Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Volunteering at Ironman Wisconsin

Ironman Wisconsin is the most complex race I have ever volunteered at or participated in. More than 4000 volunteers are needed to help the 2500+ racers compete in this race. Volunteer coordinators, volunteer captains, veteran volunteers, and first-timers are all needed. If you want one of the coveted spots as finish line catcher or wetsuit stripper make sure you sign up early because those spots go fast! Volunteer registration opens April 1. 

Early Saturday, September 7, I headed up to Madison to attend the volunteer meeting.  The meeting started at 8 am so I had to leave my apartment around 5:30 to make it on time. After a busy week at work and not feeling super well, I was really dragging, but I managed to make it up there just fine.  The volunteer meeting is "mandatory" for volunteers except those volunteering at aid stations.  The swim volunteers also have a separate meeting.  Although we were supposed to attend the volunteer meeting, from what I understood it wasn't a big deal if you couldn't attend.  Those in my particular volunteer group were asked to show up a little earlier on race morning for the short training lesson. 

At the volunteer meeting, they handed out our t-shirts, wristbands, and parking passes for the next day. Our volunteer t-shirt was our pass to get in line for 2014 registration. I was volunteering at the women's change tent in the morning so the swim-to-bike transition.  The captain went over what would happen on race day, how we should handle the athletes, what issues we might run into, etc.  She did a really great job of describing what the experience would be like when she described it as "organized chaos".

After the volunteer meeting, I took some time to browse around the Dane County Farmer's Market around the Capitol Building. I bought breakfast and a few treats for Matt and myself.  Then I headed off to Panera to work on my computer for a few hours while Matt was making the drive.  We hadn't seen each other in a few weeks by this point, so he decided to make the drive up and hang out with me. I'm not going to recap our whole day because that is not the point of this post, but I love Madison and I could totally see myself living there one day. 

Race morning, I needed to be at Monona Terrace around 7 am. I opted to use the remote parking at the Alliant Energy Center for $6.50 and take the shuttle bus to the race area. I was worried that the volunteer parking in the ramps near the start would be full and I didn't want to risk being late. I probably didn't need to worry because when I walked by there were still plenty of spots. 

Our group of volunteers had time to watch the swim for a while as the first athletes wouldn't be coming through transition till about 8 am. The setup looked like this--one big room split in half with the front half containing all the T1 bags, the back part of the room was again split with one half for men and one half for women.  An athlete would come running through the door and down their respective aisle to collect their gear bag then they would run into either the men's or women's changing area. 

First athlete coming in
The swim was a little slow this year due to some choppy water on Lake Monona.  At first, the pro athletes just slowly trickled in and I looked on as the veteran volunteers helped them out.  Then the age-group triathletes started coming in.  At this point, the job seemed easy.  The volunteers lined up outside our curtained off area and as an female athlete came towards us we would help them with their bag and take them inside to the chairs.  Once inside, we would help the athlete with whatever they needed.  Usually that involved dumping out their transition bag and organizing the stuff inside.  Some athletes opted to change completely so that usually involved trying to pull a sports bra on over their wet skin.  Yeah, not easy.

Then we would gather up the athlete's stuff and put it all back in the bag this stuff included their wetsuit, goggles, and then any other things they had in their bag they didn't take with them.  Once the bag was closed we dropped it off in it's number range by the wall and headed back outside to help the next athlete. 

Apparently this was just the calm before the storm because all of a sudden it was like a bomb went off and there were athletes everywhere. At one point, I was helping three athletes at once and I didn't even have time to put their bags back where they were supposed to go.  I was just concentrating on getting all their belongings back into their bag.  

It was very interesting to see all the different methods for packing transition bags. Some people were over-packers and one lady forgot her towel.  Some athletes changed clothes completely some just grabbed their bike belonging and headed out.  Some were super quick and others I had a chance to chat with while they took their sweet old time.  

Then just like that it was over and the athletes stopped coming in.  A few missed the swim cutoff and that was heartbreaking for me.  To know how much time they've spent training over the last few MONTHS and then get cut off before making it to the bike was hard.  

