Friday, February 8, 2013

My Running Journey, Part 4: Signing Up for IMAZ

Let's face it. With my first race happening tomorrow morning, if I don't do a quick retrospective today, it's not gonna happen.

It's one of those "don't look back" things.

Here it is.

Three months ago, I bought a plane ticket and bounced down to sunny Arizona to volunteer at Ironman AZ in Tempe. The race shall heretoforeverandalwaysafter be known as "IMAZ."

The idea was to man a Run Aid-Station for a few hours, get an IMAZ t-shirt, and thus be qualified (loosely) to sign-up for IMAZ 2013.

The trip was fantastic.

First, I was joined by accidental yet amazing travel companions, both to and fro. It's so rare that I sit on an airplane next to other women, but it happened twice on this trip. I must say we had wonderful conversations. I love to learn from strong ladies with unusual and challenging lives. We've continued to stay in touch since then.

When I arrived, my fabulous brother and his even more fabulous (sorry, Jon) new wife, Christina, let me stay at their apartment. In my off hours, they fed me pomegranate seeds, took me to a hilarious production that Christina co-directed, gave me a very comfy couch to sleep on, and generally and otherwise provided for my welfare.

Jon and I even got to play mini-golf, one of our family's favorite family pastimes. You've heard of a good poker face, right? This is a good mini-golf face. Only we pros can pull it off.

On Saturday, I tried to attend a mandatory meeting for volunteers at the race venue, but mostly I got lost.

First I got lost trying to find a parking spot. The local mercenaries roped off every spot possible and would accept nothing but cash for payment. (Like Ferenginar at its best/worst.)

The more I tried to find a cashless and available parking space, the more times I was forced to turn corners, search down rabbit holes, and fly to the moon and back.

By the end, I didn't know where I was in relation to anything, even though I think I drove past every building, person, house, and car in Tempe in the process.

And because of that, it took me a long time to get to "that big gray building" the parking-attendant in the ONE garage that accepted credit cards sorta-kinda pointed out to me.

No better way to find your way than to wander about alone and aimless for a while though right?

I found the floating dock harboring rescue boats for the swim portion of the race.

I found a couple of (thousands of) bikes, racked and ready for the next day.

I found a cool bridge with people crossing in the distance.

I found out those crossing-people were ALSO planning to sign-up for IMAZ 2013. But unlike me, they already owned their own super cool gear. They invited me to lunch which was extra friendly-like.

I partially walked around the marathon course by which means I found out that the Tempe Town Lake is every bit as man-made as its name suggests.

Don't believe me?

Well, here is where it ends. The lake I mean.

Recognize that bridge? It's the same that's pictured above. Go ahead. Take another look. It's not a bridge over placid water. It's a bridge designed to block water, callously mocking the thirst of the opposing desert.

Here's a panorama.

So, on to race day!

On Sunday I showed up early to Run Aid Station #2. My official volunteer time wasn't until the afternoon, but I didn't really have anything else to do. And since I generally like to help out, I figured time spent doling refreshments to hot, exhausted runners was as worthwhile as anything else I could be doing in Tempe that day.

Several of the aid stations adopted themes, for the entertainment and diversion of the athletes I presume.


Now, I know what you're thinking.

"But Kelly . . . you *hate* to dress up and you're so, so, so shy. How did you handle the pressure of a group theme?"

It was tough. But I managed. Somehow.

Here I am with my hard-working if slightly less authentic bat siblings.

And here's the morning crew, set up and waiting. And waiting. And waiting. I mean, *come on* what was that all about? It's like the racers were busy elsewhere before they ran the marathon or something...

By the way, in the first costume photo, the girl on the far right, Melanie, was our station manager. What's more important is that she was the first female age-grouper to cross the line in St. George 2012, right behind the pros.

She very much qualified for the championship Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. In my usual shy way, I asked her every question I could think of that might help me with my own training.

After a few hours, we finally spotted runners across the dry lake-bed. When they turned the corner and hit us up for our goods, it was about the most exciting thing ever.

In fact, it was so exciting that I took a photo of the first pro to take a water cup from MY hand. Giggle giggle tee hee! He took MY cup!

He came in third. I'm not responsible for that. My water was pure.

As the day wore on, shifts came and went, but I stayed, dispensing water for more hours than was required. It took a little practice, but it sort of became my inner-calling.

Hanging out on the sidelines with other future/past racers was cool, too. And not that we were competitive by nature or anything, but I *totally* gave out more water than the guy next to me. Just sayin'.

