Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ironman Muskoka 70.3: A Catcher's Perspective

Oh wow, what a day! Dipping my toes in the Ironman world, and for the first time ever, I volunteered at a race today, the mighty Muskoka 70.3. This is not your usual race report, but a glimpse into one from the "other side". I was assigned at the finish line as "catcher" and my job was to accompany the finishers from the moment they cross the finish line to the next volunteering station, that was where they were having their chips taken off their ankles. Because of the nature of the sport, most athletes give everything they have to finish this race, so for many of them, it was actually necessary to offer a shoulder or an arm to hold on to relieve the wobbly legs and sometimes, avoid hitting the ground, even if it was nicely carpeted.

A few times, I even had to pair up with another catcher to drag them to the medical tent because they either passed out or were about to, which definitely puts this sport up there on the "what was I thinking" scale. I actually did hear A LOT of athletes saying this word for word, but I was reassuring them that most likely the day after they would sign up for another one. ;-)
Because of the close contact I was having with all these people, my volunteer tshirt got soaked with at least 100 people's sweat, so after an hour of doing this job, I wasn't sure what to do with myself, especially since I knew quite a few people in the race and I went and gave them big hugs regardless. The "enhanced scent" was rather powerful at times, but as the excitement was growing and people started coming in waves thicker than the smell, I forgot about it and had no choice but concentrate on keeping them vertical.

I was happy to see so many people that I knew not needing any rescuing from mother gravity though - Mike Medeiros (4:51:05 - going to Vegas?) and Ayesha Rollinson (5:01:46) from Tri Trek Toronto, fellow blogger and Boston Marathon finisher Marlene Sykes (5:56:17) from Mission to (another) Marathon, and last but not least, the FMCT squad (Peter, Peter, Brian, Nathalie, Ryan, Joe, Colin and 3 more guys that I forgot their names).

However, some of the top pros, they looked like they needed serious help. I won't mention any names, but kudos to them for pulling through despite the circumstances. I don't have pictures of them all crossing the finish line, but Rachel Joyce (4:34:47), the top pro girl was such a sweetheart, she came back to wait for her fellow competitors and was very kind to pose for my modest camera.

Rachel Joyce - what a joy!
On the men's side, Tom Lowe (4:08:54) took the top spot and he is definitely making a name for himself in the world of triathlon, and not only for beeing Chrissie Wellington's boyfriend. It looked like it was a grueling race among the top 3 men, unforgettable for sure, especially for us catchers.

Tom Lowe - running tall
After the top 3 girls finished, they returned for a duel of Champagne bottles - that must have felt good, it was quite hot by then! Rachel Joyce (4:34:47), Michelle Vesterby (4:48:10) and Tenille Hoogland (4:44:10), ready for action in the picture below.

Ready to pop the Champagne open!
But back to my athlete catching, it was a long day in the sun standing on my feet and with only breakfast in the tank. After the 2h morning drive from Toronto, I was so anxious not to be late that I left my food, water and money all in the car, about 2km down the road from the finish line, so I only had a Honey Stinger Waffle and 2 little bottles of water during 6 hours of service. By 3pm I started having a nasty headache and touched the top of my head (I had been smart enough to put on a cap), but it was hot as hell, so I tucked in a few ice cubes and  voila, the headache melted away. I knew I was in trouble if I wasn't going to eat though, so by 4:30 I was released from my duties for the day and sent to the Athlete's Dinner where I gobbled a plate full of chicken, salad, cheese and crackers, plus a cookie because it was looking really yummy.

Oooh, shiny!

I walked back to say goodbye to our coordinator, snapped a few pictures and the headed back to the car, cheering on the last few athletes that were fighting with their will to go up and down the Muskoka's endless hills.

Last km, down and up, and down again.
Those hills, that make Muskoka one of the toughest 70.3 races on the circuit (or rather 72.7 because the bike course is longer by 4km) are many people's nemesis. I, for one, know that I am determined to go back next year to race on them and have someone else catch me, if they can (hopefully on the course rather than the carpet!). Also, running down this chute, with the loved ones at the end, must be wonderful.


Will I do this again? Absolutely! But it's not for everyone, especially if you don't like exchanging body fluids with strangers, I can see how this can turn some people off. I didn't even wear gloves, although sometimes I wished I did because puke, blood and feces didn't look out of place and you never knew what was going to land on you. However, I'd say that people's emotions were harder to deal with. From the girl who got her spotlight stolen in front of the camera and her heart shattered, to the son or daughter who had lost a parent to a terrible disease and were trying to cope, to the first timers who didn't know what was happening to them, to the too proud who didn't want to be touched, to those who needed a moment alone, you better know what to say or rather shut up. In the end, I think I learned a lot about this breed of endurance athletes that makes them more human than you'd think - the majority are happy but exhausted, and don't like to be rushed. Some will tell you they are ok and you know you can trust them, others will fool you to get a dirty flirty full frontal squeeshy hug out of you (don't laugh, it happened!) and other will roll their eyes backwards before they get to say their name and you better be there for them. In the end, most will thank you and you get on with your day. Volunteering is what makes triathlon turn round and around and I feel privileged to have been part of this well oiled machine today.

Until the next time, on the other side of the finish line with a race report - you have my word!


  1. Sounds like a lot of fun! I think I'll volunteer at one of these before doing it myself.

    1. I think everyone should ;-) I heard it's good karma too.

  2. I found your race report via google. Thanks for such an interesting view of the event. As someone who competed in the 70.3, thank you so much for helping out on race day!

    1. Oh, I love hearing from competitors in the race! Thank you for stopping by and congrats on an amazing race! You flew over those hills!

  3. Sounds like quite the day you had! Volunteering is no joke and I can imagine it is almost as exhausting as racing. Thank you so much for being there! These races would not happen without people like you. It was great to meet you too!

  4. Great post! It sounds like it was a lot of fun for you even if you did end up wearing other peoples body fluids. LOL