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Temps were in the high 60’s and dropping slowly as I started my 8 – midnight shift last night as a Finish Line Catcher for the 2008 Ironman in Tempe, AZ. I chose the last shift for a couple of reasons. First, I know the people who come in after 8 pm have been on the course a long time and need lots of encouragement to get across the line. Second, I wanted to be part of the magic that is an Ironman and make a contribution in some way.

As I donned my latex gloves and cherished t-shirt, I took my place in line behind the other volunteers. Our captain, Claudia, had provided an orientation and information session the previous day, so I had some idea of what to expect. A very organized assembly line had been set up for the main purpose of moving the athletes from the finish line through the medal station, t-shirt and hat station, chip removal station, and photo-op location in a supportive yet timely manner. For those that needed extra assistance, a crack medical staff was standing by to provide an escort to the medical aid tent.

The bulk of the finishers crossed the line between 8 and 10 pm. As each one appeared at the start of the finish line chute, the announcer and crowd in the bleachers went wild. Reading the name of each person and where they were from Mike Reilly, known as the Voice of Ironman, would end with the four words every participant waited 140.6 miles to hear: “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. Each person experienced the thrill of crossing, arms raised, through the tape and across the last line as the Finish Line Tape Holders worked furiously to restring the tape for every runner.

Once they crossed the finish line, the job of the Finish Line Catcher began. There were two of us, one on each side, to support them as they moved through the different stations. As soon as they crossed the line we were right there throwing a space blanket around their shoulders. As we walked with them, holding them tightly in case their legs buckled, the conversations would go something like this….

” So and so…where are you from? Is this your first race? Yes? Well, Congratulations! YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”

or

“So and so…where are you from? Is this your first race? No? Well, Congratulations! YOU ARE AN IRONMAN AGAIN!”

Over and over and over this sequence was repeated as over 1000 finishers crossed the line during my shift. Specific details of the night are already starting to fade (chalk that up to staying up to late…), but here are some things that stick in my mind:

  • The 76-year old man who, after having open-heart surgery in January, finished his third Ironman of the year. His comment? “Just steer me to my wife. She is waiting for me.”
  • The man who just completed his 106th Ironman and his seventh this year.
  • The runners who came determinedly across the line and then passed out as soon as they reached our arms
  • The 50+ woman from Japan who finished in fine form
  • The smiles, the tears, the jubilation, and the relief of those who just completed probably the most difficult event of their lives…

And, as the clock wound down to the official cutoff time of 17 hours, we all waited anxiously in anticipation. Craning our necks to see down the chute we held our breaths and watched for the outline of an approaching runner. Five minutes to go, four minutes to go, then…at three minutes to go we see her. She appears at the far end of our vision and shuffles slowly toward the finish line. The crowd in the bleachers goes crazy with shouts and cheers and cow bells clanging. “Go, go, go! You can make it!” And slowly, step by step, she inches closer with the clock counting down. With just two minutes to go, she crossed the line. I am in place to grab her. Her eyes rimmed with tears and her face held in a position of exhaustion, relief, and disbelief she is so shocked that no words can come. Friends of hers gathered at the finish line huddle around with hugs and support as they move her through her medal, t-shirt, and photo station. She had DNF’d a couple of times before, but this time she made it! SHE IS AN IRONMAN!

As the clock wound down to 17 hours and no other runners approached, the volunteers began to disperse. Shaking hands and giving hugs we promised to be back to support again next year. As we turned to go we looked back and saw one more runner coming down the chute. She would not make the cutoff, but we ran up to escort her just the same. In our minds, she was an Ironman as well.

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Over the weekend, my sister-in-law Peggy competed in the Javelina Jundred Ultra Marathon. In this crazy event, participants ran laps around a 15.33 mile course in McDowell Mountain Park near Fountain Hills. To reach 100 miles, they needed 6 full laps and one partial.

Lots of people try and do the event in 24 hours or less, but the cutoff is 30 hours. If you finish in 30 hours, you are an official finisher and get a belt buckle or some other prize.

Well over 150 people registered but by my last count (around 6 am on Sunday) at least 70 had dropped out early. As Peggy ran throughout the morning and afternoon on Saturday, I could monitor her progress via the web. Being scheduled to pace her on the last lap, I wanted to be rested and fresh in order to be of most use to her during the final push.

Her first laps went well and she was in fine form. Lap 4 was her first paced lap and brother-in-law Paul stepped in to assist. Lap 5 seemed to be the most difficult taking her almost 7 hours to complete. Peggy or sister-in-law Jenny will have to provide input on that segment as I only heard about it second hand. The last full lap was paced by Mary.

