I made a woman cry this weekend.
I told her something she didn't want to hear.
Before you consider me cold and heartless, let me tell you the front half of the story...
I was standing out in a grassy transition area with thousands of bicycles on racks all around me, watching athletes check in their bicycles for the Ochsner Ironman 70.3 New Orleans.
Many questions were asked of me: Where was the exit from the lake? Where would they enter the bike course? How would they return to transition? How would they start the half-marathon run? Most of the questions were not difficult, and it was my job to answer them, in the hope their race day would be less chaotic.
Two hours before transition was scheduled to close, the young lady showed up to check in her bicycle. Unfortunately, she forgot to place the number tag on the bike frame. "Sorry, we can't check in your bike," is the response she received from our crew.
Later in the weekend, as the sun encouraged a state of giddy delirium, the crew began to think unthinkable thoughts: What if a dishonest triathlete (A rhetorical question; I know of no dishonest triathletes...) were to peel the number off their less-expensive bike and place it on another, more-expensive bike? If volunteer workers weren't following instructions to the letter, or closely paying attention, there was the outside chance of a bike upgrade at the cost of a race entry. There was the method to our madness; we HAD to be certain the number on the athlete's wristband matched the number on the bike; no tag number on the bike meant we couldn't tell if the bike truly belonged in transition.
The crew asked her to see me.
She, an experienced triathlete, spent 20 dollars to bring her bike by taxi. Telling her "no" meant she had at least three 20-dollar cab rides on her evening agenda. (If I were a dishonest race volunteer, I would have asked for a kick-back from the cab company.) Was there any way possible for us to tag her bike frame and let her check the bike? She PROMISED she'd bring the tag in the morning.
Mind you, this was the tenth instance of "missing number" I encountered in six hours. If we had blank tags we might have been able to assist in this situation. But we didn't. I told her she had to go get her tag before I could check her bike.
The issue of pre-race preparation isn't strictly related to multisport athletes. Runners, too, can suffer the consequences of "transient brain flatus," "senior moments," or...more crudely put, "CRS." It's just that triathletes have so much more to "un-prepare" for than runners.
Or do they? Large road races like the Classic don't have expos ONLY because out-of-towners like my wife and I want to drink beer while picking up our race swag.
Race expos also exist because we leave our homes 15 minutes later than we originally planned, rushing to get to the race. We don't pack the night before. We don't use checklists. We don't prepare "the bag" with the extra socks, shorts, shirt, pins, number belt, hat, sunglasses, and so forth...much to our peril on race day. All I have to do is remember 2007's Classic, the wind and the cold in Tad Gormley Stadium, and the 20-dollar windbreaker...the picture becomes more clear.
Add to the sartorial preparation the physical, mental and emotional preparations (like previewing course maps, knowing terrain, training accordingly) which can mean the difference between success and failure, and Lord Baden-Powell's advice to the Boy Scouts rings more clearly. Be Prepared. Read the information on the race web site, the paperwork in the race packet, and the participant feedback from previous years, if it's available.
The individual racer can choose to slow down a little bit and prepare for race day (checklists, laying out items on the bed, dressing a stuffed animal, and so forth) so they don't have to pay a 300% "unprepared tax" and raise their blood pressure.
...So how does the story end?
Well, the young lady returned to transition with an hour to spare and her bike was checked in. She was in a much better mood, especially after I offered to give her a ride back to her hotel and we shared some of our "supplies" with her.
The next day, she ran through transition on her way onto the run course, yelling, smiling, and slapping me a high five.
What was that Tennessee Williams had Blanche Dubois say at the end of 'A Streetcar Named Desire?' "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers..."
Don't be forced to depend on the kindness. Be Prepared.