How Volunteering at the Ironman Finish Line made me a Better Athlete

Guest Blog: Jeff Lukich

Lessons from the Ironman Finish Line

Ask anyone who has competed in an Ironman… the finish line is an amazing place – a place of energy, excitement, and endless possibilities.   Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer as a “catcher” at the Ironman finish line at several races.   If you think finishing an Ironman is awesome, volunteering at the finish line is the next best thing!  As a “catcher”, you are often the very first person an athlete sees as they are finishing their race.  The first to welcome them back and congratulate them on their big accomplishment.  I was there to put my arm around them and make sure they were okay, and then guide them through the finish chute. The first order of business was the athlete’s safety and health – to ensure they did not need any medical attention.  After that, we made sure they had water, received their finisher’s hat and medal and then snapped a few quick photos.  And finally, they were on their way to see their friends and family.

From the time I spotted my athlete running down the finish line, to them exiting was perhaps only 5-6 minutes. Some athletes wanted to process their race right then and there, and some didn’t say much at all. But I learned so much seeing the race from this perspective that I feel has helped me both as an athlete and a coach.

Gratitude

Seeing a race come to a close for so many athletes, I was able to see how grateful athletes were for their day – some for their time on the clock, and some to even finish.  Even on my worst training days, I am now more grateful for the fact I can even participate in this sport.

Problem Solving

Racing long course triathlon is about problem solving. In the short time I spent with the finishing athletes, I often heard about the problems they encountered throughout their day, and how they worked through them. From weather, nutrition, to mechanical, I learned that no problem is too large for the creative athlete to overcome.

Close The Deal

I saw many athletes who had very long days.  As discussed in David Allison’s blog “Why the 5+ Hour Marathoner and the 14+ Hour Ironman Are My Heroes”, some athletes are out on the course for a very long time. In doing so, they experience the conditions of the course (terrain, weather, temperatures, and problems) in a way that is much different than a faster athlete.  But just like their faster counterparts, they very much want the same thing – to “close the deal”, and finish what they started.  Working the Ironman finish line, I got to see many “deals” closed.  I could see the joy of that at the very moment when it became a reality.  Simply amazing!

Processing the Day

As I said before, some athletes came through the finish line and wanted to talk about their day right away. Some didn’t say much at all. But all will want to talk about their day at some point. I know for me, I can’t stop talking about my races the night of, the next day, and as we travel all the way home! I encourage athletes to process their day through writing a race report. This gives the athlete an opportunity to share their story with their family and friends, as well as other athletes who might find the information very helpful.

Slow Down?

Yes and no. I now take my time at the finish line of my races.  And this would be my final piece of advice for athletes. Slow down and enjoy the finish line. I saw so many athletes go from a slow, Ironman, death march pace, to their 5K pace right at the finish line! Unless you are at great risk of not making the midnight cut off, qualifying for Kona, or meeting that time goal you have set (like sub- 10, 11, 12 hour etc.), take your time and soak it all in – you’ve earned it. High five the spectators, and hug your family.  But enjoy the moment because this is the prize you have earned for all of those hours of training week in, week out.

Volunteering is a great way to experience the sport in a new and wonderful way.  Whether it’s at a local 5K, Sprint Triathlon, or an Ironman, it is a great way to give back to the sport and support your fellow athletes.  But experiencing a race from a volunteer’s perspective is also a great way to grow as an athlete.

Happy Volunteering!

 

Athlinks Staffhttp://blog.athlinks.com
Posts by the Athlinks Staff are authored by our in-house group of athletes and subject matter experts in the fields of performance sports, nutrition, race organization, and training.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. As a 3 time Ironman Finisher and many time volunteer at Ironman races I can tell you beyond any shadow of a doubt that I always feel like more of an Ironman volunteering than I do crossing the finish line. Furthermore my experiences volunteering allow me to enjoy my own racing and that of my family that much more. I started volunteering to experience the race venue before signing up for a big race both so that I could get a feel for the atmosphere as well as priority registration for the next year’s event. But it developed into so much more than that. I occasionally see familiar faces in both racers and volunteers and have developed friendships that have lasted a decade or more through racing and volunteering. My wife and I have always involved our kids in racing through volunteering as a life lesson that shows them that anything is possible if you put in the work and training necessary to achieve your goals and almost as importantly that they need to serve others to grow themselves and be the best person that they can be.
    I’ve worked body marking, kayak swim safety, wetsuit stripping, bike catching, change tents, transition 2, security, run aid stations, and finish line over the years and can say that each volunteer duty is unique and has great qualities that have taught me racing and life lessons. From the nervous virgin athlete at body marking who just needs a hug and a firm “You can do this” to the aid station near the midnight hour giving an athlete a thumbs up and high 5 as they realize that they can beat the 16:59:59 cut off even if they walk the last few miles, and everything in between. There is so much energy at an Ironman race that you can’t help but be brought to tears seeing an athlete you’ve never met before achieve what seems to the world to be an impossible dream and to know that you had the tiniest part in their day and helped them achieve their goal.
    Finally, I firmly believe that volunteering leads to great race Karma. While I hope that I never need that Karma, I know that over the years I’ve made a deposit in my race day account and what ever happens on the course I know that I’ve helped others achieve their dreams and that will always make my race a success.

    • Congrats on your Ironman finishes flyboy. And I agree 100% with your Karma comment!

      Best of luck to you in your future racing,
      Jeff

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