Season Planning - Including Volunteering

January 30, 2017

Dave Sheanin



As you plan your race calendar for 2013, I‚Äôd like to encourage you to add at least one additional race.  Consider volunteering at least once this season.There are many terrific reasons to volunteer at a local triathlon.  Sure, some race directors will give volunteers an entry into another race in exchange for your time‚Äìthat‚Äôs a nice economic benefit.  There‚Äôs also the personal sense of fulfillment‚Äìwe‚Äôre part of a multisport community and races don‚Äôt run without volunteers.

Without discounting those benefits, what I want to focus on here is the valuable perspective you may gain on racing.  I recently volunteered at a race and was stationed at a very busy intersection on the bike course.  The roads came to a T with cyclists coming down the steep hill in front of us and turning right to head out on a bike loop and returning from our right (and turning right again) to head back up the hill.  Traffic was open to cars in all directions.  Following are a few take-aways.

1. It‚Äôs your responsibility to know the course.  This isn‚Äôt just my opinion as a coach or an athlete, it‚Äôs in the rulebook.  Article III, Section 3.4, Item a. clearly states: ‚ÄúIt is the participant‚Äôs responsibility to know the course.‚Äù

The obvious reason this is important is so that you don‚Äôt cut or ride off the course.  Despite two volunteers pointing and yelling at every athlete to turn right, we had one (very experienced) athlete make a left turn.  I was able to get his attention before he got up the road and he turned around and headed out in the correct direction.  As he passed, he semi-apologized‚Äìsaying he didn‚Äôt hear us.  (We were plenty loud every other athlete in the race got it right.)

Perhaps less immediately obvious, but way more important, is that not knowing the course can be dangerous.  We had traffic controlled at the intersection to match the patterns of expected travel‚Äìboth bikes and cars.  When a racer (or a driver) does something unexpected, everyone‚Äôs safety is compromised.

Knowing the course goes beyond knowing the turns.  It includes knowing the terrain as well.  We saw a younger racer crash hard (solo) trying to slow down at the bottom of the curving hill as he caught up too quickly to a car in front of him and was unable to control his bike as he braked to avoid rear-ending it.  The race director had posted ‚Äúslow down‚Äù signs on the hill and a pre-ride or pre-drive would have made clear that too much speed through this section could have disastrous results‚Äìeven without the presence of a car.  He was too banged up to continue racing, but came away lucky with just some bumps, bruises, and road rash.

2. Don‚Äôt trust the volunteers.  Okay, of course you should trust the volunteers but this doesn‚Äôt take away your responsibility as a racer to be aware of what‚Äôs happening around you.  At one point, we had left-turn traffic stopped to allow bikes coming in and out a chance to clear and make it safe for a car to travel up the hill.  The first car in line stopped and waited but after just a few seconds, the car behind swung around to the inside, passed me closely, and cut the corner (driving in the lane where bikes were coming down the hill) as he made the turn and sped up the hill.  The driver flipped me off as I was holding my hands out yelling at him to stop.  Not only did he act in an unexpected way, he was driving angry.  We were very lucky that no racers were at the corner at that moment, but his actions put himself, volunteers, and racers in potential danger.

3. Know your equipment and be self-sufficient.  We saw several racers drop their chains as they transitioned from downhill to uphill‚Äìsomething easily avoidable with proper riding technique.  Many of them were able to correct without stopping but several had to stop and a few required assistance from spectators to get their chains back on.  This does more than slow an athlete down, it‚Äôs also against the rules (Article III, Section 3.4, Item d.)  ‚ÄúNo participant shall accept from any person (other than a race official) physical assistance in any form, including food, drink, equipment, support, pacing, a replacement bicycle or bicycle parts, unless an express exception has been granted and approved, in writing, by USA Triathlon.‚Äù

You should be able to take care of basic repairs in training and on race day.  Make sure you can change a flat, pick up a dropped chain, and make minor adjustments with brakes and derailleurs while you‚Äôre out on the road.

4. Be aware of the mix of abilities/knowledge.  Whether you‚Äôre a beginner or an experienced veteran, you should understand that a big part of what makes a race (or specific situation on a racecourse) safe is that everyone behaves in a predictable manner.  This doesn‚Äôt always happen in the heat of battle.  The bike course is where you‚Äôre most likely to see unpredictable behavior (and where it‚Äôs most likely to have the greatest negative impact).

I saw a lot of athletes who either didn‚Äôt understand the ‚Äúovertaken‚Äù rule (5.10.g) or else they were willing to break the rule to gain an advantage.  Either way, when an athlete doesn‚Äôt act in the way you are expecting them to (per the rules), it can lead to dangerous situations.

I‚Äôd be willing to bet that many triathletes, even very experienced triathletes, don‚Äôt actually know the rules, have only looked at the most violated rule handout, or have learned rules from a friend or coach.  I challenge you to read the entire rulebook‚Äìit only takes a few minutes.

5. Note that there may be non-racing cyclists on the course.  The roads where I was volunteering are in a very popular area for cyclists.  The mix of racers and non-racing cyclists generally doesn‚Äôt cause problems.  But I witnessed a few near collisions at a corner where the racers were turning right but the non-racing cyclists were typically heading straight.  In those cases, racers were passing on the left going into the turn.  Those racers were assuming that all cyclists around them were racing (and turning).  The non-racers were going straight to stay on the main road and weren‚Äôt expecting anyone to pass them then immediately initiate a turn.  Neither were really at fault for assuming what they were assuming, but both would likely end up on the pavement if there had been any contact.  Be aware of your entire environment‚Äìnot just other racers.

Most of the time spent directing traffic went exactly as planned and it was rewarding to hear all the ‚Äúthank yous‚Äù from athletes as they passed.  But it‚Äôs also very helpful to view racing from another perspective every once in a while‚Äìit‚Äôll make you a better and safer triathlete.

Coach Dave is a USAT Coach and volunteers hundreds of hours each year for the benefit of our mulitsport community.

Coach Dave Sheanin is an advocate for aligning triathletes with their race goals. He believes that becoming “triathlon literate” is key to meeting your goals. Triathlon is indeed a lifestyle and like the other important areas of your life, knowledge is power. He encourages you to explore the nuances of the sport, be open to new ideas and ask questions – of yourself, of fellow swimmers, cyclists and runners, and of your coach.  

Coach Dave is a USA Triathlon and Training Peaks Certified Coach.  Coach Dave was honored by USA Triathlon with the Community Impact Award.

schedule a call