IRONMAN UK – A volunteers perspective
Let me just start by saying an Ironman is a triathlon event consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile cycle with a finishing run of 26.2 miles, for a grand total of 140.2 miles. The best of the best can do it in 8 hours the cut-off time is 17 hours.
DAY 1 – Saturday
At around 830am I joined my team in the Transition area. As the name would suggest the transition area is where the athletes make the transition from Swim to Bike, Bike to Run. As a whole there were about 5 marques, a massive bike rack, 5 food stands, maybe 50-60 port-a-loos and one very muddy field. At 9am the athletes started bringing their gear consisting of their bike and two transition bags. It was up to us, the volunteers to make sure that each participant was checked off, that their gear had the correct race number on it, and that all the gear was placed in the correct place. That doesn’t sound hard, but there were 1500+ of them and maybe 20 of us. I spent the first couple of hours checking numbers as the athletes arrived, then a huge chuck of time making sure their run bags were placed on the correct hook in a way that was both secure and easy to remove. I got back to my hostel, with just enough time to grab a quick shower, go out for some food, and catch an hours sleep.
DAY 2 – Sunday
The sunday morning I was back at the transition area by 330am having got the first shuttle bus from the Reebok Stadium in Horwich. There was a distinct buzz in the air. We setup the body marking area, put on some head torches and at 4am we started one by one writing on each triathlete’s left arm and right calf their race number and category. It took almost 2 hours.
The race started just after 6 but I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to see it, at the transition are we had roughly an hour to reset in preparation for transition 1. For me this mainly consisted helping to make it as mud free as possible rolling out huge carpets over the muddiest areas and setting up the transition from field to road.
Finally an hour or so later I got to see some of the race. Or more specifically I got to see and cheer every athlete as well as warn them of the speed bump as they made their way up the initial hill on the cycle. That speed bump still claimed a silly amount of water bottles and food as the bikes jolted over it.
After sorting out all the blue transition bags, then all the white/dry bags in the town hall, and then set up the finish line, it came to what I had been looking forward to for weeks. Finish Line Catching!
The first person over the line was Graves with a time of 8 hours 45 minutes. The last person over the line did it in a time of 16 hours 59 minutes, the cut off is 17 hours. He did it with less than 25 seconds to spare. I LOVED being at the finish line! For just over 8 hours I clapped and cheered as athlete after athlete became Ironman after Ironman. Leave nothing to doubt, it was emotional! People were crossing the line who until that point were not sure they could do it. Yet here they were. Some people exploded with excitement and accomplishment, others fell to the ground their bodies and minds no longer able to keep them on their feet. Some people cried, some laughed, at least one vomitted. Haha! But they all had one thing in common, young or old, male or female, first timer or pro, they are all IRONMEN!
For me there were a couple of highlights. The guy who proposed to his girlfriend was one, he’d obviously planned it as he had a ring. Another was the very last person to finish. By this point it was just passing 11pm, though the finish line crowd had thinned they were still there cheering their hearts out at what these athletes had achieved. At a minute and a half until the 17 hours cut-off we could see him running up the final stretch a few spectators and crew members running along side for support. By this point the last of the spectators at the finish line were over the barriers forming a tunnel of celebration, willing, cheering the last runner in. Turns out one of the people running beside him was his son. They crossed the line together, a moment shared with the roars of excitement held by the crowd.
My final group of highlights were the handful of people who crossed the finish line, got given their medal, I took them to the side to get their timing chip and would then ask them how they were feeling. With some you could just feel how big an event it had been for them, but that something hadn’t quite sunk in yet. So I’d congratulate them, tell them they were now an Ironman, and something in them would click. Something in them knew that they were more than they had originally thought they were. That they were capable of pushing themselves beyond their limits to achieve their goal. It was such a pleasure and an honour to be there and experience that with them. To share that humble moment of realisation.
I had a truely amazing weekend! I hardly had any sleep, by the end my voice had been shredded, I’d probably spent 22 of the final 24 hours on my feet, but it was all worth it to see the 1266 people finish to become Ironmen. Human endurance is phenomenal!
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