When I arrived (around 7:00 am), Peggy and Mary were over halfway through the last full lap. Jenny was resting and awoke around 8 to get ready for Peggy’s return. While we were waiting at the main aid station, we readied the supplies requested by Peggy: some chicken broth, a coke, water, protein drink, some chips, oreos, etc…

Around 9:00 we were starting to get worried. Participants who were not headed out on the last lap by 10 am would not be allowed to continue. At about 9:20, we looked up to see Peggy and Mary approaching the timing area. Peggy headed full steam (as much as possible) to the aid station, quickly restocked, and she was on her way. Jenny and Mary decided to go along to pace as well, so the three of us set out.

The desert is beautiful this time of year (November) and today was no exception. As we headed up the only hill on the 8+ mile segment, the surrounding views of the McDowell mountains and 4-peaks provided a source of inspiration (for us pacers, anyway…) Not sure if anything could have inspired Peggy at that point other than a direct transport to the finish line. She was tired and her body was hurting beyond belief. I was amazed to see her still chugging along and putting one foot in front of the other. Time was of the essence as she had only 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete the race. So, we pushed her as much as we could. One of us walked behind her (and pushed when necessary) and the other two walked in front. Her goal was to get to the last aid station as quickly as possible leaving extra time to complete the last segment (about 3 miles).

One step at a time she motored along. By that point in the race she had covered over 90 miles and was feeling every bump and every incline or decline in the trail. It took us about an hour and 50 minutes to get to the aid station (which, we were convinced, had been removed as it never seemed to get any closer). Thinking we were home free and only 3 miles to go, the aid worker reported that we had 53 minutes to cover 3.7 miles. Yowza! Given that it had just taken Peggy almost 2 hours to cover 4+ miles, we were all thinking she wouldn’t make it.

Peggy, however, had other ideas. Before we knew it she had downed a drink and a snack and took off RUNNING down the trail. Mary and I looked at each other and took off after her leaving Jenny to fill water bottles and catch up. We literally had to run Peggy down on the trail and still had a hard time catching her. She seemed to have saved a little cache of energy for the last push and was using it to full advantage. We finally caught her and pushed ahead (seeing as how WE were supposed to be pacing HER. Or, as Mary kept reminding me, it was supposed to be MY pacing shift).

We ran with Peggy for probably 3 miles and headed into the last mile section with about 20 minutes to go. Mary and I pushed out in front to lead the way and Jenny, who had caught up, helped push Peggy from behind. The whole last mile we were yelling and encouraging her and commenting on how close she was. When we saw the road crossing leading into the last segment of trail, I knew we were close. As we rounded the corner into the campground, I could see the time clock with plenty of time. Peggy crossed the line at 29 hours, 53 minutes, and some seconds to the hoots and hollers of the small crowd that was gathered.

WHAT an accomplishment for her. There are many people who do not understand the draw and obsession of competing in an endurance event. I have never done 100 miles, but I have done almost 50 and I can imagine a tiny bit of what she was feeling. I know that I was feeling great joy for her having finished and for the opportunity to help push her along for the last little bit. Getting her through the last 10 miles (well, the last 40, really) was a team effort and the pacing work paid off in spades. She did it! Wow.

Congratulations, Peggy! I will pace you anytime (although she did say to try and discourage her from future long distance events). You can pay me back for Ironman Tempe 2010!

WAY TO GO PEGGY! YOU ARE A JAVELINA JUNDRED 2008 FINISHER!!!! WAHOOO!!!!!!

Photo Credits: Will LaFollette

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SOMA FINSHERS MEDAL

SOMA FINSHERS MEDAL

So, I finished. And, I finished in approximately the time I had hoped (3.5 hours). Turns out the bike course was 5 miles longer than it was supposed to be. I thought maybe my odometer was off, but someone else mentioned it as well. The bike was almost 32 instead of 27.

What did I get? Well, I got the very cool finisher’s medal shown above. On the back it says “FINISHER SOMA TRIATHLON TEMPE, ARIZONA”. I got the opportunity to compete in (well, complete) a very well organized and supported race (thanks again to all the volunteers and the directors and organizers!). I got to swim in Tempe Town Lake (yeah!).

But, more than the items above, I got from this event what I always get from these types of things and that is a sense of amazement and wonder at all the people who work so hard and train so hard to achieve a goal. You don’t just get up off the couch and do one of these events (well, some people do and I hope I at least passed some of them). You train, you sacrifice, and you work hard. And in the end (for us mere mortals) people don’t do these kinds of things to win races. They do them to succeed at something they committed to and worked hard for and, for many of them, thought they couldn’t do. So, a big “CONGRATULATIONS” to all competitors in the SOMA Triathlon today. You all did a great job. Can’t wait until next year (where I WILL be doing the half Ironman).

