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.
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.
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.
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.