Saturday, April 04, 2009

ING Marathon Race Escort Report

Race escorting was a completely humbling experience.

I had prepared for the event by mapping the course on the computer and driving it. Then, armed with my cue sheet I rode 2 loops on my bike, only to find that I had a few of the streets wrong. Later, I did two more loops on the bike armed with a pen to correct the cue sheet. However, I didn't get to do the practice rides with actual wheelers so I was flying blind.

On Saturday night, I called my friend Curtis (a veteran race escorter and knower of all things bike) to get the inside skinny on my last-minute questions. Are there code words? Do I ride next to or in front of the racer? Should I yell encouragement or only identify hazards?

Curtis's number one piece of advice: If my wheeler was a man, I should wear a bikini. Yeah, I think he might have been doing some 16oz bicep repeats on Saturday night. : ) Seriously, though, he gave me some good answers to my questions and I calmed down. A little. Then I had to fold 4 loads of laundry to relax enough to sleep.

So we showed up at Centennial Olympic Park at 5:45 am on Sunday morning. I dropped Doug at the Omni hotel and went into the park with my newly-shod and washed bike, McGyver-ed light setup and ghetto cue sheet taped to my bars but completely lost as the to the actual plan. I avoided speaking to anyone because I was so scared. The wheelers started arriving pushing their race chairs in front of them like jog-strollers. They were very sinew-y and fast-looking. Whew, very intimidating. Luckily, the group of escorts was very nice and welcoming. No one said a word about my tri-bike after the zillion "which bike are you using?" questions from my friends. I rode THE bike. It's a yellow tri-bike with aerobars and red flowers. Not very professional-looking.

We posed for a photo. You can tell I'm freaking out. I do have ING orange and blue dealies in my braids. Check out the GU socks and Moving Comfort running top. Gotta support the peeps!

This is Jett's photo. Link over to his blog and read his race report here. He was a pro at the escorting. The fast guys wanted him to be their escort.

After a short meeting at the State Bar of Georgia headquarters, the escorts lined up and we were counted off like in gym class. I doled out Gus to the people around me - share the Gu love, baby. The national anthem played and suddenly, there was a mad "HERE THEY COME" and big gust of wind whooshed by, preceding a big group of wheelers who flew by us. There was a lot of yelling and noise and confusion and suddenly Leslie was on #20. I had seeded myself towards the back (#25) because I'm not fast, thinking that I'd be a sweeper at the rear. Wrong - a clump of wheelers came by and she got through 26.

Holy Crap! What next?

I got a little in front of who I thought my wheeler was and promptly forgot whether the guy in the blue shirt or the yellow shirt was mine. We went down Marietta Street. The guy next to me (Paul, maybe?) had the other guy. Paul(?) told me which one was his and I promptly forgot again. I stayed with the guy I thought was mine. Then, as we turned left and went down Piedmont I noticed that Paul and I had only guy between us. Crap! I listened to him tell Paul about how this was his first race and how he has only been in his chair for 10 months.

I started to slow down to look for the other guy when Leslie rode up and asked me to stay a little closer to my guy. "OK," I gulped, with tears in my eyes. Jeez, we haven't even been a mile and I've lost my guy. I SUCK! I'm totally ruining his race!

I found my guy (turquoise blue chair, yellow jersey). You can see a photo of him here (enter photo number 36339 and he is the 4th from the left on the top row). I explained that I was confused about which guy was mine and apologized profusely. He grunted. We were going uphill so that wasn't rude - he was working hard. When wheelers go uphill, you can see how gravity is making their wheels want to reverse and go back down. Then, we got to Publix and the turn onto North Ave was upon us and I had to tell him about the turn and how there is a really sharp right onto the next street at the bottom of the hill (danger spot #1) so there was no chit chat. I told him about the next hills - not steep but long and he grunted. I thought that he hated me. The racers had spread out a lot by this point in the race as we get closer to Sweet Auburn. I pointed out the road construction on the right on the way down Jackson. As we motored up that hill, I told my racer about Curtis's advice, thinking that I'd break the ice. "Not today," I quipped "too cold. Maybe next year." Big grunt. Maybe a laugh? We went past the King Center and I notice all of the homeowners sitting on their porches with their coffee and dogs. It was really neat and the sun looked so pretty as it rose over the houses. I wanted to point this out to my racer, but it was an uphill so he didn't look like he wanted any crap about coffee and sunrises.

We turned right on Randolph and left onto Edgewood. Then, sirens. Not blaring, just honking like when they want you to pull over. The first marathoner was coming through.

Let me just tell you that runners and wheelers do not go the same speed. Wheelers FLY down the hills but going uphill is an inch-by-inch struggle. Runners seem to step along at mostly the same rate at all times - their strides get shorter on hills but they are still turning over at the same pace.