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7:42 am – The horn sounded for my wave (12 of 12) in the swim, and before I knew it I was swimming madly in a sea of frothing arms and legs headed East toward the Mill Avenue bridge. There’s something about the start of a race that catches you and sweeps you up into a series of “moment by moment” experiences and this race was no different. All I could think about was a) not drowning due to getting smacked in the head or kicked in the face and b) keeping my line as straight as possible to avoid “bonus distance”. I managed to accomplish both of these tasks and made my way around the course.

Swimming in Tempe Town Lake was not as bad as I thought it would be. In spite of the occasional “questionable floating lake particle” that I inhaled or the infrequent and unintended gulps of water, swimming in the lake was not really an issue (guess I need to wait a few weeks to see if any of those unintended gulps contained critters that should NOT be in my body!).

8:09 am – After approximately 27 minutes of mostly freestyle swimming, I exited the lake with the help of the “lake puller” volunteers. Up the stairs and down the carpet, I headed to the waiting “wetsuit pullers”. These volunteers have the fun job of helping the athletes strip their wetsuits off their bodies as quickly as possible. As you are running, you reach behind your back and pull your zipper then slip your arms out of the wetsuit sleeves. As you approach a volunteer, you sit down and they do the rest of the job for you. THANK YOU WETSUIT STRIPPERS!

With wetsuit in hand, I headed into the transition area. As the prize money for first place was nowhere in my sites, time was not a serious issue. So, I had some Hammer Gel, drank some water, put on my socks and shoes, visited the porta john (yes, again), put on my helmet, glasses, and gloves, and ran across the transition area to the “bike mounting” area.

8:14 am – On the bike now and ready to ride, I made a right turn out of the Tempe Beach parking lot and then hit the sharp curve of Rio Salado Parkway. The bike course was very convoluted and had lots of regular turns and U-turns. I am sure that designing a course that winds its way through downtown Tempe is not the easiest thing to do, so I can appreciate the task of the race directors. I must say, though, that the course was extremely well marked and monitored and there were many, many times I just “put my head down and rode”. What a great feeling after all the miles training and commuting with traffic and lights to deal with

“BB” the wonder bike gave a stellar performance as I was able to maintain an 18.6 mph average for the course. I passed lots and lots of people on the bike and was, of course, passed by lots and lots as well. Passing during a triathlon is tricky business as drafting is not allowed. Each person has an invisible box around them and when your box touches another athlete’s box, you have to pass in 15 seconds or incur a 4 minute drafting penalty. In a race with narrow lanes (online in a few places) and 1800+ riders, timing is critical. All the riders were great, though, and I did not see any accidents or abuse by the athletes. Vehicular traffic, however, was another matter as a couple of impatient folks actually turned onto the course in front of oncoming bikes. I guess they just couldn’t wait and didn’t really understand that a race was in progress.

9:57 am – I finished up the bike a little later than I had calculated and headed in for the second transition. Not looking forward to the run, I took my time. After another snack and some NUUN water, I exited the transition area and started on the run course.

10:06 am – I very quickly realized there was no way for me to run the entire 6.5 miles. In addition to being pretty burned from the bike, a nagging hamstring injury reared its ugly head. So, I resigned myself to a staggered running/walking pace. I am not a runner, but when I actually run I can keep a good pace just not for very long. So, I started running 100 paces and walking 50. Then, I went to 50 running and 25 walking. At some point I switched to 50 running and 50 walking. At any rate, I passed lots of people (well, some people) and TONS of people passed me. But, I still finished in 1 hour, 19 minutes which is nearly a 12 minute mile pace. I figured that was not too bad given I walked probably half the distance.

11:20 am – Finally crossed the finish line and took a big lunge through the Slip & Slide optional exit. With 93+ degree temps out, that water sure felt good!

See SOMA Triathlon – Results Writeup – Part 3 to finish up…

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  • Swim: 27 minutes
  • Transition 1: 5 minutes
  • Bike: 1 hr, 43 minutes
  • Transition 2: 4 minutes
  • Run: 1 hr, 19 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours, 37 minutes

Read on if you want the details….

SOMA Quarter Ironman Race – 2008 – Tempe Town Lake

2:45 am – Saturday evening I set my alarm for 3 am hoping to rise early and eat a bit before heading down to Tempe around 4:45. Trouble is, my alarm automatically adjusts for time changes and apparently, somewhere, there was such a change last night. I woke at what my clock said was 1:45 but what hubby’s said was 2:45. Realizing that now my alarm would do me no good, I got up and groggily shuffled into the kitchen.

