You Can Say You Were There 

Inaugural Ironman competition seeks helping hands

What is 70.3 miles long, has three legs and requires the help of 1,000 volunteers? If you guessed a freakishly long, undulating red paper dragon at a Chinese New Year's parade, you're not even close. It's the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Boise, a world-class triathlon scheduled to be held in town on June 1. The race itself is fairly simple to understand. Completing it is another matter. The event is comprised of three tests of athletic endurance performed consecutively: swimming, bicycling and running. On race day, 1,500 competitors will take a 1.2-mile swim in Lucky Peak Reservoir, then crank out a 56-mile bicycle ride on a route that will travel from Lucky Peak to the southern outskirts of Boise and into the heart of our fair city, and wind up with a 13.1-mile run on the paved Greenbelt riverside pathway that will end at the finish line in the BoDo district of downtown Boise.

Event organizers are counting on regular, fun-loving locals like you and me to fill 1,000 volunteer positions in order for the triathlon to run as orderly and glitch-free as possible. Although the majority of duties have already been spoken for, there are still a number of opportunities to help out. The best thing about being a part of the event is having a street-level view of the race and being able to cheer on the athletes from an insider's vantage point. And if you call a couple of friends to help along with you, you can all have a memorable time at a remarkable event while putting a pleasant face on our community.

One of the jobs that still needs to be filled is that of penalty tent volunteer. A racer can be penalized for several reasons that include not wearing his or her race number, littering, drafting behind another cyclist during the bicycle leg of the race, and even listening to music on a portable MP3 player. The volunteer at the penalty tent will be told how long each penalty is and will ensure that the athlete serves the required amount of time. It need not be grim duty, but it is a job that needs to be filled just the same.

People who enjoy flying by the seat of their pants might instead like to sign up as a floater because, according to Ironman director of communications Blair LaHaye, you may not learn what your role will be until race day and it may change throughout the day.

Course marshals along the bike and run routes are also needed. Marshals have the responsibility of pointing racers in the right direction and ensuring that competitors stay on the designated course. Stations are typically located at turns, corners and intersections along the race route. Major intersections will have police support to direct vehicle traffic. The cool thing about being a course marshal is getting to see the athletes up close during the race. A better view can only be had from a television screen, far removed from the excitement and general sense of awe over watching ordinary humans press toward the extraordinary goal of completing the 70.3-mile race.

This writer signed up a few months ago to work in the bike-to-run transition area in order to see how the big dogs do it and to hopefully pick up a few hints for becoming more efficient in her own novice triathlon transition attempts. If you really want to be a part of the action, then sign up as a finish line catcher. They work in pairs to assist athletes after they cross the finish line. Some catchers will place finisher medals on contestants, or escort them to the medical aid station if necessary, while others will remove timing chips from weary ankles and supply exhausted racers with water and food. All will gain a tremendous sense of admiration and inspiration from seeing finely tuned mortals accomplish what they trained so hard for during the past several months.

Once you've decided to become a part of this noteworthy event, a few things need to be kept in mind. Namely, come prepared. You may be asked to sit at a corner for three hours in the middle of nowhere, under a hot sun or in bone-chilling wind. This can be a drag. But if you dress properly and bring a chair, an umbrella (rain or shine), some food and something to read (and perhaps a camera, binoculars or radio), it can be a lovely way to spend part of the day outdoors. Bringing a few friends along can make the whole experience a lot nicer, too.

Volunteer online by visiting Groups of 10-40 people can contact local volunteer director Melissa Cleland by e-mail at or telephone at 208-489-3690. The positions that still need your help as of press time are: course marshals, body marking/wetsuit peelers, practice swim attendants, floaters, finish line catchers, tear-down crew, bike check-in, athlete check-in, goody-bag assembly, race packet assembly and bike check-out.

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