After that we helped organize all the transition bags and the morning bags so athletes would be able to pick them up later in the day. I spent the rest of the day cheering out at Verona on the bike course and then by the capital building on the run course.  We got to watch the overall winner Maik cross the finish line! Awesome! It was so inspiring to watch the athletes. 

Finish line on Saturday 

I did learn a few helpful things by volunteering
  • Make sure you have everything you need in your transition bag, volunteers can't get to your bike-to-run bag so if you don't have it, too bad
  • In addition to that, don't over-pack. Athletes were a little disoriented coming off the swim and it was easier when they didn't have a lot of "extras" in their bags
  • Don't put your bike shoes on in transition because it is still a long run to your bike
  • A sunscreen station is available after transition but a lot of athletes used the little spray bottles of sunscreen for a quick application
  • Putting on a sports bra when you are dripping wet just isn't easy.  It's gets all twisted up and stuck.  I'm considering not changing at all in this transition 1. 
  • Use small packets of your choice of lube
  • Write your name/race number on everything. It gets chaotic and if you lose something, it will be much easier to find this way. 
  • If you are going to wear arm warmers roll them up so they are easier to put on.  Again with the wet skin thing.
I did have a couple of funny experiences including someone forgetting a towel.  Several athletes asked me if they should wear their arm warmers?! (I told them I wouldn't.) Another asked me if she should wear socks under her bike shoes. I asked if she normally wore them (she didn't) and if she had socks in her run bag (she did) so she went off without them. It made me wonder if they hadn't thought about that at all before they were standing in transition! 

So many athletes thanked me and it was a lot of fun to be out their volunteering.  It gives me more perspective on this Ironman racing thing. 

I wanted to stay at the finish line till midnight to watch the final finishers coming in but I had to go back to the hotel room to get caught up on some work for Monday. 

Monday I was up again bright and early to stand in line for, you guessed it--Ironman Wisconsin 2014 registration.  Volunteers get priority on-site registration for the next year, followed by on-site registration for the general public.  On-line registration opens later. On-site isn't registration isn't officially scheduled to open until 9 am but several other volunteers told me I needed to get their early.  When I arrived a little after 6 am, there were already over 100 people lined up. 

watching the sunrise over the lake was a nice perk
The wait wasn't too bad and I spent the time chatting to others in line near me. While we were standing or sitting in line, Ironman people came around with little cards and we were asked to write down our name, address and email address. The doors probably opened early around 7:30 am.  The line moved very quickly and I was in my car and on my way to work by 8 am!

oh sh*t, what did I just do?
I didn't actually "sign up" that day more like I paid a whole bunch of money to reserve my spot.  A few weeks later, I got an email with the link to the actual sign up. 


2014 is going to be a big year!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Camp Courageous Triathlon - the BEST triathlon

Okay, I realize this triathlon was now like forever ago two months ago.  I still want to highlight it because I think this race really deserves the publicity.  This was my third year participating in this race and I keep coming back because it is one of the most organized and well done triathlons ever. Seriously.  Plus it is a very affordable race.

This year before the race they announced that 100% of our entry fees were going directly to Camp Courageous.  So thank you to all the volunteers and sponsors that help out for this race! Camp Courageous is "a year-round respite care and recreational facility for individuals of all ages with disabilities" and serves nearly 6,000 individuals with disabilities.

August 5, 2013, 9 am
500 yd swim, 15.5 mile bike, 5k run
Jones County Central Park

Since I was still training for Pigman and finishing up the last big week of training before taper, there was no taper for this race.  Racing with no taper seemed to be the theme for this year's races.  That didn't lead to a lot of great races, but it helped me to go hard on tired legs and that's useful for half-Iron races. I did a tough and hilly 50 miler bike ride the day before this race and felt flat on the way home.

Race eve was in typical Alyssa fashion and included drinking a few beers.

Then staying out late and going to bed late.  But since this race didn't start till 9 am, it was like sleeping in!

Like I mentioned before, this is my third year participating in this year, yet oddly, over those three years the course has never been the same. The first year (second annual for the race) the bike course went from Central Park to Camp Courageous which meant two transition areas.  My second year, the swim was planned to be at the new man-made lake at Camp Courageous, but due to an extremely dry year, well, there was no lake.  Instead the race had a pool swim.  This year, due to construction issues at the lake, the race venue was moved back to Central Park.  I really liked this course, so I hope it stays the same for next year.