Four motorcycle cops came by on Edgewood and took up the whole road. I had to whistle them. I was very hesitant to whistle at them at first, because they were the police, but they wouldn't get out of the way. My guy was about to go downhill and they were in the way. And then there was the pace car (SUV). So, 4 cops, an SUV, me, my guy, the woman escort with the glasses, her female wheeler (if you looked at the photos, she is the racer to the right of my guy), and the first marathoner all riding together at different speeds. What a cluster $%^$#. Finally, I strapped on my big girl panties and got more insistent with my whistling (copying glasses woman) and the cops pulled away as we got to the place where Euclid veers off and there was sea of cones - it was very confusing. I was worried about what the cones meant. Maybe they changed the course? Which way to go? I knew we needed to stay straight, so I sucked it up and told my guy to go straight and follow me. That darn SUV stuck, though. I just tried to be a buffer between my wheeler and the car because I didn't know if they could see him. I whistled them several times. They were mad. The marathoner passed us on Euclid - he looked free and easy loping away and whew - the pace car was gone too.

We turned onto Moreland and had new smooth pavement down to the turn onto Freedom Parkway. I told my racer and he grunted. Whee! We sped down the hill, turned and hit the hills. As he motored up the hills, I told my racer about the downhill past the Carter Center and the bad right turn there. 4 wheelers crashed there last year because it was wet. I did NOT mention this to him. The glasses woman escorting the female wheeler was a non-stop encouragement machine. They were close to us on that hill. The woman (whose name I've forgotten) was all "whoo" "you look awesome" "way to go" "keep it steady". Was I supposed to yell like that? If my racer was like Doug, he would have wanted to strangle me. I told my racer that I was going to yell, but that he could tell me to shut up. Grunt. Again, we were going uphill because you have to talk in the uphills because there is too much other stuff to worry about in the downhills. Then it occurred to me that maybe English was not his language. Aha!

Then, the downhill and turn. I kept yelling about it and hoped my guy heard me. I cleared the turn and waited around the bend. It was wet, but he made it through just fine. Whew.

We turned right again onto North Ave and then went up a looooong hill to turn left on Highland. I think I told my racer that this was the worst hill in the course. If not, I should have because it was the steepest. We turned and zipped down Highland. I whistled a lot of runners here "wheeler coming through" - we were near the front of the half-marathon pack. One guy in light blue clothes would not move. I was a little hesitant in my whistling and talking, though, and may have confused him by being on the right. I should have been more forceful and gone by on the left to lead my racer - people respond better to the "take charge" directions than "hey I'm going by on the right but my wheeler is coming on your left so move" discussion. I had to apologize to my racer for that too.

We turned left on Virginia Ave and then went down the hill past Inman MS. Sharp right turn here. Then a lovely stretch on Park Drive. We went really fast here and didn't have to slow down for anything. After crossing Monroe, there are four speed humps. I called them out to my racer and the big bump going onto the bridge. Then a hard left into Piedmont Park. It was so beautiful in there. We had smooth sailing in the park and I took that time to prep my racer for the hard right turn and long uphill out of the park on 10th.

It was getting cold as we turned onto Juniper. I told my wheeler that this section wasn't steep, but very long. Then as he motored up the hill, I warned him about the tight and bumpy turn onto 5th Street. That turn always feels like the beginning of the home stretch to me. We labored up the hill to Peachtree and all of the police started yelling for my guy - cheering him on with every stroke. I wanted to hug them all. My racer grunted really loud for them. : )

We took the right onto Peachtree and then the fast left back onto 5th and then we were in GA Tech. I warned my wheeler about the downhill turn onto Techwood and then we started the long climb back up to the finish. We turned onto North Avenue and lots of people were there to cheer for us going up the hill. We did the Tech Parkway section, the quick left onto Means Street and then Marietta Street was upon us. I yelled out whenever there were holes in the street and when to go into the other lane and yelled encouragement in between. Marietta isn't a steep hill, but it grinds on you. The female wheeler and glasses woman passed us here - that woman was tough. She did awesome! And then it was the last three lights and I told my racer we were almost there and directed him into the finishing chute. Escorts can't cross the finish line, so turned wide and exited thru a hastily opened gap in the fencing, stage-right.

And it was done. Whew. Glasses-woman and I held each other's bikes for a potty break and then I defied the access nazi to cross the road that the kids would be crossing, lifting my bike and hopping two fences to get out of the park. In the confusion, I forgot to get my shoes from the wheelers' tent. After making it out and back around the park to put my bike in the car, I realized my mistake and had to walk the half-mile back to the tent in my bike shoes. Oops. Had I gone to the bike tent (only 1 fence-hop required), I would have gotten to meet my racer, Muhammad, from the Dominican Republic. He was pleased with his race and had his girl friend there to help translate for him. : ) Go Muhammad, you rock!

If I can run again by next year, it will be a really hard choice between running this race and escorting. It was the best. I loved every moment of it.


Wes said...

{grunt} :-)

skigator93 said...

Great write-up! It would be nice if you were assigned your racer ahead of time so you could at least know their name and where they are from. That way you could learn a few encouraging words in their native tongue.

Nat said...

You're the best! I think that is so awesome that even if you can't run you still got to put your cheerleader efforts to good use! Great write up. You had me laughing.

Q: Did you have a whistle or were you whistling with your mouth. I don't think I could whistle that loud. But very cool if you got a whistle. That would have made me feel very professional.

Kevin said...

Sounds like a great experience. I would definitely do it if I had the opportunity

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Anonymous said...

Steph, your report was hilarious. I was wondering if the guy understood your directions. Great Job!