal with it. I remember reaching for the bag and being surprised to find her helmet already in that hand.

Going through the door was surreal. It was like walking into a wall of sound and for a moment I couldn't remember who these people were or why they were so happy. The path to the changing rooms was lined with cheering spectators and she was a hero, possibly the last cyclist of the day to make it through. In the moments between the two transition rooms I felt this overwhelming protectiveness - which even as I felt it I knew was ridiculous. Who was I to think for one second that Iron Wil needed me to protect her from anything?! But it's what I felt, and I wanted to get her away from all these people so she could be alone and deal with her condition and really decide if she could run.

I helped her into a chair in the changing room and as I took off her cycling shoes asked if she had dry clothes somewhere. She said she had a black jacket in her morning clothes bag. There was another volunteer standing near us, so she watched over her while I ran to get the jacket.

I was going on blind faith at this point - I'd heard that the gear bags were all being gathered together for the athletes to pick up in the room "just past the changing rooms" but I had not actually confirmed the information. Right then I'd never hoped so much for a vague snip of something I'd overhead to be true. It was.

The curtain blocking the doorway was only a few steps away, and thanks to the random luck of numerical order her bag happened to be only a few steps from the door. I grabbed both the morning clothes and the T1 bag and ran back to her, having been gone maybe 20 seconds.

I dug frantically through the bags but there was no jacket, only some cotton pants and a shirt. While I asked her for more information, tried to find out if she'd already maybe given the jacket to her husband at some point, I pulled open her T2 bag to get her transitioned.

And then I thought "Oh god, I've got the wrong bag."

I was holding a pair of white shoes with blue stripes and I was convinced they couldn't be hers because this image from the IMWI gear section on her sidebar was apparently burned into my subconscious, serving no other purpose than to paralyze me at this moment.

I debated the wisdom of asking her about it, but decided I was being ridiculous and continued getting her ready. The entire internal debate took maybe 4 seconds. I also had an odd moment when I stressed about repacking her bags nicely because Iron Wil is OCD like me and I was convinced she'd be upset if I didn't do it right.

I was happy to find socks in her gear bag and soon enough she was changed into dry footwear. I had her put on the hat too, hoping it would protect her face from the rain. Then I turned my attention to the dry clothes.

She asked about the jacket again and I hated telling her I just didn't have it. I pulled out the t-shirt and pants but she said she didn't want to wear them because they would soak through. I felt like an idiot for suggesting something that would make her even colder.

She was still shaking but was clearly preparing to leave. I asked her if she'd planned to run with a fuel belt or if she'd planned food for T2, hoping to get her to stay a little longer, get warmer, take in some calories she probably needed anyway. But she was having none of it.

I knew there was another step I should be taking to keep her warm, but it was on the edge of my mind and stubbornly eluded my attempts to pin it down. As I helped her in the direction of the exit, still shivering and still not walking with much confidence, I was trying so hard to stall her so I could come up with it. Another volunteer (I wish I'd gotten her name, she was great) was watching her with concern and when I said "she wants to run" the look on her face was indescribable, perhaps best summed up as 'disbelief + concern + how can I help.'

Then Wil was pointing at the corner and stammering and the thing that I'd been trying so hard to remember finally hit me: Plastic Bag!!! She was pointing at the plastic bag. Then the answer I'd had all along came flooding back. I grabbed the bag, tossed it at the volunteer and asked her to make a hole in it for me - I had a mission. NOW she could wear the warmer clothes!

I ran back to her gear bags, grabbed the clothes, and in short order she was dressed. I felt the first hint of 'maybe she'll be ok' because her shivering visibly improved when she got the dry shirt on.

The hole the volunteer made in the bag was too small, and in my haste to enlarge it I made it too big. In desperation I did the only thing I could think of - pulled the rubber band out of my hair and tied the opening shut to keep her shoulders dry.

She was moving a little bit better now but was still shivering an awful lot. It occurred to me at this point that her husband probably didn't know where she was, and I asked her if she wanted me to call him. She said yes.

She sipped some warm water, and then as a final stall tactic I asked if she needed to use the bathroom before she hit the run course. She did, but was not amused when I told her they were outside.

"That's just wrong." I don't know why, but I found this hysterically funny, the effect made even funnier by her chattering teeth. She was absolutely right, it was truly absurd that they had to walk past the indoor bathroom to use the porta-potties. She said it again when I asked the volunteer outside the changing room for directions to them and she pointed out the door. "That's ten different kinds of wrong." I couldn't help laughing at the ridiculous situation.

Before we made it out the door she screamed and jumped into the air, beating her fists on her thighs. I had no idea what to say and don't remember if I said anything. Then she kind of yelled, in response to the question on my face, "I'm so sick of the shivers!!"

That made me laugh too. And that was when I decided it was probably ok to let her go run, that her fighting spirit was going to win the day.

While she made a pit stop I borrowed a pen from a spectator, and wrote the cell number she gave me on my arm. I promised to let Mr. Wil know she was ok and then she was off, and I was just another fan screaming "Go Iron Wil! You Rock!!" as she ran.