In case you're wondering, there were different tables for different substances: sponges, ice, water, cola, sports drink, snacks (grapes & pretzels), and basic medical (Vaseline & band-aids). The runners became proficient by lap two or three at shouting out what they wanted before they even got to us.

It was not uncommon to hear, "Water! Water!" followed by, "Batgirl! She's got it! Go to Batgirl!" So if nothing else, my costume was ... efficient.

And actually I got a lot of compliments and laughs. One guy having a good time from the Philippines stopped to take a picture of us together, so I asked him to return the favor.

That was near the end of my stay. A new crew/shift showed up, so I changed clothes and headed to the finish line to cheer folks through the chute.

On my way there, the course turned truly beautiful at sunset.

When I got to the grandstands, I sat with one of my fellow run station volunteers and new friend, Mike. We watched finishers cross until the nail-biting last athlete a few seconds before midnight.

Mike will be racing the inaugural Lake Tahoe Ironman in September and just ran his first marathon last weekend. It's a good thing I have an extra two months to train since I'm only about to do my first 10K.

It was interesting to see that some people seemed to have no one in particular cheering them on, while others searched desperately (and sometimes in vain) to find their family members in the crowd.

Still others didn't have to look too hard for their fans. (Ie: the guy whose friends had made multiple giant replicas of his head in honor of his accomplishment. He grabbed one and held it in front of his face body as he cross the finish line.)

At midnight, the street scene wound down pretty fast. For some reason people were tired after a 17 hour race. I walked around Tempe Town Lake back to the obscure place I'd found to park my rental car. It was definitely chilly, but it was also clear and lovely.

And that brings us to sign-up the next morning.


By the time I drove back to my brother's apartment, it was about 1AM. I was hyped from the day and deeply anxious about my decision to sign-up for IMAZ 2013. So it took me a while to fall asleep. Yet I had set my alarm for 5AM in attempt to get back to the volunteer sign-up line by 6AM.

When my alarm went off, it was as if THIS was the true beginning of my Ironman training. Because let's be honest. I already wanted to quit.

But I dragged myself back to Tempe only to find a scene worse than ... than ... than ...

It was like Disneyland, only the line was longer than any line you've ever seen anywhere, and there was no awesome ride at the end. There was only a chance to pay a lot of money to total strangers in order to sacrifice hundreds of hours in pain and fatigue to subsequently race a race a year from the day for which everyone you know says you're crazy.

I wound my way past all the people who had camped out overnight, past all the people who had arrived at 4AM, at 5AM, all the way back to the lake. Which is where we SLACKERS who arrived at 6:30AM were relegated.

I was at the end of the line. I suppose everyone is at some point.

Registration began at 8AM.

I made friends with the people around me. We shivered together and made small talk. They were *all* runners, but for once I did not ask for advice. Mostly I just felt out of place. I graded my students' term papers.

When the line began moving, it moved along fairly fast. That was good because it gave me less chance to change my mind and run away in sheer panic, although at this point, I was pretty set.

As I approached the point of no return here were the volunteers in line *behind* me, a seemingly-infinite serpentine mass of crazy people:

And here were the people *in front* of me:

And after the crazies curved around some vendors and trees and buildings, the line continued to meander out to the right of me:

Where we finally met up with a sign and the tent of doom:

So that's it. This is where the big choice was finally made, the money forked over, the couple-of-big-breaths exhaled, and where the excitement and determination began to well. This was the place everything became real.

And if you're wondering why the volunteering? Why the line? Why didn't I just sign-up on-line like everyone else?

It's because when IMAZ 2013 registration opened to the general public, the final slot(s) filled in 40 seconds.

I picked this particular Ironman race because of the consistent weather, generally flat-ish landscape, and fan-friendly course. I guess I wasn't the only one!

Since then (3 months later), I haven't regretted my decision, though I do question it from time to time. My endurance has increased, my eating and sleeping patterns have improved (by necessity), and I'm gradually becoming more consistent in both exercise and results. I'm generally training alone, but I've already made a few friends along the way. And except for a new and gnawing pain in my hip, I feel more healthy than I have in years.

I still have a long way to go! Let's see what happens, shall we?


Lore said...

Good luck with your first race tomorrow!

April said...

Good Luck! What a grand adventure!

Anonymous said...

HahahahaHaha...Sorry I missed most of your post because I was stuck on "so, so, so shy"...Hahaha HA!