This race offered packet pick-up the morning of the race so I opted to save myself the trip and do that.  My friend, Angie, and her mom were volunteering at packet pick-up so I got a chance to chat with Angie.  Thank you for volunteering!!

Arriving early, gave me time to leisurely set up my transition area, chat with other people, and be Matt's photography subject. 

Race photographer and sherpa for hire! I may be a bit biased but I think he's great. 

The water was surprisingly cool this year and just barely made the cutoff for wetsuit legal. I skipped wearing mine because it was a short swim and the water was still comfortable for me.  Though it did take a bit for me to convince myself to submerge myself. 

It's cold and I don't wanna

This race was a time trial start and so it was self seeded.  I positioned myself near-ish to the front. That was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I usually underestimate myself and start too far to the back.

I was 43rd overall in the swim so I think I put myself in the right spot. 

The swim went by quickly and soon I was headed out of the water. 

The bike starts with a easy but long climb out of the park and is an out and back.  The rolling hills keep it interesting but no hill is too challenging.  Every corner on the course was swept and many of the cracks and potholes were marked with paint.  Roads on the course were not closed for this event, but it is a fairly rural area so this wasn't a big problem.  I saw maybe a handful of vehicles on the course.  Volunteers were stationed at every side road to stop drivers and warn them about the race.

Matt gave me a pep talk before the race and told me I needed to "attack!" and pass 20 people on the bike! ha! I passed more like 5 people. I still figure that's good because only 42 people were ahead of me after the swim. Like I said, it's a small race!

The run course was well, let's just say interesting. It was partly on a cross-country cross and off-road for the majority.  It weaved around the border of the park and included running through sections of trees and then a large section of an open field. The terrain was hilly.  Not long hills, but a lot of steep up and downs. And boy was it hard.  I power walked many of the steepest because that was just as fast as running!

Where's the darn finish line?
Swim: 8:23, 1:41/100 yds
T1: 1:07
Bike: 51:30, 18.1 mph
T2: 0:40
Run: 27:28, 8:51 min/mile

Once I crossed the finish line, I was handed an insulated pre-filled water bottle.  At first, I thought the run was only a 4k (about 2.5 miles) and I couldn't figure out why my time was so slow for me.  Turns out, it was actually a 5k.  Maybe I should review the course before the race.

I rested in the shade a bit with my mom and Matt before hitting up the food table.  The spread included oranges, watermelon, bananas, cookies, chips, and plenty of drinks. I don't really need a ton of food after a sprint but fruit always tastes so amazing after workouts in the heat. I went back for seconds and thirds on the watermelon.

At this race, door prizes are given away and I won a $15 gift certificate for a Road ID.  This is the second time I've won one at this race and I ended up giving the gift certificate to Matt.  He rides his bike by himself a lot as well so it gives me some peace of mind that he will be wearing a Road ID too.

I like to joke that they will be able to use the road ID to identify my body, BUT it is a very good idea to have one. In the case of a head injury or unconsciousness (could be for a variety of reasons-dehydration, low blood sugar, crash, etc.), it provides and easy way to find the name and emergency contacts.  Okay, that's it for my public service announcement.

The awards ceremony was great. They presented awards to an athlete that was battling cancer and a para-triathlete!

I managed to snag 2nd place in my age group for the second time!

This race has some of the best volunteers around.  And it seems like there was one volunteer for each of the 209 participants! I think there was a volunteer every 20 feet on the run course! I can't say enough about the awesome volunteers.  Thank you so much!

Cost: $60
Pros: good post race spread, great volunteers, insulated water bottle, and fitted tech shirts
Cons: the closest thing that comes to a con is the challenging run course
Would I do it again?  YES! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Seattle Finds Part 2

I'm going to try to keep this to two posts because I don't want to drag on forever.  But I don't want to make these posts too long and I still want to talk about everything we saw/did/ate/drank. If you are interested you can read my reviews of several of the places we visited on my Yelp page (and add me as a friend while you are there).