I called the number but got a recording saying it was out of service. Luckily I am insane and will carry paper around in my bag for days until I can find a recycling bin, so I had Simply Stu's number in my bag with the directions to Friday's dinner. I gave him a call, knowing that Mr. Wil had planned to be with Stu. He said they had just seen her and she looked great. She was running and smiling.

I took a deep breath and leaned against the wall for a minute. Then I remembered that I was still on duty and headed back to the gear bags.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

IMWI Weekend Adventure - Sunday 2

I entered the T2 gear bag room right on time, not sure what to expect but not expecting what I saw. It was awesome.

At least a dozen volunteers, each assigned to a numbered section that contained 200 bags. The captain was in the doorway with a megaphone. I'm pretty sure someone was relaying numbers to her (but I couldn't see how) because she was shouting them to us with enough lead time to locate the bags and have them ready to hand off to the athletes.

T2 at 3:00
It was really fast-paced and organized and I loved it - it very much felt like I was part of the race, unlike when I was working the bike course. Patrolling the bike course I felt like a bystander, and an unwanted one at that - I'm the guest nobody wants at the party, the sober guy you hitch a ride from when everything goes terribly wrong. But in T2 the athletes are happy to see you and are generous with their thanks.

This is definitely another job where you've got to have a lot on the ball. While there are lulls (and by lulls I mean the athletes come one at a time instead of five at a time), especially late in the day, the numbers often come fast and furious and you have to be quick on your feet. The older gentleman in the section just in front of mine was struggling - he couldn't hear the numbers announced (it was tough, you had to concentrate), and he didn't seem clear on which numbers were in his section. Those of us right next to him did our best to tell him which ones were his area, and more often than not we had to pick it up for him. I tried to give them to him so he could hand them off, I felt like I was being rude to him doing his handoffs, but he truly couldn't keep up and I also didn't want to keep the athletes waiting. After a while his knees were bothering him too much and he sat out the rest of the shift; the captain had noticed how I'd been covering him, so after checking with me that I didn't mind she just had me take over his section. He was really sweet - a proud dad with a son racing - and I thought it was admirable he signed up to work considering it was hard on him physically. I hope next time he signs up for a job that's better suited for him; he just didn't seem like he was having any fun.

Around 4:00 I caught a few seconds between numbers and scoped out Iron Wil's and TriSaraTops' bags. Things had really thinned out by then so it was easy to find them.

T2 after 4:00.

Around 4:30 I started checking my watch a lot.

Around 4:45 I called my husband and asked him to check IronmanLive for me. He told me her swim time and that it didn't yet show her back from the bike.

Around 5:00 I started checking my watch obsessively. I'd look at it, do a few bags, think that it had to have been 20 minutes, check it again, and find that it had been 17 seconds. I was also checking bags 2283 and 2198 regularly.

A short while after 5:00 I noticed Sara's bag was gone. She'd managed to slip by, not 15 feet away. I don't know how since I was listening for all the numbers - I must have been in the middle of helping another athlete. I was sorry to have missed her but relieved she'd made it through.

This was also about the time the traffic had slowed enough the highly organized captain started gradually pulling volunteers from this station and moving them to the next gear bag task. Each time she sent people to the next assignment I declined, asking to remain to see my friend through. She was really nice about it and let me stay - I think she also appreciated that by then I was managing to cover six sections by myself.

By 5:20 the athletes were few and far between and I was genuinely concerned about Iron Wil. Not for her race - at that point whether or not she finished wasn't even on my radar. I had seen so many racers come through dripping wet, shivering, blue-lipped, collapsing. I'd heard so many medics called for and seen so many people pulling off their own jackets and sweatshirts and even t-shirts to wrap around athletes huddled in corners under silver foil blankets. I'd removed helmets and gloves from athletes who seemed ashamed to have to ask, but whose frozen fingers literally couldn't do it. I was afraid that Wil had become one of the casualties of the weather, huddled on the side of the road waiting for someone to bring her in out of the cold.

It was also around 5:20 that the captain told us to start pulling up the carpets and dismantling T2. As a back of the packer, as someone who knows what it feels like to come in when people have given up on you and gone home, this tore me apart. I felt like I was betraying my fellow triathletes by taking apart T2 before their time was up, so I found other things to do while I checked my watch every 4 seconds, wondering where Wil was.

At 5:30, the volunteers were ready to be done, but both the captain and I pointed out that the racers still had some time. They had to cross the timing mat by 5:30, and it usually took them a few minutes to reach us.

When it was 5:32 by my watch I had this crazy hope that she'd already been through, that I had her number wrong, that she was already on the run and everything was fine. As I was turning from the door to get my phone, thinking I'd call my husband one more time to check her status on IronmanLive...

I heard a sound and turned back just in time to see Iron Wil falling to her knees.

Friday, September 22, 2006

IMWI Weekend Adventure - Sunday 1

I apologize for the tardiness of this post. As much as I have wanted for over a week to sit down and write it, work had to come first. It's turning out to be huge, so I'll put it out a piece at a time. Please let me know if it's too big - a lot happened and I wasn't sure what you'd care to hear about.

When I woke up Sunday morning my first thought, after internally bemoaning my still-rotten cold, was concern for the athletes. The weather was nothing like the forecast predicted - it was downright chilly with a light rain.

