I originally signed up to volunteer at the Arizona Ironman so that I could have priority registering for the 2016 Ironman. The Arizona race is one of the most popular Ironman races in the circuit and it typically sells out within minutes. Volunteers get to register for the next year’s race before it is opened to the public, so volunteering is really the only way to guarantee getting an entry.
But then something unexpected happened last Friday. Ironman opened up registration for the “race ready bundle,” which included both the Arizona 70.3 and 140.6 races. Originally I wasn’t planning on doing the 70.3 (which is about a month before the full Ironman), but getting the chance to register early and not have to go to Tempe Town Lake and wait in line on Monday morning was appealing. I e-mailed my coach to see what she thought and she said that she would recommend I do the 70.3 because it is a great warm-up for the full Ironman and a great opportunity to practice transitions, nutrition, etc. So, with that, I decided to bite the bullet and spend all my life savings on the race bundle. (If anyone ever tries to tell you that the sport of triathlon isn’t expensive, they can’t be trusted.)
Since I was already registered for the 2016 Arizona Ironman, this meant I didn’t need to volunteer. In fact, the volunteer coordinator for gear bags (where I was volunteering) said that he had a lot of people cancel on him last minute because they registered through the “bundle” and didn’t need to volunteer anymore. Personally, I thought that was really shitty. I made a commitment and having been an athlete in an Ironman race, I know that none of it would be possible without the incredible volunteers. And every Ironman athlete knows it. The number of athletes that thanked me yesterday for volunteering was so awesome and made the entire exhausting 4 hours (in the cold and rain) worth it.
As a runner or triathlete, it’s easy to get caught up in participating in races without giving a second thought to what goes on behind the scenes to make those races happen. I will admit that I was that person for a while many years ago. Once I became involved in organizing the Girls on the Run 5K, however, I saw races in a totally different light. Now take that 5K and multiply it by 1,000 and that’s what it takes to put on the Ironman. Without the hundreds of volunteers, there would be nobody to hand out water to the athletes on the bike or the run, nobody in kayaks during the swim to make sure the swimmers are all safe, nobody organizing the athletes’ gear so that it’s ready for them to grab and go when the race is over, and the list goes on.
The volunteers are what make the race possible and I think that for every Ironman race an athlete participates in, they should pay it forward and volunteer at another race. At least that’s my own personal philosophy and one I will hold myself to as long as I am racing, and beyond. It’s also incredibly inspiring and motivating . So instead of participating in every race that comes along, I challenge everyone to choose one to volunteer at instead of participate in. It’s a great experience to see what happens on the other side of the coin.