Running an Ironman aid station is hard work, especially for the marathon portion with runners passing in two directions, as Hannah Babcock and the National Sports Academy-led team discovered on Sunday afternoon.
No question, the start is dramatic with more than 2,000 swimmers taking off at once, but watching hundreds of runners coming at you in two directions, some running, some walking, some limping representing a wide array of ages and body types is really quite something - and no matter how pained the look in their eyes - they all tell you what a great time they are having and, for the most part, how they want to do it again. They are polite, they say thank you, and the volunteers cheer them on by name.
"Atta way to go, Joan. You are looking good, Bob. Keep it up, Steve. Would you like water or ice, Kristen?" On and on.
Lisa Williams with daughters Grace and Sophie
(Photo — Naj Wikoff)
A smart idea that I had not seen before is each person has their first name printed on their bib; the result is the event seems like a grand old friends week as each competitor is saluted personally.
I used to race (cross-country skiing), and yes near the finish my teammates would cheer me on and once in a while somewhere on the course there would be somebody who knew your name, rarely though at an away meet. I remember vividly how much that cheer meant. The best race I was ever in from that standpoint was hosted by the Swedish Ski Club. They handed out this hot blueberry goop which left a purple stain down your chin and splattered on your uniform and cheered every person with cowbells all along the course. The great thrill for me is that Martha Delhi, who spent summers in Lake Placid with Harry Voege, was there cheering me on even more. The whole experience was such a rush that now 50 years later it is as fresh as ever.
I am sure that for these athletes the rush must be the same, if not more so. Big and complex as Ironman is, there is an unexpected intimacy about it. Many of the volunteers are wannabe Ironmen and Ironwomen or part of one or more Ironperson's support team. Lots of locals volunteer and a fair number enter the race. I saw several athletes slap the hands, shout a cheer, and at times stop to hug another going in the opposite direction.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Lisa Williams, a member of the NSA faculty. "This has been my first time volunteering for Ironman. I've volunteered for ORDA and some other things, and I would do this again definitely. It's inspiring to see so many people out doing something that is so challenging. It's really important for me to have my kids volunteer and learn the value of how good it feels to help other people. This was a great opportunity to do that with them. They are fourteen and ten and they both put in three hours."
"I am going to do this next year," said Sophie. "Well, not next year, I am not old enough to race. I will do that when I am older. I will probably volunteer next year."
"I would like to volunteer again," said Grace. "It is great to see all these people. It is amazing to see how long they run and how much exercise they get. I like helping them.
"And they are still smiling and making jokes," said Lisa. "That's very impressive."
"It's amazing how everyone can do this," said Sophie.
"It's been going good," said Hannah Babcock, the NSA team leader. "It was a rough start. This morning we got out here at 8 o'clock, and there was a huge torrential downpour and thunderstorm. That was terrible. Then the sun came out, and it has been great. Everyone's really enthusiastic. I will have 60 volunteers by the end of the day. They come in waves. This morning, I brought three friends with me thankfully because only one of my volunteers showed up between 10 and 1."
"I volunteered because my husband does this race, this is his third time," said Michelle Ackerman.
"I have been volunteering since I was about 4 years old," said Sara Perry. "I am twenty now, so a while. I am helping out some friends. It's good fun."
"I am here with my summer camp," said Josh Fenster, with Camp Seneca Lake. "We usually do a triathlon run in our senior year, and this is my senior year. "They wanted us to come out and volunteer to help us get motivated. I am motivated now. It is really fun."
"This is my first Ironman, and I am having fun," said athlete Patrick Sheridan between gulps of water. "I have only 20 more miles to go."
"This, too, is my first time," said Karin jogging along. "I am having a blast. I am having fun. My husband gets to compete in the next one. We agreed to trade off."
"I'll probably come to Lake Placid again, but I am not sure about doing it again," said Carol Ann Redfield. "We would like to come back. It's beautiful."
"As my first time in Lake Placid for this I had to get up, get on the roof top with my coffee, and watch these people descend upon Mirror Lake," said Dan Moriarty of NSA. "When you are around runners, swimmers, cyclists, adventurers, it gives you chills to see what people do together just to finish something, and when they are going by here at the 17-mile mark, their last time through, they are all saying thank you. The people who are drawn to this type of sport have the most amazing personality."
"Would you do it?"
"No, I would not do it. One guy went by me and said, 'This is stupid.' He did. I said, 'Well, I can't help you with that, but I can give you some water. He laughed and took the water."
"Swim was rough, bike was good, cramping on the run," said Ken passing the 17-mile mark during his second Lake Placid Ironman.
"I've been in the Ironman three times and raced in Lake Placid twice before," said former DEC Commissioner John Cahill. "Placid is a great race. It is so much fun. The whole community comes out. The scenery is beautiful, and the course is just phenomenal."
"I am running on behalf of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation," said Alison Peabody. "It's been a good race so far. The weather was a little tricky in the beginning, but it is a beautiful course, and we love the volunteers."
"I am going to do it next year," said volunteer Nick Mosconi. "I have not done it before."
"He dragged me up here," said Imma Rutigliano. "Now I will probably do it too, I have caught the bug, I guess."
"Our coach does this," said Mosconi. "He got hit by a car so we came up to volunteer for him. He will be in the race next year with me. I think volunteering is great. I like being around everybody, you are helping out those in the race."
"When you run next year you'll probably throw your empty cups in the trash can, I bet."
"Yes, I will."