I paused on the walk to my van to stare at my watch, counting down to 7:00. I had a twinge a regret for not seeing them off in person, silently wished the racers a safe swim and headed for Verona. I was halfway there when my phone rang; it was the Bike Sag Captain asking me if I was "at Monona Terrace." Considering the lengths I'd gone to not 24 hours before to pin him down to meeting me at the Verona aid station (HIS choice of location, btw), I was speechless for a moment. Then, doing my best to hold back the frustration and incredulity from my voice, I let him know I was pulling up to Verona where we had agreed to meet. He said he'd be there in 20 minutes. It was nearly 30 minutes before I saw him, but since the racers were still in the water I wasn't too concerned about starting the shift a few minutes late.

What I was concerned about was something I'd wondered the day before and hoped would magically reveal itself to me when the time came. I had no idea how I was supposed to drive along the bike route and give the athletes enough room. Unfortunately, this concern had a lot of merit.

Got my radio, got loaded up with water (which I found ironic and unnecessary, especially considering I'd already brought a cooler full of cold beverages, but they insisted) and got some food from an aid station - the stuff they say to have in case you pick up athletes. After some brief instructions on how to get around the Verona roadblocks (that had closed since I'd arrived), I was on my way. Sans, btw, the Race Support window clings he'd said we needed, because he didn't have them. He gave me a makeshift paper sign (but no tape), so every time I approached police blocks I had to hold up the damn sign to get through.

I was feeling very official with the radio and all - I got to hear everything going on from the control center whether it was related to my station or not. This was a bit unsettling when I began to hear frantic calls for heaters and amubulances as the later swimmers emerged from the water, some clearly hypothermic.

I wasn't on duty 5 minutes when the first call about a distressed cyclist came in - she was barely out of Monona Terrace, still on the bike path. They were being polite on the air, but it sounded like the swim had shaken her up badly and she was dizzy and vomiting. Control called for Bike Sag One and asked if I could get her... there were a couple of problems with this. First, I'd been told by my captain that nobody needs help that close to home and not to go that far down the course. Second, I had no way to reach her on the bike path (I later heard them saying it wasn't even safe to take the golf carts down the path for fear of hitting cyclists). Third, I was in stinkin' Verona, at least 20 minutes away. So, I regretfully had to tell them I couldn't reach her; at least a medic stayed with her until she could walk to a nearby spot another volunteer happened to be at for a ride.

I marveled at the ridiculous number of tech support calls for flats. By 10 am the list was over 25 athletes long and all the Tech Support guys could say was "we'll get there when we can." I stopped for every cyclist I saw on the side of the road but it was so early in the race (some hadn't gone 10 miles yet) that nobody was cold enough yet to give up over a flat. One poor guy I stopped for was on his third flat in 15 miles. I heard various theories for this, but the one that made the most sense was that the moisture made road debris stick to the tires.

I can sum up the experience of patrolling the bike course in two words: nerve wracking.

On the way to Madison I had a different lane than the cyclists, but always had to be on the lookout for cars coming the other way who were in my lane. Because of the rain I was concerned about getting stuck in the soft ditches as I pulled off to let them by.

On the way to Verona I had to share the lane with the cyclists, which is essentially impossible to do. I drove on the left when I could, but with all the rolling hills this is incredibly risky because of vehicles coming from the other direction that can't see you. Even with the rain and cold I left my windows open so I could hear the cyclists yell if I got too close. Even with windows open and constantly watching the mirrors and checking over my shoulder all the time, frankly my van has some pretty bad blind spots and I was flat out terrified of impinging a cyclist's space and putting them in danger.

I was told by my captain to "always obey traffic laws" because he has witnessed the police ticketing race support vehicles who did not. Imagine straddling the center line, cyclists in front of and behind you and some of them passing so sharing the lane beside you, the sound of rain, the annoying slap of windshield wipers, the crackling and constant radio chatter... and approaching a 4-way stop full of cops and with cars backed up in every direction (except yours). You can't get over in the left lane because there's a car stopped in the oncoming lane across the intersection.

What would you do? Yeah - I didn't know either.

In desperation I thought about the one other piece of advice I'd received from my captain - "just honk at them and move into the lane, they'll get out of your way" - and thought the same thing about it then as I did when I first heard it (more or less "are you fucking kidding me there's no way in hell anyone in their right mind would do that").

What I actually did was slow way down (and I'd only been going maybe 15mph), trying to simultaneously watch the cop and my mirrors, hoping for a space between cyclists to squeeze over a bit. As I slowed, I hear a woman screaming from behind "GO CAR GO NO DON'T STOP GO!!!!" while the red-faced cop - who had not visibly waved me through - shouted something like 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU CAN'T STOP' I'm still not sure how I made it through the damn intersection without hitting anyone.

GREAT for the ol' blood pressure. And I was signed up for 5 hours of this.

