Bring it on
May 23, 2012 | 9:50 am
I hauled myself out of bed on Saturday at 4 a.m, part of the wave of over 6,000 volunteers from 30 states who helped the more than 2,000 athletes at Ironman Texas get ready for their big day. Part of the “bodymarking” team, our specific duty was to mark each person’s upper arms with their race number and their left calf with their USA Triathalon age (a.k.a. age at the end of the year).
The kind of people who participate in Ironman simply seek out tough and brutal, in order to conquer it. Joyfully.
We arrived at about 4:15 a.m., received our instructions, and stood around for about an hour with our Sharpies in hand as the first few Ironman participants trickled in and the rest were busy finding parking, visiting the bike transition area to stuff their bags and bikes with the gels and liquids that woule be their meal, then walking the slow one mile to meet us and our Sharpies at Northshore Park where they'd be starting their race with a swim in Lake Woodlands.
We were the first volunteers they'd see race day, among many. There was only one smiley face request for me this year, and the athletes in general seemed a bit more nervous than I'd remembered. One young man asked to borrow the marker and wrote “Phil 4:13” just below the hem of his bike shorts, where he’d doubtless take courage from it during the last stage, the marathon.
Excitement and anticipation from the athletes I saw who'd come from all over the United States and Mexico was every bit as tangible as before last year's race, and understandably most were channeling nerves via restrained or joking mannerisms — except for a refreshing so-over-my-age 74-year-old — who didn’t want his secret revealed on his calf.
The reputation of Ironman Texas, in only its second year, has probably been sealed by a quote from third place finisher Mathias Hecht of Switzerland, who called the heat and humidity “absolutely brutal," and went on to compare The Woodlands to Kona:
This is like Hawaii … This was really tough, probably one of the toughest races I've ever done."
Ironically, should they run across it, this statement will probably attract, rather than dissuade, possible registrants for next year: The kind of people who participate in Ironman simply seek out tough and brutal, in order to conquer it. Joyfully.
There's no way to know what became of the people I marked on Saturday, whether any were among the 12 percent D&F (dropout and failure) rate while attempting to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a full marathon without a break that day, as heat rose to 90 degrees in the afternoon.
They hit the water at 7 a.m., and many of them wouldn’t finish for 15 hours. But I did catch up with #2516, Rusty Robertson of southern California, who did finish. He swears he enjoys the heat as compared to his town of Oceanside’s dry, cool climate. “I feel pretty good,” he said, “the normal soreness.”
Volunteering and witnessing Ironman Texas is motivating and encouraging to me — as a runner — in the same way attending Quilt Fest influences me as an artist: Quilting’s not my medium, and it probably never will be, but it’s just so darn amazing and inspiring to see what some people are able to do with fabric.