Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Morning as a USAT Race Official

On race morning at the Miami Speed Triathlon I unknowingly broke the rules by taking my bike out of transition for a spin around the parking lot.  In my final preperations I was trying to ensure that my saddle was adjusted properly; the previous day I'd been messing around with it and it had slid on the rails over night.  The head official called me out and let me know I needed to get my bike back in to transition and get off it immediately.  This was only my third race and even now I am still a bundle of nerves on race day; I admit to being less than courteous to the official, albeit he was only doing his job.  

I didn't think anything of it at the time, but later on after I'd finished I realized how much I appreciated his demeanor, in spite of the attitude I likely threw his way.  After the race I sought him out and offered a sincere apology for my behavior; he graciously accepted and we each went on our way.  At the next couple of events I raced in I continued to run into the same official.  Not that we had a history, we said hello each time and even exchanged in some small talk.  

I mention all of this to explain the reason that when the South Florida Hammerheads (tri-training group) forwarded a message from USAT looking for anyone interested in becoming a race official, I replied yes.  While it wasn't something I'd thought about doing, the email reminded me of my recent positive experience with a USAT official.

On Saturday (12/3/11), at the Miami Marine Stadium, I joined about 6 others for a 3-hr clinic on becoming a race official.  I'd read the rulebook cover to cover and completed the agonizing fill-in-the-blank quiz.  The clinic's instructor armed us with the ins and outs of officiating and prepared us for the next day: our first of three volunteer efforts as a category 4 official.

My USAT Certified Official's SWAG

Sunday morning I arrived at the Marine Stadium for the 2575 Triathlon at 5:30am along with about 400 participants setting up their transition areas.  I'd wanted to go to this particular race anyway to root on fellow Loco Carlos (who I train with and with whom I took some shared swim lessons), and officiating gave me another reason to be there.  Donning my red USAT shirt (fyi, people with red hair rarely choose red shirts!) and blue hat, I didn't know what to expect (despite the thorough clinic the previous day).  

I spent the early part of the morning walking around transition checking for bar ends and proper transition set-ups.  Looking all official in my uniform I was approached by several athletes with a variety of questions about the race.  Shockingly I had the answers to all and was able to provide the necessary help.  I even spotted a few athletes having issues putting their wetsuits on, and, while I am far from an expert, I've had the advice of others to help me get on.  Only 8 months ago I was the one with all the questions and now I was answering them; it was a great feeling to be able to help the athletes along and their thanks were always enthusiastic and sincere.  

The rest of the day was pretty easy.  We watched the swim start and the swim exit of the Elites and then hooked up with the motorcycle drivers who would help us patrol the bike course.  I'll admit that I wasn't thrilled at the idea of getting on another man's Harley.  Having my own, I am much more comfortable as a driver (preferably with my wife's arms wrapped around me) than sitting behind a dude that I'd just met.  Bill turned out to be a real nice guy though and we took our cruise along the bike route as most riders were wrapping up their ride.

I scanned for violations (not because I wanted to, but because it was my job for the day) like drafting, blocking, illegal passing, etc., and only found one culprit.  I could tell he was drafting and put him on the clock to make sure it was for more than 15 seconds.  When the stopwatch got to 25 seconds I began to write down the violation info.  Black trek, red helmet, drafting for 25 seconds, race number!  WAIT, WHERE WAS HIS RACE NUMBER?  Turns out this guy was drafting big time, but, guess what?  You're permitted to draft when you are out on a Sunday ride with your buddy!  I'll bet he got a good rise out of watching me taking down all his info only to realize that he wasn't even racing.

In the end, I enjoyed the officiating experience and will definately be looking to help out at some more events.  And, lastly, Kudos to Carlos and Rafael for their strong showings despite an absolutely hellacious wind.  

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