One thing I will say about working this station is that you truly have to have a lot on the ball. I tried to think of a nice way to say that without implying any disparagment of my fellow volunteers, but..... Hmm. How to explain. Here's one example of the are-you-freaking-kidding-me-ness I encountered. One of the Bike Sag drivers called in to Control and then.... you could hear her breathing, you could hear her talking to her friend in the car, wondering why they didn't answer... this went on for nearly a minute, and I'm sure every other volunteer with a radio was screaming along with me: "LET GO OF THE DAMN BUTTON YOU F&*%^NG MORON!!!"

Eventually she must have decided they weren't going to answer and let the button go so Control was able to respond. I marveled at the politness with which he explained to her how the "push to talk" button works and that she should please keep in mind when she held it down she was blocking radio traffic from everyone on that channel.

Around 9:00 I started to keep my eyes open for Iron Wil, TriSaraTops and the other Tri-Bloggers I'd met Friday. I can't remember what time it was, but I did catch a glimpse of Iron Wil when she was around mile 12. It was so quick I barely realized it was her before she blew by, so I was left cheering and clapping alone in my car. I'm also pretty sure I saw Pharmie around mile 10.

Around 8:20 the two lead cyclists passed through the first aid station just as I happened to be there. I can't tell you how exciting it was to see the lead car with the clock on top. I grabbed my camera and shot, but unfortunately it had been jostled around in my pocket and the setting got bumped from picture to movie. (Nope, it doesn't appear it actually recorded a movie either.) By the time I realized it the lead male was past and the female lead was just passing. All I caught was the tail of her fast-moving rear wheel.

The tail end of the lead female cyclist as she blows by on Whalen Road.

Around 9:30 Control starting requesting information on the final cyclist on the course, but it was quite a while before they had confirmation on it. I knew as soon as she passed I was out of a job, so I was keeping my eyes open as well. I was making my last trip towards Madison when I found her, looking great after what had to have been a rotten 2-plus hour swim.

Final cyclist out of T1, very early in the race.

As soon as she passed I got on the radio and asked my captain what I should do next. I had 90 minutes left in my shift. There had been an enormous amount of activity from the northern section of the loop, so when my captain was stumped speechless over my question I suggested I head up to help them out. He said that sounded great and to meet him at the Cross Plains aid station.

After a seeming eternity of dodging bikes and winding roads and frustration, I was still more than 20 miles from Cross Plains. Right at Bike Special Needs I happened across a volunteer I recognized from the previous day's meeting and he gave me directions for a great shortcut up Cty P. Had he not, I might literally have pulled over and cried from frustration. More of the same, really - map sucked, no directions provided, didn't know the area, was stuck following the bike course, which is inherently slow, dangerous and stressful.

En route to Cross Plains there was a huge amount of radio chatter about some very cold cyclists who had made their way to the aid station and were waiting for transport back to Madison. The Sag van assigned to the area was already full with a load back to Monona, and it would probably be at least an hour before they could be picked up. I got on and informed Control that I was free and on my way to that location; they said that was perfect and instructed me to do the transport.

I arrive at Cross Plains, I find the guy in charge of the aid station, he says "great!" they're cold and have been waiting a long time, let me go get them. As I see him talking to the cyclists, the Bike Sag captain runs over, dramatically waving me off and telling me that's not my job. Um... hello?! My part of the course is empty, there's 30 freaking minutes left in my shift, these guys have no one else to take them AND I was pretty sure I needed to meet the guy taking over my shift at Monona at noon. How much more fucking logical a solution can there possibly be?

He would not let me take them back.

He ordered me to patrol from Cross Plains to Mt. Horeb (which was already freaking covered by another van, so all he did was create a situation where we'd have to pass each other in the ditches), and he said if I did that loop and the cyclists were still here when I got back, then I could take them back. At this point there's like 25 minutes left in my shift, I'm at least a half hour from Madison and he's telling me to do a loop that will take at least an hour. I debated the wisdom of arguing with him, maybe explaining that I didn't have a Tesseract in my back pocket to make this ridiculous timeline work out, but decided not to rock the boat and go ahead with his stupid instructions. I hadn't scheduled back-to-back shifts and had a little time before I was due in T2, plus there was a cyclist on that section who had been out there for more than an hour waiting for Tech Support. I figured I could check on her status - miraculously, my captain suggested the same thing.

Just a few minutes after setting on out this mission I saw Iron Wil at roughly mile 37. She caught my eye and flashed me a great big smile, then tucked back in and continued on her way. She looked strong and happy and I was excited knowing I should see her in T2.

I found the stranded rider without much trouble around mile 34 - she was about a half mile north of the little jog on Mineral Springs Road between the two sections of Garfoot Road. She was in the driveway of a very nice woman who had done everything in her power to make racer 2279 comfortable. The athlete was concerned about being disqualified, so refused to come inside from the cold. The wonderful woman brought her hot coffee, offered her food, wrapped her in a blanket and stood by her side the entire time.

When I arrived she had been waiting for 90 minutes. She had arrived only wearing a tri suit, but when I found her she was wearing: a shirt a volunteer had literally taken off their back, a jacket from the woman's home, and was wrapped in a blanket. She was still covered in goosebumps.

I got on the radio and asked again how far away Tech Support was. They'd had something like 12 calls in that stretch - so much so they'd sent a patrol looking for something deliberate on the road. Their disheartening response, which I was sorry 2279 overheard, was "tell her we'll get there when we get there." I think the problem was that there are two sections of Garfoot road, because in the 15 minutes or so I stood with her I gave them extremely specific directions at least 3 times.

