Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rev3 Portland 2012

This past weekend, Rev3 came to town.  Our relationship with this company began last year.  In January of 2011, I saw that the Rev3 70.3 triathlon was coming to Portland.  I was a little familiar with Rev3 - I have some friends on the east coast who rave about this company and their events.  Trevor and I had been wanting to do another 70.3 and when we saw that one was coming to our own backyard, we signed up.

The race was supposed to be held in downtown Portland. We trained for months.  About 4 weeks before the July 9th event, we got an email from Rev3 telling us about a course change. There had been some issue and the race was going to be held at Blue Lake, the same place as many of the other triathlons in town. The course went from being exciting and new to being flat and familiar.  

Many people were upset about the change. I remember seeing info on some triathlon forums about it.  Rev3 has a drop dead date to get a refund for cancelling the event and many people were saying that they conveniently waited until after that deadline to make the announcement. I also remember seeing a reply from someone at Rev3 explaining that they were a company trying to make a name for themselves and so they would not intentionally set up to deceive people. Then he said something that really got me - he told the person to come out and race, if after the race, they felt disappointed, he would refund their money.  But he asked that Rev3 be given the chance to exceed their expectations.  I thought that we a pretty generous offer.

Meanwhile, Trevor was mapping out a course for them in Vancouver, because the only place better to have a triathlon that Portland is Vancouver!  He sent an email to Rev3 telling them we could help if they wanted to come to Vancouver. It took about 5 minutes to get a reply from someone named LJ telling him that they were in serious need of volunteers and could we help recruit.  I had just finished being the Volunteer Coordinator for the Vancouver Marathon, so I was in volunteer recruitment mode.  We put out the word and helped them get some much needed support.

Race day came and it was everything we could ever want in a race.  The event was fun and well supported. We got so much stuff for our money - two shirts, a visor, a bag, awesome food at the finish and an excellent merchandise tent.  We were so happy to have been able to participate and really hoped they would come back in 2012.

HERE is my race report for that day.

Fast forward to January, 2012.  I got an email from LJ saying "remember me???" and asking if I had any interest in working for them as their Local Volunteer Coordinator.  Rev3 is based in Virginia. They have a volunteer coordinator (LJ) on staff and then they hire someone local to do the recruiting and organizing.  I interviewed with her on the phone and was hired.  

I knew they were looking for a local transition coordinator and swim coordinator.  I knew that if I was going to work for them that weekend, Trevor and Doug would be there with me, so why not bring my whole team!  I suggested to LJ that Trevor be their transition coordinator and Doug be their swim coordinator (he is mine for our triathlon).  The two of them were interviewed and hired. I was so excited that we would all be working together, because I have confidence in my team :)

I spent the next six months recruiting volunteers. I needed a total of 450 volunteers between aid stations, packet pickup, finish line, course marshals, etc.  It was a bit daunting, but I figured it would be okay.  I just started working on it and knew that it would all come together.  

I wasn't stressed out about the situation at all, until three weeks before the race.  On June 17th, I ran a marathon. That night, I laid awake with some stiff legs and thought "holy crap, in three weeks, I need 450 volunteers and I don't have that many".  That Monday I had a bit of a panic attack and emailed with LJ and the local race director.  We sorted some things out and by the following Monday I was feeling totally confident.

Its amazing how fast those three weeks passed.  Before I knew it, I was having my final conversation with LJ on the phone and she was going to arrive in Portland on Thursday evening.  The race was Sunday and we would all be working Friday and Saturday to get the race site and course ready to go.  The last week was a flurry of activity with last minute details to the volunteers and answering all their questions.  The amount of emails that I received each day was crazy!  I couldn't wait for race weekend so I could start meeting all the people I had been emailing with for months!

I have done many triathlons, I put on a triathlon, I was the volunteer coordinator for a good sized marathon (over 3000 participants) and so I feel like I know what goes into these types of productions.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.  It is not possible to understand the amount of work that goes into something like this, unless you are there and experience it for yourself.  

Rev3 brings a crew with them, we had no idea how big or small it would be. They've been around for 4 years, putting on races, but I knew they were still very much grass roots.  We meet at the hotel for breakfast on Friday morning and met some of their crew.  I met LJ for the first time in person, even though I felt like I already knew her.  

After breakfast, we headed to Blue Lake Park, where we were greeted by two large semi trucks and about 25 Rev3 staff members.  Looking at a huge open field, I knew we had our work cut out for us.  Over the next 24 hours, that empty field would be transformed into a race expo like none I have ever seen before.  Trevor and Doug got right to work building the transition area.  We made our way around, meeting everyone and trying to figure out what they all did. They were from all different parts of the country and everyone was so darn nice.