Saturday morning we headed out for doughnuts at Top Pot Doughnuts.  Kelly had told me about a website where they listed many of the places various TV shows had visited and I found this one.  Top Pot had good ratings and I won't turn down a doughnut.

We shared three doughnuts (hey, when in Seattle right?) chocolate sand castle-chocolate cake dusted with cinnamon sugar, valley girl lemon-a powdered doughnut filled with lemon cream, and I think Matt also order a raspberry glazed.  I'm sad that we didn't go back another day! The inside was cool to with shelves of books and plenty of seating. 

Since we had some time to waste before our next outing, we took a detour to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Pioneer Square.  Yes a national park that is really a museum in a building.  The best part is that it's free so we walked around and read the different stories of people looking for gold in Alaska.  

A pristine Geo Tracker was spotted on our walk.  Matt and I are both kind of obsessed with Tracker's since he owns one now.  So we both took a picture.

Which one do you think looks better?

Next touristy thing on the docket, was the harbor cruise. Our tour guide told a few corny jokes but overall had great info about the different piers and history about the city.

We did see a huge cruise ship that was refueling for its cruise to Alaska.

Views of the city skyline and Bainbridge Island were good and I could see the mountains a little bit through the fog.

From the boat we made a beeline towards our lunch spot-The Crab Pot. Again with the seafood.  We ordered one of the sea feasts to share and they basically just dumped a pile of food on the table for us. 

The bibs were very necessary.  Crabs, mussels, clams, corn, potatoes, shrimp and andouille sausage. My little mallet came in handy.  The 3 wet wipes I used after the meal were also necessary.

No meal is complete without a little dessert though and so we ended up back at the market and getting cheesecake from the Confectional.

Mexican Hot Chocolate was delicious but the spiciness level built up on me and Matt had to help me finish it. I need more cheesecake in my life. 

Since we were all loaded up on food we decided to grab a bus over to Discovery Park to do a little hiking.  We couldn't figure out a way to get out to the big hiking spots but this park within the city was a good substitute.  It was beautiful! We walked along the beach and through the trees. 

That night I ended up taking a nap before we went out for dinner and more drinks.  This is the bar where I found the famed African Amber! I'm still thinking about that beer. Do you think I can get it shipped here? 

Sunday was like the tourism day on drugs. First stop was the aquarium.  I got to see plenty of seals! 

That was the only thing I was excited about. 

In the afternoon, we grabbed another bus to go out to the Museum of Flight.  

This was what Matt was really excited about on the trip.  

I sat down a few times to wait for him to read approximately every exhibit sign.  

I will admit it was cool to see all the different types of planes. And I had fun in the kid's part where I got to try to land a hang glider on a video game. 

For our last dinner in Seattle, we went out to Zig Zag Cafe.  And on the way, I saw the hugest rat I've ever seen in my life! Or maybe I've just been really fortunate in my life and have not seen many rats.  I'm pretty sure the restaurant was rat-free so that was reassuring.  This restaurant had a whole menu of signature cocktails that I had never heard of so I made an exception to my beer drinking and ordered one.  

After dinner, we went on a mission to find some ice cream, but every place we tried was already closed.  Womp, womp. 

Monday morning we spent some time leisurely getting coffee and breakfast while relaxing before we needed to be at the airport.  

One last stop at the market to pick up more peaches and mangoes to take back home with us. Goodbye wonderful market.

We did get a bonus stop on our flight home when we landed in Great Falls, Montana, for an ill passenger.  Does it count that I visited a state when I didn't even get off the airplane?  

We spent almost an hour in Montana and since Matt only had about an hour layover in Chicago he was really worried that he wouldn't make his flight back to Cedar Rapids.  Unfortunately we were stuck all the way in the back on the plane.  His second flight was scheduled to leave at 9:20 pm and at 9:10 he was still standing on our plane.  And of course our plane was arriving at gate H16 and his plane was taking off from gate L2.  So he had to run across the airport like a crazy person and when he got to the gate, the door to the jetbridge was already closed but when he asked if they were still boarding to Cedar Rapids, the attendant opened the door back up and told him to run! But he made it and was sitting on the next plane at 9:17! Impressive, right? Sadly, his luggage didn't make it, but if he had to carry his luggage he would have never made it! Since he doesn't live far from the airport he was able to pick it up the next day.

