The Ironman Volunteering Experience

The day started very early, our first ‘briefing’ was scheduled for 4:15 AM, about 6km from home.

So I got up at 2:50, got ready and started running at 3:30 to get there. They had arranged for a shuttle bus service, but that would had me leave home at the very same time. And knowing that I would not have any other chance for running today, I decided to run.

That briefing was just a quick moral boost and then we were divided off into busses to get us to our aid stations.

Once we arrived there, we had ample time to set up. We did expect the first runners to come through after 9AM.

The reason we were called in that early was simply that managing 500+ volunteers as a group of cattle is much easier. I could have slept longer …
Instead we got to witness the sunrise from port (well, already had that the day before).

Some of the helping ANC students were still very sleepy.

But around 7 we saw the first cyclists zipping by, so we lined the street close to our tents and cheered for them (Our aid station was solely for runners, the cyclists had their own).

Then we heard that the first runners had started and we got into position.

This video is cobbled together from several (low resolution) sources (even a portrait mode video), but gives a good idea what was going on. We had ample selection for the passing (and sweating) athletes: water, isotonic drinks, fruit, power gels, ice water by the bucket over the head … Lots of fun.

By now the sun was in full swing, and just like last year, it had gotten very hot. Somehow I had assumed I would spend most of the time in the shade of those tents, but boy, was I wrong. I noticed the first onset of sunburn, but gladly someone had brought sunscreen and was willing to share.

Around 1PM the steady stream of runners had turned into slower shufflers, many of them on the brink of heat exhaustion. We tried to encourage them, or connected them with the nearby medics. Cramps became the most common reason why runners stopped now, some lay on the ground asking for ice being applied to the backs of their legs. One runner asked for a bag to puke into (and then a ride to the start zone, he was throwing in the towel.)

The last runners came by just before 3PM, the official cut off time. They still had 5km to go from our position. Not all of them made it I guess.

Overall that was a very interesting experience, but not really something I would want to repeat. For one there is the demeaning treatment, there was no real reason to call us in to meet at 4:15AM, it would have been totally sufficient to meet at our aid station at 7AM. The other thing is that in the end I found it more strenuous than running for 2h in the heat. And one thing the organizers really need to change is the incredible waste of single use plastic cups! That was very hard to watch.

But I gained a lot of perspective and will surely appreciate the volunteers on future races even more. It was also very nice that on occasion passing athletes (even shouting from their bikes) thanked us for being there. Some runners were also ready for a chit chat at the station or when I ran a bit with them (to spur them on).

Interesting also to see how a race like this could not exist without volunteers willing to work for ‘free’ (we got a t-shirt, a hat, breakfast & lunch, which both looked unappealing, so I only munched on bananas all day, oh, and all the free drinks we wanted 😉  Oh, and we are supposed to get our very own after party, since we mere mortal volunteers were not invited to celebrate at the fancy Shangri La hotel with the athletes.)

Oh, this is some lovely feedback I received a week after the event.

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