Today was quite a day. My dad and I left at 6:15 a.m. to find a good viewing spot at the swim start. We stopped at Starbucks on the way and the line was out the door. As I went to pay, the girl working asked if I was Jeff's sister who was doing the race next year. It is unbelievable just how much time (and money) my brother spends in this Starbucks to the point where we're recognized even without him.
The start was crowded but we easily found a great spot to watch from. I felt nervous just watching and knowing how I feel at the start of a race. The mass start was pretty incredible to see, 2200 athletes in a small area in the water at once. For two people - one man, one woman - the race was over before it began. The woman swam back slowly with a lifeguard and the guy was brought back in a boat.
We watched all of the swimmers complete the first loop and waited for the pros and lead age groupers to exit before heading up to the top of Monona Terrace to watch the rest. After 1:30:00 it thinned out a lot and there were a couple people really far back that clearly weren't going to make it.
I met up with the guy I met yesterday from Newton to watch the final bikers start the course and then take the only break I would have all day. I started my female changing tent volunteer post at 1:00 and was busy straight through to 5:30 when the bike course closed. I helped women that only spent a minute or two and some that took over 10. I put socks on their feet, tied their shoes, mixed their sports drinks and helped them change their clothes. I opened up letters from friends and family members that they brought for inspiration. There were a range of emotions, most being excitement, but some exhaustion and confusion. A few women were in tears and a few withdrew from the race. The strangest thing I had to do was peel a hard boiled egg. I thought of all the nasty things my hands had touched (you don't even want to know what a triathlete's clothes are like after 112 miles on the bike) and tried to peel it carefully and barely touch it.
I volunteered with Lisa, a girl from Beginner Triathlete. We went out to watch people finish after our shift, which was 11 hours into the race. She was meeting up with several other BTers and I was planning to take a break before starting my course marshal shift. However, we were standing right at my intersection and they closed it up around 6:00 when the final runner was on the course. I was scheduled from 7:45-midnight. I checked out the next corner and there were tons of volunteers. We met up with Tony, Laura and Chris from BT, and watched more of the race. Tony talked me into forgettting about my misplaced shift and joining them for dinner. I'm so glad I did. Not only was it fun, but I didn't realize how tired I was.
We spent a couple hours watching the later finishers. It poured rain for awhile and I felt sorry for the people who still had several miles to go. It was dark and it was pretty cold so the rain had to be a little defeating. But regardless of the conditions, everyone making their way to the finish looked incredibly happy. Some were barely able to run, some had crashed on their bikes and were bandaged and had road rash, and others looked like they could have run another 10 miles. It was amazing.
We met up with a few more BTers at a bar. Most of them are doing the race next year as well so it was nice to meet them. We're going to have a pretty big group. We went back to the finish at 11:45 to watch the last few come in. The second to last woman was the last woman I helped in transition. She was 62 years old. But nothing would beat the excitement of the final finisher. They said she was coming, but it wasn't certain she would make it. The clock hit 16:59:50 as she approached the finish chute. I have never seen a crowd cheer more for anyone and she had volunteers and course officials running along with her. She crossed the finish line with less than 5 seconds left.
While some people had time goals, others just wanted to finish and have a good race. I knew a lot of people racing and some of them had good days while others didn't. A couple were unable to finish and a few were violently ill but pushed on and made it. In the end, you've still finished the same race whether you cross the finish line in 10 hours or 16 hours. I have doubted myself and my abilities a lot and just a few months ago, I was sure I couldn't complete an Ironman. I thought I would barely be able to make the cutoffs and my biggest fear was starting the race only to DNF. But after seeing these athletes over the past three days, spending time with them in transition and then watching them finish, I am not only confident I can do it, but I'm confident I can do it well.
Congratulations to everyone who finished the race today. It's an incredible accomplishment and very inspiring. I can't wait for my chance in 2009.
I'll be posting some pictures in the next few days as well when I'm finally back in NY.