LJ and I got to work doing our last minute checks, sending emails, answering questions.  We left the park for a while because we had no power or Internet. We set up shop in her hotel room and got to work. Then we headed back to the park for lunch.  Every day there was staff lunch at noon and dinner at 7.  Everything in between and after was work.

I watched a city being built around me as the tents went up, the race chutes were built, the transition area was measured, fenced and organized.  We got our volunteer shirts organized and ready for pick up, our info tent ready to go, snacks for the aid station volunteers ready to be loaded.

Everyone had their jobs and was working hard to complete their tasks. There was a run coordinator, two bike coordinators, someone for the expo, packet pick up and finish line, retail, aid stations....It was overwhelming, all the work that needed to be done.  And it had to be done before we left that night, the expo opened at 10 am on Saturday.

Dinner time came at 7, we had a brief staff meeting and reviewed what was left to do.  We went back to work. Trevor and I stayed until about 10.  We had a pet sitter coming to the house several times during the day, but her last visit was over at 6 and the dogs had been cooped up all day.  We got home, spent a little bit with the dogs and went to bed around 11.  Day one complete.  whew.

Day two started again with breakfast at the hotel at 7 am, then to the park to continue the work. The site was ready for expo.  Packet pickup, bike check in and volunteer check in would happen from 10 to 6 on Saturday.  Meanwhile, the course work all happened - the marking, the signage was all set up. Aid station supplies were organized and loaded.  Timing was being finalized. 

The race expo opened and athletes started arriving.  There was so much other work going on behind the scenes, it was unbelievable. Our volunteers started checking in.  We were also the information table, so I got to learn just about everything about everything.

At the staff meeting on Friday night, Charlie, the founder of Rev3 went over what was expected.  Rev3 is a family friendly, participant focused race series.  He said no cussing (a tough challenge for me!) and then went on to talk about customer service.  If someone had a question, we were to help them find the answer if we didn't know - that meant walking them to the person who could help them.   This was the point when I really started to feel proud to be a part of this group because this is how we run our businesses.  We believe in taking care of the customer, going above and beyond, to satisfy their needs and exceed their expectations.  If there is an issue, we do what is right, not what will make us the most money or the biggest profit, but what is RIGHT.  I sat and listened to Charlie describe this same thing to his staff and I loved it.

On Saturday, I watched this theory in practice, while a staff of 25 people, doing the work of 100, stopped what they were doing to help individuals find where they needed to be and get answers to their questions.  The transition area was filling up with bikes, volunteers were all showing up for their shift and checking in for Sunday.  There didn't seem to be any major issues, everyone was working their tasks.

The expo closed at 6 and we had our staff dinner again at 7.  After dinner, there was still work to be done - the final touches for the race on Sunday morning.  We left around 9, got home and went right to bed.  Sunday would be a long day.

Sunday morning we got up at 4 am, tried to spend a little time with all our animals and headed out to arrive at the park around 5:15.   When we arrived, volunteers were already there waiting to check in.  In fact, my entire 5:30 crew was there and accounted for by 5:20.  That gave Trevor plenty of time to get them situated in the transition area so they would be ready for the first athletes.

It was going to be a beautiful, hot day.  We were so busy at the info booth - we had flaggers and course marshals checking in, athletes who had forgot their race bib or timing chip, people with questions, volunteers arriving for their shift.  Before I knew it, transition was closing and the athletes were heading down to the water.

I heard the horn sound the beginning of the race.  I would have like to see the start, but we had our hands full and so I just kept working.  I knew I'd see all those athletes at some point later in the day!

After a couple hours, LJ headed out on the course to visit our Aid Stations. She caught a ride with one of the motorcycle volunteers.  I took care of things back at home base.  It was a flurry of activity.  We have multiple shifts of volunteers checking in all day long. We also had paid workers that were coming back from their shift and needed documentation to get paid.  All the while, finishers were crossing the line. I would look over in transition and see Trevor, running around, talking to people, getting it all done.

It was really hot out there.  As the day wore on, the finishers were really feeling the heat.  We had cold towels for them at the finish line.  I saw the first pros finish and then was watching as some of the faster age groupers crossed the line. I was noticing our finish line staff and how they were working.  Most of our finish line crew were people we know - my brother in law and his crew from Lacey's House, a home for vets that they run.  These guys were the best. They were SO excited to be a part of this event and as I watched, I saw something really awesome.  Jim, who is my brother in laws father in law (does that make sense), would greet the finishers as soon as they crossed the line. He was putting the cold towel around their necks.  Some of the finishers thought he was hugging them because he had his hands around their necks to place the towel. And the best thing was....they started to hug him back!!  At first Jim was kind of surprised, like "this guy is hugging me", then he got really excited "this guy is hugging me!!!!" and hugged them back.  This went on for about 20 finishers and I just stood and watched.  I ran over to transition and told Trevor to watch the finish line. He saw it happen and we both just laughed. It was so awesome.  Cold towels, finisher medals, shirts and HUGS at the Rev3 finish line in Portland!

