What makes a village?

Most of the time, doing an Iron distance race seems to be about anything and everything except the basics.  Indeed, as I sit here in our rented condo, on the eve of Rev 3 at Cedar Point, and look at the jumble of bags, the discarded wrappers, the piles of carefully sorted food, the elaborate checklists that are crossed out, asterisked, scribbled upon, starred, lined and creased, I’m reminded again of the old adage that an Ironman is a logistics event with a little bit of swimming, biking, and running thrown in.

But today I was thinking about how it really does come back down to some very basic things, things like showing up.

The alarm went off at 5:15, awakening us bright and early to get out and support our teammates who were racing the Cedar Point sprint today.  For several of them it would be their first sprint.  Of course, in this day and age, the first thing you do in the morning is not to say good morning to your partner lying in bed beside you; you say hello to your iPhone.  And there was an e-mail from the Rev 3 people, sent minutes before, notifying everyone that the sprint had been cancelled due to unsafe swim conditions and lots of water on the bike course.  They were planning to run a 5K instead.

The sun was nowhere near up, but the lights in the parking lot showed the wind whipping sheets of rain through deep puddles.  Clad in every bit of warm clothing we owned, the three of us piled into Geneva and drove out to the race site.  The parking lot for the Cedar Point amusement park is massive; it would dwarf the number of cars for the participants in a major race.  This morning, the tiny knot of cars huddled together in one corner looked like a bunch of high school nerds hoping not to be noticed by a gang of wedgie-inflicting jocks.

We trudged through the rain to the race start and were met by a sobering sight.  Most of the impressively elaborate setup that we had seen yesterday was gone; much of it disassembled and lying in pieces about the area that yesterday had been the expo.  But some parts looked as if they had been knocked down, with some torn canvas evident here and there.  I was suddenly very afraid for what had happened to the Team Z set up in the heart of the finishing area.    Then, round the corner, I saw the Team Z tents, still intact, brightly lit, an island of warmth in a cold, dark place.

It was, however, a rapidly shrinking island.  The storm had already destroyed two of the tents, wrapping one of them round the trailer and snapping it in several places.  Those Zers who had turned up early either to race or support the racers were in the process of taking down the remaining tents to to avoid further damage.  The forecast was for the rain to ease later in the day but for the winds to pick up, and neither Coach Ed nor Coach Alexis wanted to take any chances.

Soon, we were all huddling in the lee of the trailer, sipping the coffee and eating bacon sandwiches that they had somehow managed to cook while fending off the tempest.  We shared the food with as many of the Rev 3 volunteers as we could find; they looked utterly and completely exhausted.

But they still managed to get the 5K underway.  The rain was driving intermittently, the wind was blowing, and there were some truly impressive puddles.  Nevertheless, the Rev 3 people got the timing system up and running, and even a PA.  The announcer was upbeat and the volunteers seemed to be as well.  The field was small, maybe around 50-75 people, of which about half a dozen were our team-mates.  We were all pretty well drenched by this point, but we got out there and cowbelled and vuvuzelaed and shouted for all we were worth.  After cheering at about the 2 mile mark I went to the finish line and in addition to a whole pack of Zers cheering (including some of the racers who had already finished and were flapping their mylar blankets enthusiastically; had I raced I would have been hard-pressed not to head immediately for the warmth of my car) I noticed that more of my team-mates were pitching in to handout finisher medals.

We stayed until the last runner came through; at the urging of the Rev 3 people we jumped the barriers and formed a finishing arch for that last person.  We managed to form a pretty substantial crowd and we made a lot of noise.

I’ve never been more proud to be part of this team than at that moment.

I think the team is pretty well known locally (and in a couple of other places now, like Geneva, New York) for the race-day support we provide our racers, an elaborate tail-gate party that has grown over the years until it now encompasses a never-ending buffet, large-screen TV if there is some other major sporting event on (like the Tour), massage therapists, bike racking and gear storage, etc.  I’ve been on the team long enough to remember when the team took its big step from one tent to two, a shameless extravagance.  Now the Team Z race presence constitutes at least half a dozen tents and a compound that can be seen from the space.

But I can also remember encountering Team Z for the first time, at the now defunct Mooseman (thanks for that BTW, Ironman, way to kill off a great race).  I don’t remember any tents, I don’t remember a buffet that would make a college kid cry.  I just remember a tiny bunch of people with a crazy loud horn (cutting edge, the Z, way before vuvuzelas were even on the radar, way before in fact they actually had a name) cheering for everybody, even non-Team Z people.

This morning I was reminded of that time that already seems appallingly distant, when doing a triathlon wasn’t even on the horizon of my consciousness, let alone doing an Ironman.  Let alone doing a second Ironman.  Team Z is not the tents.  It isn’t the SAG support on long rides .  It isn’t even the hand-peeled, freshly deep-fried,  cajun-spiced thickcut fries.  It isn’t even just the people.  It is people who do.  It is people who get out there and do all kinds of athletic stuff, much of which seems to partake of various degrees of insanity to most people.  It is the people who front up on a cold and wet start line when their goal race was cancelled and there is nothing to be gained but a killer race story over future beers.  But perhaps even more importantly it is people who do a crazy amount of supporting people do crazy athletic stuff.  It is the people who front up on a cold and wet finish line because there are other people out there running in those conditions and the fact that they are out there doing it needs to be honored and respected.

We may not have tents up tomorrow.  We may not have food.  Although I am betting that if there is a way to get it done then somehow the team will.  And it is that team of doers who support other doers that I will be carrying with me as I go out there tomorrow and try to do it myself.

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