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Ironman Canada – From the eyes of a volunteer (Finish Line Catcher)

By: Lisa Coleman

Race: Ironman Canada

Location: Penticton, BC

Distance: swim 3.8km, bike 180km, run 42.2km

Web Site:

Well this is the first time I have written a race report from the eyes of a volunteer, however wanted to share the experience with you all and maybe it will inspire someone else to volunteer for a local race.

Since Ironman Canada traditionally sells out in person this year I decided to head out to Penticton a year early, volunteer for the race and be onsite to sign up for Ironman Canada 2009.  It ended up that a group of 6 friends from Markham had the same idea so we all decided to make the trip together.  My friend Ambrose flew into Vancouver to do some sightseeing and stay with us for 5 days or so and then we left Thursday August 21st to do the 5+ hour drive from Port Moody, BC to Penticton, BC.  This was my first trip to the interior and I was amazed at the scenery.  It is an amazing area!!!!

Since hotels book up a year ahead of time for this huge race we decided to stay at a local camp site to save some money as well.  We stayed at the Camp Along camp grounds.  We did learn soon enough that camping directly beside the highway does not make for a good night sleep, but we managed.  Otherwise the accommodations and washrooms etc. were nice. The first night we arrived in Penticton we went for a short run and took in some of the scenery and then headed out for dinner.  Day 2 Friday we went into town and went for an open water swim in the beautiful Okanogan Lake and checked out the Ironman expo and shops.  Day 3 started with a long bike ride along the harder stretch of the Ironman route.  My race season finished early this year so this was a challenging bike for me.  Not being on my bike for a month didn’t make Richters Pass seem any easier.  Our main goal was to get out and get an idea of what we would be up against for 2009.  The entire bike route is surrounded with beautiful scenery!!!!!!! Ricthers Pass and Yellow Lake were both challenging and I realized that I have A LOT of training to do over the next year.  However I also realized that living in BC will definitely help me train for this long climbs.  Next year I will have to start biking up some of the North Shore mountains in preparation.  The rest of the day I relaxed, wandered around town and took in the sights.  We had a volunteer meeting on the Saturday as well where we had to register and pick up our volunteer wrist bands and t-shirts.  Saturday night we had a group dinner at The Pasta Factory which was great!

RACE DAY – We were up around 5am because we wanted to make sure we got to see the start.  We headed down to the swim start and didn’t have too much of a problem with traffic and parking.  We found a spot along the boardwalk at the beach to watch the swim.  I love the atmosphere at the start of big races like Ironman.  The energy in the crowd and the enthusiasm is amazing!!! The crowd was pumped up and the music was blasting.  Once the gun went and swim was well under way we headed over to main street to catch the first bikers heading out.  Luckily for me there was a Tim Hortons on main so we had some breakfast whille waiting for the lead biker (BC is not a huge Tim Hortons province like Ontario…so I get very excited when I see them, I am getting sick of Starbucks!). We stood on main cheering our brains out until the very last swimmer out of the water in the 2:20 cut off had passed us.  Our volunteer shift didn’t start until 4pm so in the meantime while the bikers were out for the long bike course, we went for a long run along a portion of the course.  We hung out at the finish line to cheer in the male pro winners and then headed back to start our shift.

My volunteer shift was 4-8:30 and I was a finish line catcher.  I had a blast!!!!!! I was behind the finish line when the female pros were coming in and was able to watch the interviews from the finish shoot.  Have you ever wondered what exactly a finish line catcher does??? Well, we all stand in line (30 plus catchers) and when a racer crosses the finish line the first two catchers run over to them to see how they are doing.  If they are not doing great you literally catch them and send them over to the medical tent where the medical staff take over.  If they are not doing too bad then you hang out with them for a bit, make sure they get their medal, finishers shirt, take them over to where the food is and get their picture taken.  Once they are all settled, have met up with family or have been passed on to the medical or massage tents then you go back to the finish line and line up to do it again.  The line of catchers moved pretty slowly at the beginning because there were not huge numbers of people finishing at the very fast times.  As we got closer to 11 and 12 hours the line of catchers started to move very quickly as more and more finishers crossed the line.  My shift was done at 13:30 in the race so I went out to the bleachers to join my husband Brenden who had been waiting patiently for me and we watched a couple hours of finishers coming in.

After having done Ironman Lake Placid last year and taking in the experience as an athlete I really appreciated the chance to take in the whole experience again from a completely different perspective.  The event is run so smoothly it is unbelievable.  The organization for the number of volunteers that they were dealing with was perfect.  Everything ran smoothly and seemed to be without a hitch.  The guy who was in charge of the finish line volunteers was probably the most organized, efficient and observant guys I have met.  He would yell out as an athlete was crossing the finish line if he thought they needed big time catching, and he was right every time. Not only was the finish line and race well organize but it was also a lot of fun.  I met tonnes of people who were in the same boat as me and were in Penticton planning on signing up to race in 2009.  We swaped race stories and joked around while in the catchers line.  Overall being a finish line catcher was a great experience and I would definitely do it again. The entire Ironman experience is amazing through the eyes of an athlete and through the eyes of a volunteer/spectator.  If you have a friend doing an Ironman in 2009 and were planning on going to watch you should volunteer while you are there.  You get to be a part of the race and it occupies some of the time while you are waiting for your racer to come by again.

THE DAY AFTER – We weren’t sure when we should go to line up for 2009 registration.  All we heard is that the sign up would be in the expo area and that there would be a separate line for volunteers.  It seemed like everyone volunteering at the finish line was planning on signing up, so we figured we better get there early just in case.  I was up the next morning at 4:30 (ouch that hurt) and was in line at 5am.  We were a fair ways back but not too bad.  They had us all start in one line and the first 15 spots in line were people who had camped out there over night.  It was cold and rainy, so not ideal weather to wait in line, but we made the best of it.  I was lined up with my friend Brian and we quickly met the people in front and behind us in the line up.  At 8am they started moving the line into the expo area.  Once inside they split the line into a volunteer line and a non-volunteer line.  After the split we ended up around 15th in line.  We were the first group into the  registration tent and were in and out in a mater of minutes.  It did pay off to volunteer because they let the entire line up of volunteers register first before they started the line of non-volunteers. While I was in line to register for the race my husband was in line at the lakeside resort and casino to book us a hotel room for 2009.  He waited all morning and was only able to book one room.  We headed up the street to the super 8 next to get a room booked for my parents.

Once we were signed up and had the hotel rooms booked we headed back to the camp site, packed up our stuff and started the 5+ hour drive back home to Port Moody.  The whole way I couldn’t help thinking about how much work I was going to have to do over the next year to prepare for my second Ironman!

Penticton was an amazing trip and I look forward to visiting the interior of BC again and checking out some of the surrounding areas like Kelowna.

For next year my plan is to do the Osoyoos Half Ironman the beginning of July, which goes up Richters Pass and will be good preparation for Ironman Canada August 30, 2009.  Hopefully I will fit in some smaller tri’s as well, and up next is the Seattle Marathon Nov, 30, 2008.

Wishing you all the best from BC and happy racing!!!!

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  • That is great. This was an interesting year with all the spots that were put online as well. We had no idea what to expect on registration day since this was our first year signing up and it seemed like everyone volunteering was wanting a spot. I went early and thought better be safe than sorry. Now that I got my spot a few extra hours sleep would have been nice as well!!! I look forward to seeing you at IMCAN 2009!!

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