Control came back with a polite version of 'WTF are you doing up there with her when we told you to bring the cyclists back from Cross Plains?!' My very carefully worded response (while the wide-eyed athlete and bystander listened in disbelief) was "I saw my captain and am doing what he told me."

This racer really tore my heart out. She was a petite blond but clearly made of Iron. Her emotions ranged wildly as I talked to her, tried to take her mind off the ridiculous situation.

She said, with tears in her eyes: "It's ok if they're not coming. Just tell me if they're not coming so I can know I can go get warm. If I'd known they weren't coming I'd have gone with the first guy over an hour ago."

She said, with resignation: "Well, I've always had good Ironman races before, I was bound to have a bad one sometime."

She screamed, jumping up and down with tears and rage and frustration: "They're never coming this just isn't right where are they?!"

I promised not to leave 2279's side until the situation was resolved, but she did make me drive down a bit to make sure the techs weren't on the other side of Mineral Point Road. When I returned from this little loop, maybe 15 minutes, the Techs had finally arrived.

She asked, with genuine concern, after the bike tech finally put on the new tire after a two hour wait: "Do I have time to finish the first loop cutoff?"

The tech answered nonchalantly "you've got time." I thought his answer was just too quick and too easy - he didn't even look at his watch. I didn't know there was a first loop cut-off, nor when it was, so I couldn't do anything but hope he wasn't full of it.

She removed the layers (giving me the volunteer's shirt, which I still have and will always remember her by). Ran a few steps with her bike, started to get on but then stopped and came back. Insisted on getting the woman's name. Insisted on getting mine. Thanked us both, and then resumed her race.

She did make the bike cutoff - including the 2 hour wait, her bike split was 8:27. I wish I could report that she conquered the awful morning and went on to finish but she, like so many racers that day, succumbed to the cold and did not start the run.

As soon as she was off safely I decided to blow off going to Mt. Horeb and headed back to the Cross Plains aid station. Sidebar: another organization problem I noted was that the bike volunteers referred to the aid stations by city name, but the Control center referred to them by numbers. If you don't happen to know the precise location of every aid station on the bike route, then when Control tells you to go to Bike Aid 3 you're pretty much screwed unless you want to ask - for the entire volunteer staff to hear - where that is (I had to do this humiliating thing. Just one more item on the list of things that irritated the crap out of me.) The bike course map does not include city names or aid stations.

On the way I called my Captain to let him know where I was headed - at this point is was nearly an hour past the scheduled end of my shift and I was still a half hour from Madison even with the shortcut. I asked him where I was supposed to meet the guy who supposedly started my route at noon so I could pass along the radio (without which you literally cannot function in this job).

He had no idea, so his grand plan (which took multiple radio contacts and cell phone calls to work out) was for me to give the radio to the aid station captain and instruct him to pass it along to "a guy named Tim in a white van."

Done rolling your eyes now? 'Kay.

So I handed off my radio. Oh, and another van had just been by 10 minutes prior and took the athletes (who waited nearly two hours) back to Monona. That took my grand total of athletes transported during my 6+ hours on the job to: ZERO.

By some miracle I found my way back to County P, pausing only once on the side of the road to call my husband at home (convinced I was somehow northbound instead of south), lamenting that I was lost in rural Wisconsin and to please Mapquest my ass out of the situation. By some stroke of luck I was going the right way (I tried to figure out my direction by the sun, but there wasn't any) and reassured, continued on.

Made it to Madison around 2, swung through a McDonald's to grab a lunch I couldn't taste anyway from my cold, stopped by the hotel just long enough to choke down my sandwich and change shirts for my next volunteer station.

Then I headed out to work T2.

Final Note: As bad as this sounds, I was still very happy to be of assistance to the athletes. I'm sure nobody would question it if I never worked this job again, and I debated it. In reality, I left this shift resolved to continue working it in future races until I know it well enough to take it over someday so the racers can get the support they deserve.

Monday, September 18, 2006

IMWI Weekend Adventure - Saturday

Saturday dawned dark and wet. I woke on time not from the sunrise, as I'd hoped, nor from the (late) wake-up call, but from waking every two hours or so on the lopsided hotel mattress and checking my watch in frustration. I went to the 8 am volunteer meeting more convinced than ever my "allergy attack" was turning into something more involved, and piled on the cold medicine to get me through the morning.

To my relief I found Monona Terrace and a decent parking spot with ease. I followed the signs to the volunteer meeting and found it with no trouble. I walked into the huge hall and noticed stacks of boxes distributed throughout the room, each labeled with a volunteer station and sitting next to a sign with the station's name. My OCD was happy with what appeared to be organization on a massive scale.

That was the last time all weekend I would have this feeling.

The first thing I noticed was that the volunteer teams were divided around the room so people could sit at a table with their captains to get information. Many, many people were signed up for multiple stations, but no one seemed to have a plan to handle that little detail.