3:15 am – Breakfast of champions ensued: scrambled eggs, cheese, tortilla, juice, coffee. I knew I would use a lot of calories today so wanted to get as many in me as early as possible with time for digestion.

4:45 am – After checking and rechecking my bags and equipment and clothes and food and reading Bicycling magazine articles about the return of Lance Armstrong (GO LANCE!), I gathered up all my things and drove down to Tempe. Parking near the Beach Park was impossible, so I had planned ahead and packed all my things in a nice rolling bag. Bumping along in the dark with my bike pump in one hand and the roller-bag hitting the back of my foot, I wondered what kind of craziness it takes to be up this early for a race.

5:00 am – Arrived at the transition area and stood in a long line of competitors waiting to get in. Rock music blared from the speakers nearby as a cheerful announcer worked his way down a list of announcements. Over 1800 people were racing today and lots of them were here already. I bumped my way to the far side happy to see my bike had made it through the night unharmed.

5:15 am – All my gear is ready and placed in strategic locations next to my bike. Tires are aired up and the bike looks ready to go. Great! I just have 2.5 hours to wait until my wave (the last one) of the swim start. (Jeopardy music plays in the background…the guy next to me is also standing there waiting having arrived even earlier than I did). “Well,” I said in his general direction. “Guess I’ll go stand in line for the porta-john and do something productive.”

5:30 am – Back from my task and standing once again in front of my bike and all my gear. Feeling glad now that I did come early as I watched the guy next to me blow a tube and race to get it changed before the race. If something had been amiss, I was there in plenty of time to deal with it.

5:31 am – Adopting the pose of the thinking man as I rested my chin on my fist. My biggest quandary at the moment was how much gear to take with me out of the transition area which was closing at 6:15.

SUNDAY MORNING TRANSITION AREA

SUNDAY MORNING TRANSITION AREA

5:45 am – After standing around for a few minutes and checking everything over yet again, I made my way out of the transition area and acquired a seat along the concrete bench next to the lake. I wanted to be front and center when the first wave began (6:30) to see how people negotiated the entry and exit.

6:25 am – Still waiting for the first wave to begin. Took a decent photo of the sun starting to rise of Tempe Town lake.

SOMA SETUP at TEMPE TOWN LAKE

SOMA SETUP at TEMPE TOWN LAKE

6:45 am – Hubby and I finally made contact. I began the arduous process of putting on my Zoot Fusion wetsuit (inhale, grunt, tug, pull, don’t use fingernails, repeat with next small section). When I bought the thing in Idaho last summer, I had to try on three of them to find the one that fit. Took me 15 minutes to get in and out of each one. But, was it worth it. The suits are amazing and provide a level of buoyancy not to be believed unless you have experienced it firsthand.

7:00 am – Done with wetsuit and ready for another 20 minutes of standing around. In the first wave of swimmers, someone finished the .6 miles in a mere 11 minutes. Bikers streamed quickly out onto the bike course behind me.

7:20 am – Headed over to the line of Quarterman athletes standing in waves to enter the water. Before I know it, the line moved and we inched toward the shoreline. Goggles on securely then it was my turn to get in the lake. I must say that swimming in Tempe Town Lake was the part of the race I was least looking forward to. Given the odoriferous nature of the West and East ends of the lake and the green scum floating around the edges (not to mention the dead rat I saw in the lake last week), jumping into and inhaling even a drop of that water was the last thing on my list of fun things to do. But, I put my mind in Lemming mode and headed into the brink. Entry into the lake was not at all shocking. In fact, the water felt warmer than the air around it and the wetsuit did the trick. I stroked slowly over to the green starting buoy. The biggest issue for me at the moment was the dire need to empty my bladder. There was no time while standing in line previously and the fluids I tanked up on earlier were knocking on the door to get out. I floated away from the others and tried to relax without success. [Note…if you are ever in an open water swim, watch for the swimmers who seem to be “just floating” and steer clear!] Finally, I was able to complete my task and none too soon as the horn sounded for our takeoff.

CLICK ON SOMA TRIATHLON – RESULTS WRITEUP – PART 2 TO CONTINUE…

WAITING TO SWIM

WAITING TO SWIM

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Swim, bike, and run course for the 2008 Tempe SOMA Quarterman race:

Swim = .6 miles (1000 meters)
Bike = 27 miles
Run = 6.5 miles

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