I learned how to multitask from my mother.  With three kids, a full-time job, a house to run, and dinner on the table by 5:00, she was like many of your moms – a master of making sure the wheels kept turning. When, sometimes, things fell through the cracks, she’d shrug, and say “I’m dancing as fast as I can”, a phrase which I now associate with “yep, it’s not quite perfect, but there isn’t anything I can do about it, so let’s just get through it and all keep our sense of humor.”

I thought of her a lot this weekend, as I helped out with a local triathlon as the volunteer coordinator, while working in my own training.  Saturday morning, I rolled out of bed around 5:15, threw on my bike clothes, and did the brick workout which was scheduled for my team training.  (For those who don’t know, a “brick” is a back-to-back workout of two of the three sports in the triathlon – swim/bike, or bike/run.  It’s called a “brick” because your legs supposedly feel like bricks when you finish one discipline and move to the next.)  My brick was more like a briquette, with a 75 minute bike ride, and a 10 minute run. 

I was riding South on the lakefront path yesterday here in Chicago – because of my time restrictions, couldn’t make it out with the team to the suburbs.  Anyway, I planned to go South for 45 minutes, then turn around and come back faster (I had planned 35 for a cooldown, too).  Clearly, I was not quite thinking – a 10 minute difference is unlikely to be made up in a 75 minute bike, especially when the lakefront path is full of all those smiling, hopeful marathoners training for Chicago!

So…my 75 minute bike became a 90 minute bike – woops!  Presto, change-o, and my running shoes were on, and I was running on the small track by my house.  Twenty minutes of stretching and I was done!

All in all, my 85 minute workout had taken me two and a half hours, putting me seriously off my schedule for the day.  Woops.  As I hauled butt to Wisconsin to help man the packet pickup, I couldn’t help but think that I was already dancing, and it wasn’t even 10:30.   I worked packet pickup (on the feet all day…hmm) from 11:00 until 6 – then dinner, race prep, and bed.

Today was race day, and we woke at 3:50 to be at the course by 4:15.  I had an amazing group of volunteers, including the McHenry H.S. Cross Country team (and their great coaches, including “Wheels”, who brought over 20 volunteers to the race!), and crews from the Foundation for Retinal Research, the Chicago Triathlon Club, and the Friends of Bigfoot State Park.  They were amazing!  As I ran around placing volunteers –  from body marking 1,000 athletes, to the swim start (in a white-capped lake with 20 mph winds!) to the swim out, bike out, run out, bike marshalls, run marshalls, aid stations, and the finish line (removing chips from 1,000 athletes?) – phew –  I was struck by the fact that you cannot participate in a race of any magnitude without the help of some truly dedicated volunteers.

The people who came to help today were kings and queens of multi-tasking. They moved where we needed them – and with a smile. They directed traffic – human and auto. They shouted instructions, and cheered for athletes, until they had no voices left.  And they did it all for free.  They smiled, and said “congratulations” and worked for nothing.

Most of us will do one race in our lifetimes.  Some of us will do many.  But until you’ve worked a race, I don’t know that you fully appreciate what it takes to coordinate, and to provide, for so many athletes.  Today, I had more than a few volunteers say to me “I never had any idea how much work it was.”  Or, “spectators are amazing, but sometimes, they don’t understand how they’re putting an athlete in harm’s way.”  I hope that every volunteer left with a smile – I know at least, they knew their work was appreciated.   More than that, I think they each realized they truly helped athletes get through their race today – quite a good feeling!

To be fair, there are other benefits to working a triathlon.  Have YOU ever asked to see the biceps of 500 well-trained men (or women) so that you can write their number on their arm?  When you’re up close and personal (also asking their age! for their calves) you get LOTS of information from folks!  

And if you need some inspiration, work a finish line.  You’ll hear stories, admissions, see tears and prayers, get hugs, and high-fives, and see men and women of all shapes, ages, and sizes, come through looking like they just won the lottery.  

It tends to make those dancing shoes feel just a little lighter.   So next time you’re on the course, don’t forget your volunteers.  And if you have some time, sign up to work a local race – you’ll be surprised at how fast you can dance.

See you on the path!

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