Anticipating trouble, I found both my captains before the meeting started, informed the Gear Bag captain I had to get instructions from the Bike Sag captain and that I would meet them shortly. He said that was fine and to meet them after the meeting in ballroom C/D, where the crew gear was stashed.

The volunteer meeting closed with the announcement that the weather for the next day was supposed to be in the 60s, a bit overcast and no rain. Then they sent us off to meet with our individual teams.

Working the bike sag team is fairly complex when you get down to it. The course is broken into sections, and each Sag driver patrols a section. The Van drivers are assigned to aid stations, where the Sag drivers drop riders for transfer to the vans and transport back to Monona Terrace. Mix in a variety shifts starting at 7:30am and going until the course is cleared, everyone needing a radio and window signs identifying us as 'race support' vehicles (so the police will let us through), and in general needing a way to transfer this equipment between shifts, and you have the making for a mess. Especially when the volunteer instructions do not require you to have "knowledge of the Madison area" to work this station (many stations do state this requirement) and you have people like me signing up for it.

Of course, with all this complexity, I assumed the captain would have a plan of attack, a schedule of rendezvous points and equipment hand-offs, a cell-phone list, etc. How couldn't he? He'd been emailing us for weeks to ascertain course section assignments.

Yeah. The best way I can explain my reaction to the captain's "plan" is: Danger Wil Robinson.

He gave us printouts of the course map... in a manner of speaking. What he gave us were photocopies of a b&w printout of the color map from the website. The entire section I was supposed to patrol didn't even show up and was literally a blank white space. Far as I can tell... that was his entire plan. That, and telling us our section assignments in terms that were not actually on the map. (e.g. One designated patrol route was from Verona to Cross Plains, but the map does not show the city names or locations.)

He had no plan for meeting us in the morning to hand out radios, supplies or vans (the race supplies some vehicles.) He had no plan to arrange equipment hand-offs between shifts. He didn't even have the right t-shirt sizes on hand for us (which we had signed up for online and should have been handled by a computer!!) - not normally a big problem, but there was one volunteer who needed a 3X and there was only a Large available. Only my recent weight loss saved me from the same humiliation. It was ridiculous.

Had I not suggested that he, perhaps, would be wise to take down all of our cell phone numbers, there would probably still be people wandering around the damn course trying to find him. Had I not, at that moment, insisted he give me HIS cell phone number and then program it into my phone while he said it, I would have missed my entire first shift. I literally asked him concrete questions over and over again before I got any semblance of acceptable answers. When I left, I had pinned him down to meeting me at the Verona aid station at 7:30 am. I was planning to watch the swim start at Monona Terrace and had my own van, so he agreed I didn't need to meet him until then.

I finally got away from Captain Clueless and headed for the gear bag room where, of course, there was no one.

I wandered into every single ballroom where gear bags would be stored. I asked the information lady stationed by the doors and she took me right back to the rooms I'd already been too.

It was getting to be almost 10 (the official volunteer meeting probably only lasted until 8:30, the rest was spent in frustration trying to track down poorly organized people and information). I was pretty sure the gear bag areas opened to the athletes at 10, so I wandered around the shopping area for a bit. I figured I'd find a gear bag person in the gear bag rooms right before they opened for the athletes, and that is how it worked out.

By now the cold medicine was wearing off, I was feeling like hell and I had a gear bag shift to work from 3 - 6. I wanted to take a nap, but also knew I was going to be screwed if I didn't figure out the bike course before the next morning since no amount of grilling was going to get me the info I needed from my damn captain.

I literally drove around near the Alliant Center for about half an hour before I figured out the way the bike course headed out of town. Those of you who have been there understand just how ridiculous this is, and how bad the directions must have been!

From there, between the half-assed map and my vague recollection of the awesome bike course video that Simply Stu did, I was able to figure out my section of the bike course (more or less) and I headed back to the hotel for a nap.

I woke up feeling even worse and not knowing how I was going to face 3 hours of work. I piled on the cold medicine and headed out.

Fearing the worst given the morning's experience, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of the gear bag work was already done - the captains said they got started ahead of time and it worked out great. We were done with T1 bags by 4:30 and a couple of us popped over to T2 to give them a hand, but they were already done too.

I stayed for a minute after everyone left. Right then, I didn't care about my stuffy head. Seeing those empty rooms, the rows of bags sitting in silence... it hit me hard. In less than a day these rooms would be filled with athletes, racing for the title of Ironman. I soaked it in. I know it's a cliche, but those rooms truly felt like the calm before the storm. No one could no how literally true that would turn out to be.

T1 on Saturday afternoon.

I stayed an extra moment in T2, getting a feel for the room I'd work on Sunday.

I knew that working on Sunday meant there were things I probably wouldn't get to see, so I walked around a bit to check out the venue. I got a kick out of seeing the rows of race-ready bike bling.

From the bike overlook I went to the top. I stood up there for a long time, staring at the water. Trying to imagine swimming that course myself. I have no idea how the athletes faced that dark, angry water. On my best day, on the best weather day, I could do it now. I think. I can only keep working towards the day I can face it like they did, in these conditions.

I went back to the hotel and I slept, waking only long enough to call my husband, and for him to talk me into acknowledging that I was sick, sleeping later and missing the race start. He said my friends racing would understand. And because, he said, "there's always next year."

