For those of you who follow the triathlon scene, you know that this year Ironman introduced a new race - Ironman Texas. The race took place in The Woodlands on May 21st. Let me tell you, it was tempting to sign up since it was so close to home, but I resisted because I know what May can be like in Texas. However, I knew a couple of people who did sign up and many members of the triathlon forum I frequent had signed up as well. Because of this, I wanted to go and spectate and decided that if I was there I might as well sign up to volunteer as well.
We drove to The Woodlands Friday after work. After checking into the hotel we made some signs for my friends, made sure we had things ready to go and got in bed. The alarm went off really early Saturday morning so we could get to the race start before the swim start.
We arrived at the race location, somehow managed to find one of the parking garages and began the walk to the swim start. The transition area and swim start were probably close to a mile apart, so we got some decent walking in. As we got toward the swim start, we saw another friend on the bridge who was also there to spectate and volunteer. We decided to stop and stay there with him on the bridge so we could see the start. While we were standing there, I was fortunate enough to see BOTH of my friends who were racing as they were on their way to the start. That was cool.
As it got close to the swim start, there were still a lot of swimmers on shore. I was wondering if they would delay the start until all of them got in the water, but this is Ironman. You have 17 hours to do the race. There would be no delay. Either you were in the water or you weren't when the gun went off. If you weren't in, the time just counted anyway.
As always, the swim start of an Ironman race is a sight to see. Over 2,000 athletes all starting to swim at once and arms moving in the water like crazy. When I did IMFL, I thought the swim would freak me out, but it was actually one of the funnest parts of the day. Being in the midst of that many athletes is amazing.
At IMTX, once the swimmers start you really can't see them much until they come back to head down the canal to the finish. Because of that we decided to walk back over to the swim finish and find a spot to wait for my friends to get done. I knew both of them expected to be out of the water between 1:20 and 1:40. The cutoff is 2:20. We found a nice little spot on a hill and waited.
The first pro swimmer came out of the water in 50-something minutes. He was several minutes ahead of the next swimmer. Truly amazing. Then a few more pros came before a few of the fast age groupers started coming out. True to time expectations, we saw my first friend come out. Because of where we were, I got to see him exit the water and then I ran to the chute right before he would enter the change tent and got to high-five him there. Then I went back to our spot to wait for my other friend. And wait we did. We were not sure at the time what happened, but he did not come out of the water until a little after 2 hours. We were a little worried. I was able to give him a high-five as well before he enterred the change tent, but I could tell he was upset. I just hoped he would shake that off and not let it affect his day.
After we knew they were both out on the bike it was time for us to fuel up. Madison wanted some Starbucks and I wanted to go to the expo and do a little shopping. The only thing was the "big" expo was closed and the "little" expo wouldn't open until noon. Bummer.
Once the kids had their Starbucks, I needed food. We walked down the shopping area and found a little Mexican food place that had breakfast tacos. Perfect. It really hit the spot.
By the time we had done all of this, we knew the pros would be coming in from the bike soon so we walked back over there and found a spot on the curb. By now it was getting hot and the humidity was high. I was sweating through my shirt just sitting on the curb. We got to see the first bikers come back in. It was amazing watching the way they dismount their bikes. I want to find a nice piece of grass and practice that!
At this point, we were all hot and Dalton was getting bored, so we headed back to the hotel for a little pool time. The water was cold, but it was nice to chill out for an hour or so. My other friend who was their spectating had gone out on his motorcycle and called to tell me that he had seen our friend on the bike course at mile 100. We decided to try and make it back to the bike finish in time to see him. We quickly changed and headed back. We set ourselves up at what we thought was the run exit. After being there a while and not seeing our friend, we started getting worried again. And then we found out we were actually at about mile 8 of the run course. Well shoot. We still had to eat dinner before our volunteer shift and we knew we would not see him. We decided to go ahead and go eat.
After filling up on Chick-fil-a we headed out to our volunteer spot - Aid Station #4 on the run course. We quickly found a table that needed help and went to work handing out coke and ice and water. Ice was a big favorite. People would take a cup and dump it down a top or shorts or put it in their hat. Pretty much every person that came by was soaked - either from sweat or from dumping water on themselves or a combination of both. I coudn't imagine how they felt doing an Ironman in the heat and humidity like they were. There was a reason I picked Florida.
We finally saw both of my friends come by and both were on their second lap, so we knew we would see them again. Dalton switched to handing out wet sponges and really enjoyed that. And as it got later, more people started asking for chicken broth. Hardly anyone asked for the Ironman Perform drink which is like gatorade. I don't blame them. I had tried it during training and it did not taste good to me and it upset my stomach.
We were at our aid station from 6:30-11:30pm. As some of the later runners came through, you could see them calculating times to see if they would finish. The last "official" runner came through around 11. We never went back to the finish line, so I don't know if she made it or not. All I know is after she went past us and we were told we could pack up, we did. And then we headed to the hotel for a quick shower and crashed. It had been a long day, but a fun one.
I don't know that I will ever do IMTX unless they change the time of year they have the race, but I would love to volunteer in some capacity every year. It was a lot of fun and is a different perspective from racing. One thing I thought was interesting was all of the things I saw on the run. Almost everyone was walking through the aid stations - I'm sure because of the heat. One lady stopped to pat some dogs who were out for an evening walk. A couple of people stopped for a few minutes and just sat on the park bench near us. No one seemed to be in a hurry.
Like I said, the weather wasn't ideal, but I think The Woodlands is a good place for an Ironman. It seemed to be very spectator friendly and there are lots of shops and restaurants near the transition and finish lines for spectators to occupy their time. I think it will only get better.