LJ came back from her ride out on the course and it was my turn. This was one of the best parts of the day.  I got on the back of a motorcycle and rode the course, stopping at each aid station to visit with my crew. I had emailed with these people for months and it was amazing to see them in action. It was hot out, they had been out there for hours and they were all so happy and totally having fun.  This also gave me a bit of peace and quiet, while on the road between stations.  That felt good.

Back to home base.  Our last shift of volunteers were on duty and now we were just waiting for the rest of the participants to finish.  The great things about Rev3 is that they don't pull people off the course - there are cut offs, but they aren't really enforced.  If you want to keep going, we wait for you.  The last finisher was out on the course and was expected to finish around 9 hours.

The number of finishers was really slowing down, we'd have a few here and there.  We had started breaking down some of the bigger items.  This entire town had to be packed up by the end of the night so it could be driven back to Virginia.

Everyone was hustling, trying to get what they could packed up.  Then the call came over the speakers "the last finisher just entered the park, all Rev3 staff and volunteers to the finish line".  There was a sea of orange shirts (the staff shirts were orange) moving towards the finish, literally RUNNING to get to the finish line.  There, we formed a human tunnel and waited for our last guy.  As he came around the corner, the crew of probably 40 people cheered as loud, if not louder than the cheers for the winner who finished 5 hours earlier.  As the last finisher passed through the human tunnel, we did the wave. He crossed the line and came back through us for high fives and pats on the back.  One of our volunteers said "I want to do this next year and finish last".  I just about cried because I could not believe this group of people were showing so much love to the guy who took over 9 hours to complete their race.

We hung out at the finish for a couple more minutes and then it was back to work. Everyone scurried to their places and started packing up. This went on for hours.  We ate dinner and then kept working.  Trevor and I needed to leave around 10 - again, the doggies.  We went around to say goodbye and every single person stopped what they were doing and hugged us.

This group of people had been working for at least three days, many of them for 15 to 20 hours a day. It was hot, it was exhausting.  It was three days of dealing with people, answering questions, working out the logistics of things, the labor of set up and tear down .  I have no doubt that everyone was exhausted.  I know I was.  The amazing thing - everyone was still in good spirits, there was no arguing or complaining.  This group of people, many of whom finish their 70.3 races in 4 to 5 hours, gave every thing they had to cheer in a person who took over 9 hours to complete this race.  No one groaned about how long it was taking, no one commented that they wished he would hurry up so they could get out of there.  It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen and certainly that I have ever been a part of.

So often, and I've written about it here, I feel like the athletes in our sport are so arrogant.  I feel like triathlon can be very exclusive and can make those of us who are slower feel like we don't belong. I've read blog after blog and column after column  where these views are stated over and over again.  "The slower people get in the way, the slower people shouldn't be out there, finishing an Ironman in 10 hours, that's an accomplishment - anyone can do it in 16 hours."  These are the opinions I've heard and many times I have felt bad about myself because I hear those things.  And as I have said lots of times before - those people who feel this way, who finish in 4 hours, should try spending 9 hours doing it. It takes just as much guts, probably more, to stick with it and see it through to the end. This accomplishment is no less valid and why does it even have to be compared.  How about we just appreciate the effort.....of everyone.  That's what happened this that field at Blue Lake....I saw a crew who appreciated and cheered the effort.  And while they are much faster and more accomplished, they greeted this finisher as one of their own.  That had to change him, it changed me.

There is a quote from the movie Vison Quest - Elmo is telling Louden about watching Pele on TV, scoring a goal with his signature back flip move and how while watching it he started crying.  He says
" That's right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species that I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-as**ed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute... let me tell ya, kid - it was pretty godda**ed glorious. It ain't the six minutes...
 it's what happens in that six minutes." 
 And that's how I felt this day - every finisher did something matter how long it took, that should lift us all up.  It was pretty glorious.....can't wait for next year....


Keith said...

Volunteers are awesome! I've actually had more fun volunteering at races than I've had doing them.

I've been fortunate in that I haven't run into any athletes that complain about the slower people. Those slower people and their entry fees help make the race possible.

And really, anyone can do IM in 16 hours? Not so. There's lots of people that DNF for one reason or another, and a bunch that take longer than 16 hours. And then there are the many who don't even start.

Rev 3 sounds like a blast.

Laura Mount said...

I had no idea you had a blog. Loved reading this...Your first experience on the other side of the table. Hope you still feel this way about Rev3. I know I do!