To continue my “slow” build back into Ironman racing, I deferred last week’s Ironman Galveston 70.3 (Aka a half-Ironman) until next year. In January and February, I didn’t think that my body would be able to handle the training volume required to properly prepare for a race of that distance. Healing and recovery are my primary objectives.

Instead of racing, or simply being a spectator, I decided to participate as a volunteer. These races require a lot of people and there are plenty of functions to be filled. From previous races, I remember seeing volunteers at the athlete check-in stations, COVID-19 screening booths, entry into the Ironman village, and the bike checkout. In addition, there were people in kayaks looking after the swimmers. The transition area had several places stationed with volunteers – entry from the swim, exit with the bike, entry from the bike leg, exit to the run, and bike check-out. I’m certain there are additional functions that rely on volunteers.

When I signed up to be a volunteer, I requested to be stationed at transition #2. Being there, I’d get a chance to see many of the athletes that I know. I’d also have an opportunity to meet new folks, including the professional racers.

I miss “race energy”

From the moment we arrived at the race, the heightened energy was palpable. People lined the roads with signs, little kids were ringing bells and holding their hands out to give high-fives. We missed the swim portion but saw mid-pack racers leaving T1 to begin the 56-mile cycling leg. As they departed, they were all smiles. For many, the swim is the most frightening segment of the race so they are over-the-moon happy when they make it out of the water without an incident. The beginning of the cycling leg feels like total freedom. I could see it in their faces. One down, two legs to go!

We found our way to the volunteer check-in, got our shirts, and were assigned to various places inside of the transition area. Initially, Cruz and I were put at the bike exit section. Portia at the VIP tent and Shalamar near the run exit. Every once and a while, the volunteer organizers would shift everyone around. I never moved. I think they liked the idea of a bigger guy making sure the exit was guarded. My job was to prevent anyone from entering the transition area (all of the bikes and gear are in this area) and to  ensure that everyone exiting had a bib number that matched the bike they were taking.

I found it to be an ideal location and job. There were long gaps where no one came my way.  Only the professionals and elite age-group athletes finished quickly. The rest of the pack was struggling with the strong winds and blazing heat. Even the bulk of pro athletes were spaced out which allowed me to meet them individually. Surprisingly, they were happy to slow down and chit-chat before exiting. Most were happy to be racing, a few had already lost perspective and spent the time complaining about racing too much this year. I noticed that all of them went out of their way to express gratitude and thank the volunteers.

As the afternoon progressed, more and more groups of racers began filing out of transition.I was having so much fun that I didn’t notice the time passing. I asked almost everyone how they felt about their race. Most were happy to have completed it. Some were disappointed with one discipline or another, but still happy overall. There were a few that had a funky attitude and I had fun reminding them that they still had a finishers medal around their neck. The wind had been brutal and as a result, many people’s races ended in the water or on the bike course. Also, they had forgotten that we weren’t even able to have these races for the past 12 months. So, after a bit of perspective and a big bright smile, they seemed to realize that they really did have a special day.

A totally fulfilling day

By 4 pm I was feeling the fatigue of standing on my feet all day but was in no hurry to go. The feelings of fulfillment, excitement, and joy were strong. Besides, where else will I be able to be with a group of strangers, fully supporting another group of strangers who are trying to push themselves to the limit? No jealousy, subverting or jockeying to be seen, just encouragement, shared excitement, and a bunch of grateful, tired-ass athletes.

For days after the race, I continued feeling emotionally lifted Supporting the athletes and hanging with “my tribe” is something that I plan to do more frequently.