It’s A Cannon! Volunteering at Ironman Lake Tahoe…

This weekend, I went to Tahoe for training and for volunteering.  I had the opportunity to drive up again to Lake Tahoe, and volunteer at the IMLT race on Sunday Sept 20th.  The race had both a full (140.6 miles) and half (70.3 miles) distance.  It is always fun and a good feeling to help out at races, since I do participate in so many races.  Volunteering is my way of giving back my time, since another person gave up their time to help me during my race.  It is a good experience to be at the race and see it in the eyes of a spectator or volunteer.  I can observe other athletes and learn from them.  Visiting the area gives me the opportunity to also run the trails around town.

My friend and I drove on Friday night — it was a horrid 4-ish hour drive through traffic on a Friday rush hour evening.  We celebrated our arrival with a beer at the house we were renting in the Squaw Valley area.  The race for which I am volunteering was not till Sunday, so I had Saturday to do whatever I needed to accomplish.  On that Saturday, I did an 18 mile run up in the trails in Tahoe, following the Flume Trail then Tahoe Rim Trail.  I had the most amazing, spectacular, and breathtaking (literally and figuratively) views of the mountains, the lake, and the city.   I stopped to take so many pictures, that my coach was not very happy that I did not focus on my run training.  Nonetheless, I did get a good training run, and wonderful pictures.  The air was thin.  The elevation was brutal.  But the views made up for the difficulty in running in altitude.  I ran 18 miles in close to 4 hours with approximately 2500 feet of elevation gain, and the highest point was at 7700 feet elevation.  It was wonderful.

That Saturday night, back at the house, I was tired.  My legs were sore.  I was limping when walking.  It was fine though, it was just the normal soreness.  Then I started planning what to do on Sunday, the next day which was race day.  I did not care either way if I went to the swim start or not.  The start of the swim is at Kings Beach, which was about a 40 minute drive from our place.  My other friend, who is also staying at the house, has not experienced nor seen an Ironman race yet, and was really wanting to go to the start, but she had no car (she carpooled up to Tahoe).  She thought of every possible way she can get herself to the start — including riding her bike in the dark in the early morning.  She is training for her first Ironman next year, so she really wanted to take this opportunity to watch most of the race.  Since I had a car with me, I volunteered to take her to the swim.

The next day, Sunday morning, we were up at 5 AM, made ourselves some breakfast sandwich then drove off to the start.  The full Ironman swim started at 6:20 AM.  We got the the beach, watched the athletes line up on the shore at the start.  On the horizon we could see the farthest buoy, which indicates where the swimmers would turn around.  It looked very far,  We took pictures, selfies, panoramic photos.  It was a cold 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so we had a beanie, puffy jacket, and long pants.  We forgot our gloves.  Then the swimmers were about to start.  My friend was getting emotional, because she knows that in 11 months, she will be swimming this same distance on her first Ironman triathlon event.  I got a little emotional, too, with her, now also thinking if and what Ironman race will I do, and when should I do it.  The cannon was fired, signaling the start of the race!  I got startled a little bit from the loud boom.  And got nervous even if I was not racing!

We stayed for a bit at the beach, then headed back to Squaw Valley for our volunteer shift.  I signed up to volunteer at the run aid station #1 in the morning shift till 2 pm.  We had burritos and snacks.  We watched and helped the athletes as we distributed gu gels, Gatorade, and water.  We had music and everyone was having fun.  Then the sun came out and it got hot.  And hotter.  And super hot that our black volunteer t-shirts were attracting all the heat from the sun.  Even if I was starting to feel restless, I persevered.  I was just standing there anyway, and the athletes I was watching have been up probably slightly earlier than me, and have already swam about 1-2.4 miles, biked about 56-112 miles, and are now starting their run.  I should already know this by now, that volunteering is also hard work, especially under the sun.  I have done this many times in the past and am still doing a rookie move.  It is almost like a workout.  Mid-way through my shift I made sure I am hydrating well.  I also ate a burrito, but it actually made my stomach worst, that I felt really weak, but still tried to keep the energy high so that we encourage the runners.  I made it through the shift plus a little bit longer.  I stayed slightly longer because there were not too many volunteers at the aid station, and we had to make sure that these athletes were taken cared of.  Even if I felt a little sick to my stomach, it was still an amazing experience watching the athletes compete.  The athletes were from all different walks of life, in varying sizes and height, and ethnicity.  Sports do not discriminate or select people.  All it requires is training.

That same afternoon after the race, at about 5 pm, my friend and I finally took off to drive back to the By Area.  We both had to work the next day and had busy work lives.  She offered to drive.  Not that I didn’t trust her to drive my car, but I just wanted to get home fast.  The drive back was non-eventful, although my friend experienced my driving skills, which she was impressed because I was as confident as a tiger.  I mean, I was not so much too aggressive nor way too cautious.  I would call out the bad drivers and look them in the eye to see who they are.  On the downhills, I would release the gas and not step on the brakes and just roll down the hill, saving a little bit of gas.  Then my friend tells me, “if you are as confident on the bike as you are while driving, then you will do so much better on your training rides!”  She was right. I got us back to the bay area in 3 1/2 hours, with some traffic along the way.

During this trip I learned a few things: remain calm at the swim start, and expect a huge loud boom from a cannon or similar to signal the start, hydrate while volunteering and watch what I eat, and be confident in bike riding – similar to how confident I am with driving a car.  Who would have thought that a brief weekend trip up to Tahoe could teach a person a few things?  This has been a wonderful weekend spending time with friends and watching an Ironman race event.