Writer Envy

... this beautiful post on The Athena Diaries.

Definitely having an 'I wish I'd written that' moment.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

IMWI Weekend Adventure - Friday

By Friday I'd been sick for about 3 days, and was starting to realize it maybe wasn't just a bad allergy attack like I'd originally thought. But I was going to Madison come hell or high water, and a runny nose wasn't about to stop me.

Husband loaded my van while I printed out a giant pile of paper. Directions to Madison, directions to my hotel, directions from my hotel to Monona Terrace, directions from my hotel to Simply Stu's, maps of the courses, volunteer parking passes, volunteer shift schedules... you get the idea. I had so many printouts it was ridiculous.

I took a bunch of antihistamines and cold medicine (still wasn't sure what I had, so was covering all bases) and took off for Madison. Got to my hotel to discover that they had not actually added my reservation for Friday night, which I had called in more than two weeks prior. Lesson learned: there is an 8am volunteer meeting on Saturday, and even if you're just volunteering late Sunday it's a good idea to arrive Friday night.

Thankfully they were not too full. While I was waiting for the guy to check me in, I saw a group of lean, tan and fit people come in wearing shiny bracelets and it hit me: this was Ironman weekend. These were potential Ironmen, right here in front of me.

Silly? Absolutely. But as someone who can still only dream about it, this was the closest I had ever been in real life to actual Ironman athletes. We chatted briefly, they thanked me for volunteering, and I wished them a good race as we parted ways.

I had about a half hour to chill out before heading over to Stu's for dinner. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Far as I knew, I was the only non-racing tri-blogger planning to show up. I don't why because I'm not shy at all, but the prospect of meeting people I've admired through cyberspace so long, like TriSaraTops and Iron Wil - had me all discombobulated. And the fact that dinner was at Simply Stu's was just plain surreal. Of course, they were all normal, wonderful people and I was silly to be worried.

TriSaraTops, me and Iron Wil at Simply Stu's.

Finding Stu's house was easy - it was the one with all the cars sporting bike racks and tri stickers. I had the dumbest thought as I parked (Literally: "OMG, that's Iron Wil's car!") and then I reminded myself these people are just like me, just farther along in the sport, and went in.

It was great. Wil recognized me right away and gave me a big hug. Everyone was really sweet and fun to talk to and it was really cool to connect the real people with the blogs I've been reading for so long. (It was also funny that people kept making remarks about imagining our faces with frames around them.)

As for Stu - what a great guy. He's truly as enthusiastic about the sport as he sounds in his podcast, and it is infectious. His attentiveness towards doing whatever he could to help the athletes with any information they needed before the big day was impressive. And I have to give credit to Mrs. Stu, who is one amazing woman! She doesn't get the tri thing at all, thinks we're all a bit nutty and and was making jokes all night - totally cracking us up. It's a testament to her understanding and generosity that she welcomed 20-odd strangers for dinner at her home for something she's not even interested in.

After dinner some of the athletes left for the "official" athlete information meeting and the rest stayed, where the IMWI veterans gave them pointers for the race. I can't tell you how lucky I felt to be among all these athletes on the eve of their big race. Hearing the questions they asked, the details they discussed... it made me want it for myself even more than I already did.

Like the true tri-geeks that we are, the evening ended with us watching the IMWI 2005 and Kona 2005 shows Stu had recorded. I lost count of how many times someone made some highly geeky comment, everyone in the room nodded in understanding/agreement, and then someone bust out with some variation on "it's so great to be with my own people!"

IMWI 2005 Athletes at Simply Stu's - Back Row:Manitoba Guy, Simply Stu, TriThomps, Chris (XT4?), Chris (, Front Row: Michelle, Iron Wil, TriSaraTops, Pharmie

Friday, September 15, 2006

Slight Delay

I know, I know, I'm a baaaad blogger. I'm like, the only person who hasn't posted about last weekend's festivities.

Working outside in bad weather for, oh, 17 hours didn't do much for my upper respiratory infection, and it worked itself into bronchitis, blah blah blah. I've been quite the mess this week - still not great, but getting better.

Bottom line - being sick got me behind in work and catching up with that has been my priority. Hopefully will finish catching up today.

I plan to get all the pix together and write about IMWI this weekend.

Monday, September 11, 2006

What a Weekend

Just got back - have been in internet withdrawal for almost 4 days (the hotel claimed to have free wi-fi, but it never worked).

So much to tell. The weather made it a rough, rough day for a lot of people. I was lucky enough to cross paths with Iron Wil a couple of times while I worked, will tell about my tiny part of her enormous day when I finally write it all down.

Hard as it was, even working with what became a raging upper respiratory infection, I had a blast and I will definitely go back to work it again.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Madison Bound

I'm packing up and getting ready to head for Madison! Even though I'm just working the race this time, I feel like it's the first step towards my larger goal of racing it someday and in spite of a nasty head cold I'm very excited to be going.

And I'm not usually the type to believe in omens, but I just mapquested it and it is exactly 112 miles from my house....

