Monday, May 18, 2009

Becoming a (Triathlon) Jedi Master (Official)

This past weekend was a busy one. In addition to the typical weekend rigors of the long workouts and endless house related items, I also had something special on tap - becoming a USAT Official. About two years ago, while volunteering at the ClifShot aid station of the Marine Corps Marathon, I came across someone who was recently getting involved in officiating USAT races. As she described it to me, it sounded like something I'd be interested in. So I gave her my email and she forwarded it on to get me on the email list.

A few months passed and I eventually received an email asking if I was still interested. With only a few options that fit my schedule, I had signed up to officiate the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon. Unfortunately, a last minute scheduling conflict with a wedding that weekend forced me to have to cancel. The only other option was for Patriots, which I was planning to race, but eventually was canceled due to the hurricane, so last year was a no go for me.

So...take 2. When the email came out this year, I quickly responded with the first available date on my schedule - the Columbia Triathlon. I was really excited, especially since the race typically hosts some of the top triathletes in the world. This year did not disappoint with a stacked mens and womens field.

The officiating clinic consisted of 2 main activities - the clinic and the practicum (actually officiating the race). So Saturday afternoon, after a nice, hilly 40 mile ride, I drove out to Columbia, MD to attend the clinic. The clinic lasted about 3 hours and covered all topics of common USAT rules. We also had an exam to complete prior to class, which required us to become very familiar with the USAT rules. My favorite part of the clinic was having a discussion of common formations that happen out on the bike course and breaking the situation down to determine who should be penalized for drafting, position fouls, right side passing, etc. Having this discussion made me realize that being an official is not all fun and games. It is actually quite challenging.

For example, in order to effectively identify a penalty on the course, an official is asked to identify at minimum the following: race number, male/female, bike brand/color/model, jersey color/details, helmet brand/color, and any other items that would help uniquely identify an individual from everyone else. Because in reality, when you are out on the course with 2000+ triathletes, people tend to look pretty similar. Stating that a guy on a black bike, with a black uniform....doesn't really cut it. So in addition to identifying characteristics about their physical appearance, we also have to, you know, look for penalties. Trust me, its a lot to do from the back of a motorcycle.

Sunday morning brought about the second part of my training - officiating the race. Our orders: be at transition by NO LATER THAN 4:45 AM! So lets do some backwards math. In order to make to transition at 4:45 AM, it takes about an hour to drive, maybe 20-30 minutes to get ready, and factor in some time for randomness that can fill up time. So what time did I set my alarm for? 2:45 AM! Now that is early! Want to know what a triathlon looks like at 4:30 AM? Look to the right. Not much going on, is there?

Once we met up, we were introduced to the other officials that were not part of the clinic the day before. Lindsay was officiating too, so I got to finally meet her. We were then given assignments for covering transition during pre-race to make sure everyone was racking appropriately, helmets were legal, and all was good.

Unfortunately, the only thing we couldn't control was the weather. It was started to turn ugly. The winds were howling and the temperatures were falling. It was warmer when I woke up at 2:45 then at was at 6 am and the weather just got worse as time ticked by. As the winds picked up and the temperatures dropped into the 50s, the rain began to fall. So glad I wasn't racing!

After transition watch, we met up with the motorcycle crew. Each official got paired up with a driver and we staggered ourselves to leave every 5 minutes to head out onto the bike course. My assignment was to cover a good chunk of the middle of the course. So in the wind, rain, and cold, we zipped off. Fortunately, the helmet I was provided was a full face with a visor, so I felt none of the effects of the weather. I had a few layers on as well, so all was good.

As we headed out on the course, we were passing by mostly elites, since they had just started to head out on the course for a bit by the time my driver and I set out. Toward the end of our first loop, we came up on Chrissie Wellington. It was definitely the highlight of my day, being able to ride along while watching her in action, even if it was on a miserable day. It was just really cool to watch a triathlon from this perspective. After 2 hours of riding the course, we headed in to compile our findings and debrief. And the race - well here is how it turned out. Quite the exciting finish.

Overall, it was a great experience and I'd recommend anyone interested in the sport to give it a try. You learn a lot about the rules of the sport, which can help you be a better triathlete. I know it will for me once I finally get around to racing an actual triathlon again this year. I'm now signed up to officiate a bunch more races and looking forward to more great experience (in hopefully better weather). If anyone is interested, feel free to shoot me an email and I can give you more details.


Lindsay said...

Glad you enjoyed it :) Officiating has caused me to rethink some situations, because I know what they look like from a motorcycle.

Wait until you do a local sprint race though - You'll see some CRAZY things... Snowboarding helmets... people cruising along left of the double yellow... It will make your head hurt.

The Lazy Triathlete said...

That does sound very interesting and I am sure it was very rewarding.

Rainmaker said...

Both you and Lindsay have me rather interested now in officiating - though likely not this year, I could see it on the list for fall/next year.

This was a really good write-up though on some of the details I never had considered. Nicely done!

jeanne said...

hey, no fair. i could have definitely used a motorcycle helmet out there!

Thanks for doing this, it sounds cool!

ShirleyPerly said...

I am AMAZED how many things you are asked to identify out on the bike course. Shoot, I can barely recognize my husband when he's out riding and I already usually KNOW what he'll be wearing and what bike he's riding.

You refs are awesome and thanks again for doing a tough job!


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