I have yet another vantage point from which to enjoy triathlon and I must say that I am newly impressed with the amount of work that it takes to pull off one of these events but more on that later.
I have spent the past few weeks pouring over the USAT rule book, interpretations of rules, codes of conduct, forms, regulations and the history of USAT officiating. I have taken my test and have attended my certifying clinic and have officiated in my first race. I think the first thing I would say is that while officials do give out penalties the idea behind the officiating is not to give out penalties but to try and ensure a race that is safe and fair for everyone involved. It’s pretty cool that, as athletes, we have such a support system behind us.
I didn’t really know what to expect from the certifying process other than I would really be learning the rules of the sport. I now know that many of the rules do not have anything to do with making the race fair, such as no drafting on the bike. There are rules that are mostly for the protection of the individual athlete such as wearing a visible number at all times on the swim bike and run so the athlete can quickly be identified if they become incapacitated and unable to tell the race officials who they are. There are rules to protect the race venue and the volunteers such as the rule against abandoning equipment on the course. This particular rule actually serves many roles, it protects athletes by limiting the number of water bottles you have to dodge on the bike, it protects the venue by keeping it much cleaner and it protects the volunteers by making it easier to clean the course after the race.
Anyhow, I know you are all dying to know if I, the Sweet Baboo, handed out a penalty. The answer is…yes but just one, well, almost two but in the end just one so let me tell you how my day went down. The ref crew was at transition EARLY but still the race management was there first along with several volunteers. We held our pre-race meeting and then watched the first wave of athletes hit the water. There were a couple officials monitoring the swim, which at this race meant on the shore with binoculars since the swim never went terribly far from shore and what we are mostly looking for is course cutting and athletes who may be in trouble.
The rest of us headed over to coordinate with our motorcycle drivers and then headed out onto the bike course where the real work of officiating is really taking place. There are numerous penalties that can accrue on the bike mostly because in addition to thins like equipment abandonment and unsportsmanlike like conduct you can get hit with a variety of position fouls. The race I did, the Prairie Man, was run very cleanly and the athletes were on their best behavior. I could tell that, for the most part, penalties such as drafting and other such penalties take place when people aren’t paying attention. You could tell that sometimes people would creep up into the draft zone and then realize that they were to close and so would either fall back or look around and then pass. I never saw anyone look like they were settling in for a nice draft though I did have a couple of cyclists yell out asking me if their distance was ok…and it was.
One thing that I saw clearly out on that bike course was the toughness of those athletes at the back of the pack. I know that I suck mightily on the run portion of the long course but I do not suffer on the swim or the bike. The people at the back of the pack look tired, their helmets are all cockeyed, they are standing and shifting in their saddles, stretching their necks, hanging their heads and grinding away just to get to the next aid station but they keep going and it gets VERY empty out there…very empty.
After spending about three hours out on the bike I headed back in to monitor the run and I got back in time to debrief a little with the head ref and then see the top pros come in and here I learned something else too. The winner was Aussie Chris Leigh with an amazing time of 3:58ish…it was boiling hot and humid out there with absolutely no shade or cloud cover, at least not at this point in the race. Frankly, it reminded me a lot of IMKY. Anyhow, even this pro admitted that he was reduced to walking a couple times on the run…amazing. Of course his walk probably was not the same as my patented shambling death trudge…oh yeah, it’s patented baby…if you want to suffer miserably your gonna’ have to find your own method of locomotion! His was probably more like a 10 second brisk trot but still, damn, I mean I thought those guys just blasted through everything. And the number two guy, 25 year Paulson (sp?) from Canada…that man SUFFERED. He, for whatever reason, did not wear any socks and when he came across the finish line he collapsed and immediately started trying to take off his shoes. The medical personnel were on him right away and he went flat and was covered in cold rags and ice. They pealed off his shoes and his feet were hamburger. Blisters that had been torn open all over, a huge black tone nail and a big flap of skin flapping off the side of his right foot. If you would have seen him running in you would not have imagined his feet were in such terrible shape.
Of all the race leaders I do not think I saw any who did not walk at least a little and many walked more than a little toward the end. And the back of the packers you ask? Well, after about 6 hours of scorching heat they were treated to a drizzling rain and then a good old fashioned Texas gully washer and it kept coming and coming. I don’t know how I would have received that downpour had I been racing in it. On the one hand it would have been a welcome respite from the relentless heat but on the other hand it would have made your clothes suffocating and your shoes as heavy as lead blocks. At this point I did feel very sorry for Andra Sue, a very cool blogger that the GEEKGRL and I hooked up with the night before. I knew she was out there on the dam, a totally exposed part of the run and it was her first half and it was a hard, hard day to do your first half.
So my first race as an official was pretty cool. I appreciate the sport so much more because I have seen so many aspects of the sport and know that we, the athletes, are very privileged to have races in which we can compete. More specifically, it is amazing that use mid and back of the packers…even those of us who are front of the pack age groupers, we are all very lucky to have a sport that allows us to play, that allows us a venue to make our goals and dreams come true and we should never, ever forget it. Indeed, not only should we not forget it but we should get our butts out there and help put on a race, volunteer, officiate anything, absolutely anything we can do to make our sport thrive.
I will be there, how about YOU?