After weeks of strenuous and sometimes painful training, hundreds of dollars spent on expensive equipment and hours of grueling mental preparation, the weekend of the Raleigh Half Iron Man race finally arrived this past weekend. NOT FOR ME of course, I’m not swimming 1.2 mile, biking 56 miles and running 13.1 miles unless I am fleeing from some unimaginably horrible monster. But, my sister and niece are much tougher than I am and they paid good money to prove they could run this race without a single frightening beast on their heels.
I hate to abandon them to this effort after all the training we have done together in the past so I secretly volunteer to be a race body marker. No, I will not get to be a floating body marking the race course during the swim (though that would be fun). I will instead write each racer’s official race number and age on them with a magic marker so officials can tell who each person is during the swim. (Here is an after race tip – sunscreen will entirely erase permanent magic marker from your skin – I know this because many racers asked me to remark them after applying sunscreen and even “permanent” magic marker does not win over sunscreen…)
I keep my little secret for weeks, even when my sister mentions to me that the race REALLY needs volunteers and that even she is volunteering (for pre-race registration). She is too sweet to have been trying to guilt me into volunteering, but in my head, I hear “what is wrong with YOU??? How can you turn your back on these people when they need you?” But I keep my game face on, I am determined to keep my secret.
4:30am is the time volunteers are to be at the race start 40 miles from my home, so I climb into bed early Saturday night anxious to be well rested for the race. After tossing and turning unable to sleep, I finally doze off about 11:00pm. At 12:58am, Stormy sits up in bed and yells at me “GET UP, get up – the alarm clock didn’t go off and YOU ARE LATE!!!” I jump up, heart pounding, run to the bathroom, come back to the bedroom where Stormy meekly whispers as he rolls over to return to dreamland, “oh I’m sorry, I didn’t see the 1 in front of the 2. You can go back to sleep, it’s only 12:58.”
Suuuurrrre, I can. Now I am just praying that I don’t fall asleep driving to the race start. I gather my stuff (flashlight, bug spray, water, snack) and leave home at 3:00am. Smart move as unbeknownst to me and the other volunteers, the Beltline around Raleigh has been rearranged into some sort of chaotic pinball game featuring thousands of randomly arranged orange cones illuminated by blue, yellow and white flashing lights some of which have the same brightness and intensity as the sun. Sometimes the game is open and you can drive right in and take your chances as I do, but the volunteers behind me get to sit in traffic for 10 minutes waiting for their chance not really knowing when the game will restart and the road reopen. I am not sure how many points I score, but I sure am glad to get out of there.
Thirty miles later, I sit at the locked entrance to the race all by myself, 40 minutes early, on a pitch black dark, lonely road, hoping I am in the right place. Quashing thoughts of ax murderers and serial rapists lurking in the woods (I may get to run an Ironman after all!), I start to wonder – will my sister and niece even see me if I am in a crowd of 3000 people? What if I did all of this and they don’t even realize that I am there?? Good Lord, now I need a new plan. I should have worn my tutu, then they would have spotted me. No one could miss a 6’2, elderly ballerina marking bodies. Then I remember that when we discussed volunteers my sister mentioned that one of her friends, Lindsay, was also a body marker. I find her name on one of the volunteer emails and vow to hook up with her. I am sure my sister will be looking for Lindsay at the body marking area.
More folks arrive, I AM at the right place. I get my T-Shirt and am one of the first to hit a port-a-potty (thank goodness, as I learn they were awful by the time my sister got to one). I don’t know what Lindsay looks like but by using my finely honed investigative skills, I find her (“Are you Lindsay? no, Are you Lindsay?, no, Are you…”) and team up with her. I have my marker, my smile and my instructions – bring on the bodies!
After marking the second racer, I realize that I probably made a mistake by not taking the time to train for this event myself. Here is how body marking works: you mark an arm with their race number, you mark the other arm with their race number, and then you mark their calf with their age (so the runners behind them know if they are in the same age group and can sneakily pass them at the end). So it is: mark that arm, then mark that arm, then down and mark, now up and mark and down and mark and up and down and up and down… I must have done 200 squats and that was before we had to pull wetsuits off of people. I was just lucky that this race was not wetsuit legal (bend and pull that wetsuit, bend and pull that wetsuit) or I would not have survived. In addition to performing 200 squats, my phone proclaimed that I had exceeded my one day record by walking 8.75 miles.
Of course, there were rewards for my hard work: I did find my niece and sister.
We hug, we cry and I get to cheer and take their pictures at the swim. I also get to depart from the swim portion of the race in my car before the hundreds of spectators who are wilting in the hot sun waiting for the buses to take them back to Raleigh. Should of sold seats in my car and made a few bucks! Stormy has a picnic lunch waiting for me on the Capitol lawn under a big shady oak in downtown Raleigh. I enjoy strawberry shortcake, a comfy chair and a chance to cheer for Val and Priscilla as they circle by us on the run several times. There they go again…