Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Florida Ironman 2012

For the past 5 years or so we've been in charge of a Run Station for the Florida Ironman, typically held the first Saturday in November.  If you're not familiar with Ironman, it is an incredible athletic event in which 2500 men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes swim in the open Gulf waters 2.4 miles, then hop on bicycles and ride 112 miles after which they run a marathon - 26.2 miles. Our Boy Scout Troop mans a Run Aid Station 3 miles from the finish line, handing out water, poweraid, cola, ice, fruit and carbohydrate snacks, while cheering on these amazing athletes. It is absolutely an inspiring event to be a part of, but it entails a lot of work as well and makes for a very long, exhausting day!
  We begin setting up our Run Station at 9:00am. We share a moving truck with another station, filled with tables, cases of water, electrolyte drinks, banana, oranges, grapes, power bars, first aid kits, broth, trash cans, liners, sponges and drinking cups, which we work together to unload. Most years, at this same time, the ice truck arrives. In the past we would unload hundreds of pounds of bagged ice by hand bucket brigade style, but more recently they've begun to use a motorized lift car to move a pallet of ice at a time.

We bring Boy Scout dining flies - large canopies to cover our tables and provide some shade, and then we set up our Aid station.
 The athletes hit the water at 7:00am and we expect our first runner to pass by us at approximately 1:30. He generally leads the pack by 20-30 minutes. This is the first runner and winner of Ironman 2012..

Once the athletes begin arriving it gets crazy! For the next 5 or 6 hours we pass out drinks as fast as we can! The temperature was quite warm this race - in the 80's, so a good part of the water was used to douse their bodies to help them cool down as well as to drink. I know our volunteers went home soaked also - water, powerade and cups fly everywhere!
  This year we had a skeleton crew. We couldn't have done it without one of them, and they were the best! The Ironman organization reccommends that we have 50 volunteers on hand at the Aid station throughout the day, but with our scout troop, sometimes it's hard to judge how many will actually show up.  This race we had about twenty helpers during the entire 16 hours or so from setup to breakdown. Some came and went but the majority of our volunteers were there for the duration.
One of the most challanging and yet amusing aspects of the race is the contest for the best Aid Station. There is a $750. prize at stake for the Run Station with the best theme and who keeps their station cleanest and I'm determined to win it for our troop every year. And so we have. Some of our themes throughout the years have been:

Scout Troop 321
M*A*S*H Unit 321
Clown School 321
Santa's Workshop 321
This year we almost didn't participate. I was feeling overwhelmed and unable to come up with an easy, (and cheap) recognizable theme, and honestly didn't want the responsibility this year, but late in the game, one of our scout dads came up with a great idea to have a tailgate party. He sold it to me and I bit. I have no idea how he possibly convinced me - I think I've seen ONE football game in my entire life, have never been to a tailgate party, and don't even know the names of our college and state teams. I don't even know if there is a state football team! When it comes to sports I am totally clueless, so obviously I had some great help!  I found a few team shirts at Goodwill - my go-to store for themed attire, my daughter painted posters, my son's school loaned us footballs and jerseys, and we brought a huge grill and had burgers, hot dogs and chicken cooking all day, which probably drove the runners crazy! But I think the winning aspect of our station, and we DID win, was that we had all the scores posted for all the football games being played that day. AND, we had a TV airing the Florida / Alabama game that night.  I was shocked to see how many runners either stopped to watch the game or called out for other team scores. Here they were, competeing in the most arduuous physical race of all, three miles from the finish line (or 13 - they run the circuit twice), after having already swam and biked, yet they could not only still talk, which I find awesome in itself, but that they're such fans of a particular football team that they're willing to stop their race to watch. Unbelievable!
This was our Run Station this year:

A huge thank-you to those of you who came out to support our troop and the athletes!  And honestly, as much fun as it is to dress up, decorate and win the prize, the real thrill of the day is being there for the runners - handing them drinks, cheering them on, keeping the area picked up so they don't have to stumble through the drinking cups they drop. These hard core men and women are amazing. They have come so far and trained and subjected their bodies to the limit of physical exertion and, when they arrive at our Run Station, they are almost within sight of the finish - only a mere three miles more to go.  So many of them are so thankful and express it to us along their way. They are polite and take the time to say please and thank-you. These athletes come from all over the world and from all walks of life, and as tired and sore as I am at the end of  the day handing out drinks for 9 or so hours, I can't begin to imagine how they must feel at the end of the race - or the next morning. They truly are Ironmen.

There was one story this year that deserves more honor than just a mention here on this blog, and it was one that occurred while I wasn't there:

It was after 11pm when we saw the vehicle with the flashing lights signaling the last runner. She came by and didn't want anything (only to finish within the time limit) so we packed up our gear, loaded the truck and prepared to take it back to the warehouse to unload. Bob would drive the truck and I would follow to bring him back to the run station to pick up our second vehicle and passengers who would stay until we returned.  Just as we were leaving, another volunteer drove up to inform us that there was still one more runner on the course and would be arriving shortly. We had already packed everything for the night, but it was decided that Bob and I would leave as planned and those staying behind would put together something for the final runner. It was an "unofficial" runner - one who would not be able to make the finish line in the allotted time, yet who chose to continue the race regardless. While we were gone, this athlete made it to our station and then he collapsed. He had just celebrated his 70th birthday 3 days ago and was running his very last Ironman. He had come this far but was no longer able to continue due to sheer exhaustion. Thankfully one of our men at the station was a CPR instructor and there to assist if necessary. An ambulance was called and the very last athlete on the course was taken away for medical attention. To think that he had made it that far and was so close to completing the race was heartbreaking.
The next day Bob and I slept late and spent most of the remainder of the day working out the aches and pains as we kept busy on the farm, thinking of those Ironmen and women and how they must feel today!  That evening we were treated to a wonderful dinner outdoors for all the volunteers, and our Run Station was  awarded the first place prize, which was an absolute thrill, but the very best part of the night was the fact that, sitting at the table next to ours, was the 70 year young athlete who had collapsed the night before so close to the finish line, who had the determination and fortitude to compete in this intense test of physical strength and mental will, even for much, much younger men. And yet, here he was, surrounded by his family, happy and smiling - one of the few racers present to honor the volunteers.
In my opinion, this man was the winner of  the race!

I happened to go online this morning and saw that Ironman 2013 sold out in record time - ONE MINUTE!  Just wait until they see our theme for next year!

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