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

All the Proof I Need

The last month or so I let exercise fall by the wayside in an attempt to manage a sudden onslaught of work. I thought it was the responsible thing to do, that the time I spent most mornings at the gym was much better spent at work for the time being.

I gained back 4 pounds in 3 weeks. My ability to sleep was seriously impacted. My appetite got all f'ed up - I eating out almost daily, felt hungry all the time and couldn't choke down a vegetable for anything. I was cranky and bitchy and started waking up with migraines - 5 in the last 2 weeks. That's some scary shit, guys. Numbers like that are liable to make my doctor slap me back on the medication I just fought so hard to get off of. That's about as many migraines as I've had, total, in the last six months.

Last week, after losing the second day in a row to a migraine - a puke-fest that was by far the worst I've had in a couple of years, the pain from which kept me in bed for about 6 hours, and the after-effects of which (dizziness, weakness, brain-fog) kept me useless for about 6 more - I realized that I was actually losing more work time to migraines and feeling crappy than I'd have spent at the gym anyway.

So I resolved to put the workouts back in, even if it meant working late. I eased back into things last week and felt remarkably good. Sleep patterns returning to normal, eating patterns returning to normal, optimism and patience returning, lost one of those pesky pounds I'd gained back. All the proof I need to know I'm making the right decision, and that dropping exercise cold turkey for work was horrible mistake.

Went to the gym today as planned. Started doing a 5K, as planned. Taking it easy, lost a lot to injuries this year, not out to prove anything. Did the first 2 miles to the HR monitor in Zone 2ish, then turned off the 'out of zone' beep at mile 2 to see if I could just run the rest.

I could. And it wasn't bad - HR in Zone 3-4ish and I felt fine. In fact, I felt so good I kept right on going to a new personal best for running distance - 1.25 miles! I felt like I could have kept right on running and it was tough to stop, but with my injury record for this season I wasn't going to break the 25% rule my first day back.

Pace wasn't great - 14:40/mile - but I'm really happy and can't wait to do it again. I feel like I finally have a shot at running down that 5K goal that's been eluding me for 18 months.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Sad News

Steve Irwin, better known as the Crocodile Hunter and one of the world's greatest animal lovers and conservationists, died today in an accident while filming poisonous sting rays. According to the cameraman, he inadvertently swam too near a stingray buried under the sand and it reacted defensively, stabbing his chest with its barbed tail.

As an animal lover - all animals, not just the cute ones - I have always had a tremendous respect for him and his efforts, and was devastated at the news. The world of wildlife conservation will sorely miss him.

Happy Ending

It took six months but my darling foster monster, Scout the Amazing Sock Eating Dog, finally found the perfect family.

It started with a phone call a couple of weeks ago - they saw his profile on the lab adoption site.

They're dedicated lab lovers, always get their dogs from rescue and have experience with dogs that are a handful. They lost one of their dogs - a 13 year old yellow lab - a few months ago, and were ready to adopt another. They have an enormous fenced yard, another dog and the husband has a home office. Oh, and they live in my town not 10 minutes away, and use a vet that I know and trust!

In short, they are the fairy-tale perfect family for a dog like Scout, who needs a lot of time, attention and exercise from experienced dog people. I cried after I got off the phone with them, so sure was I that my little foster monster was on his way out to a new family.

Scout snuggled up to comfort me when he found me crying after I talked to his future family for the first time. This was the last picture taken of him at my house.

Even though he's a total lover and has reasonable manners now, a part of me was sure they wouldn't want him because, let's face it, even though he's a different dog than we got six months ago (a dog so badly behaved another foster family had him for all of 20 minutes before they cried uncle) he still has a significant issue - if he gets in a mood, he will wander off and eat things that could kill him. But they seemed enamored with him after their first visit, and even knowing the worst about him they asked me to bring him over the next week to meet their dog.

He's beautifully socialized, so getting along with the other dog was a piece of cake. Even better, their next door neighbor has a pair of 1 year old Golden Retrievers, and they raced comically up and down the fence with Scout until all 3 of them were tired out. It was so clear the dogs would all get along they asked if they could have him for a test weekend.

They picked him up the following Friday night (about 10 days ago), with the assumption being that they would drop him off Sunday night and then think about it. I kissed him on the nose and told him to have a fun weekend.

They called me Saturday. They loved him to pieces and never wanted to bring him back. They wanted to know how soon they could sign the papers and make it official.

I cried. Not because I wanted him for my own, although I did come to love him like my own. He wasn't meant to be mine, and both he and I felt it. I cried because it was so sudden and I didn't get to say goodbye.

A few days later the papers were signed and I went over to pick up my food bowl and bid him a proper farewell. He was really happy to see us, but it was clear he was already their dog. After only 6 days with them he had obviously bonded more strongly with them than he had after 6 months with me - it was blindingly obvious he was meant to be a part of their family.

We played for a few minutes and then said our goodbyes. When we left, Scout was watching his new mom feed carrots to the neighbor's horses while his new dad hid treats around the yard for him to track. I left with a sense of comfort and peace. He's a quirky little character; an easy dog to love but a hard dog to live with. But I can tell they get him the way I do, and accept him for what he is, and he's going to have a long and happy life with his new family.

Scout with his new parents and playmate Brett.