It was a great trip, but it's always hard to say goodbye. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Seattle Finds Part 1

Matt and I like to travel.  Neither of us got to travel extensively growing up so we like to take advantage of the opportunities to do so now. Plus it gives us some good quality time together which can definitely be a challenge in a long distance relationship.  He vetoed my original idea of going to Wisconsin Dells--something about we've already been there a million time--and after throwing out a few other ideas we settled on the city of Seattle.  Mostly due to the food!

I skipped out of work early on Thursday and headed to O'hare to catch my flight.  Matt had already caught his flight out of Cedar Rapids and I was meeting him at the airport so we could fly to Seattle together.  Of course no trip to the airport is complete without a traffic delay, but thankfully I left with plenty of spare time and the line through security was short.  Plus our flight was delayed by about 30 minutes so I had time to grab a DD iced coffee before taking off!

Our seatmate on the flight was a sort-of Seattle local and gave us a few suggestions on things to do.  He also suggested beers we should check out (which I've deemed just as important as the food) one of which he said was not bottled and only available in kegs.  Later on I couldn't remember the name but did recall something "exotic" about the name. I did end up finding it at a bar later and asked the bartender all about it--Mac & Jack's African Amber.  It is my new favorite.  Now I just need to figure out how to get it in Chicago.

Once we landed in Seattle we found our way to the Link Light Rail station and made our way to downtown Seattle.  We opted not to rent a car for this trip because we wanted to save on costs and I was impressed with the public transportation system in Seattle.

After the short walk from the station to our hotel and check in, we pretty much collapsed straight away on the bed.  It was already past midnight central time and it had been a long day for both of us.

Friday started off with one of the things I was most excited to see in Seattle-Pike Place Market.

Complete with fresh fish tossing, tons of produce, crafts, and lots of flowers.

It was as awesome as I had imagined. 

The market is almost like a maze and goes on and on.  Even on the last day we visited I think we walked by new stores. 

We grabbed dinner at the Sound View Cafe in the market and I had my first dose of many of seafood with a salmon hash.  

The views weren't half bad either. 

Of course I didn't leave empty handed.

They really brightened up the hotel room

 We had a full day of sight-seeing ahead.  First stop the EMP Museum to check out Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and other music memorabilia.

Our favorite part was the lab where you could play guitar, drums, keyboard, or sing.  

Extremely interactive and fun! I need to work on my keyboard skills though.

Next up the Seattle classic-the Space Needle.

I think I've been up into too many tall buildings because I didn't find this very exciting.  Oddly enough, I heard the top of the Space Needle isn't even the highest point in Seattle and that is actually on top of Queen Anne hill (I couldn't prove or disprove this, so take it with a grain of salt).  

I still enjoyed the views.  We contemplated grabbing food at the rotating restaurant below the observation deck, but skipped out. 

Each day in Seattle, we woke up to gray skies.  The forecast always called for the fog to burn off in the afternoon but after 3 days of hearing this, I thought they were just lying to me.  It was so often overcast and we didn't see much of the sun.  The forecast before I left called for temperatures in the mid 80s and  high 70s and so I brought dresses, shorts, and short sleeves and only one cardigan.  The cardigan got a lot of use.  Matt was smart and brought a jacket.  

Instead we drank beer and ate clam chowder at a nearby sports bar before walking back to the hotel to rest our feet for a bit.  Then we headed down to Pioneer Square to check out the Underground Tour.  

This tour is fascinating and had a lot of "lost" history and speculation.  The tour takes you on the pathways underneath the sidewalks, on the paths that the original Seattle was built on until a fire took out the area.  When they rebuilt they raised up the entire area.

 Thankfully no rats were seen.

That night we continued on with the theme of our trip --more beer and food.  We visited Pike Brewing Company.  I got to try another Kilt Lifter.  I've had the Arizona Four Peak's Brewing Co.'s version before because my friend Laura, an Arizona native, brought some back in her suitcase.  I enjoyed the brew but Matt and I could have probably skipped the pitcher we ordered. I was quite tipsy on the way home!

More about our other adventures tomorrow.

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