Sunday, April 13, 2008

Volunteering at Bull Run 50 mile Run

This past Saturday I celebrated my personal victory at Umstead 100 miler by volunteering at the Bull Run 50 miler. I volunteered at this race in 2007 and really enjoyed feeling the excitement and energy of an ultra, without having to run the race (and realistically my legs are in no shape to do so!).

The Marina Aid station (mile 21 and 45) is an aid station that has a bit of shelter and is easy to reach; so for the second year in a row I arrived at 7:30 a.m. ready to help. The first task is setting up the aid station for runners. This includes getting the food, beverage and medications in order and set out. The other volunteers included our team leader Deb (an experienced ultra marathoner who likes trails), Mike (another experienced ultra-marathoner), John (who has run Bull Run 50), three firefighters from Frederick MD and several others. We worked fast and efficiently and were quickly ready for the runners. We had enough time for the firefighters to reorganize the food to be the sweets table and the salty table (instead of a mix of items). This cracked me up because whenever I come into and aid station, I am grazing until something catches my eye.

After the aid station was set up, a few spectators trickled in indicating the runners were on there way. I spoke briefly with Anne Lundblad's mother who is really nice. I have e-mailed Anne on occasion because she is such an inspiration to me. In particular I was really impressed by how supportive and encouraging she was during Umstead 100 in 2007 (although she was only doing the 50 miler option she would say things like "go runners" as we passed on the out and back sections). Just like almost all the other elites she is so kind, encouraging and supportive which I think makes this sport very unique and makes me proud to be a part of it.

At about 8:30 or 9, the elite runners started coming in. First place was Mark Lundblad and all he needed was a bit of water. He quickly raced on after a quick "thanks". The next person was Anne about 20-30 minutes later. She did not need anything and her mother provided a new bottle of sports drink (this is actually very smart since creating gatorade/sports drink from powder it is quite difficult to get the mix perfect and some glasses are VERY strong and others quite weak). She was very nice to volunteers and offered "thanks" to the volunteers. The next runners arrived pretty quickly and needed only water and gatorade and seemed to have their own personal crew. They all were very nice and moved quickly through the aid station. At this point we realized we needed more water and gatorade pitchers because although the prediction was not too hot and rainy, the day was getting steamy and actually the sun was out. Since there were no pitchers we improvised and re-used soda bottles and filled them with water and gatorade. We could then easily fill sports bottles and camelbacks.

After a bit, the wave of runners hit us and we were constantly moving asking runners what they needed, filling bottles and camelbacks, and returning filled bottles. The runners were muddy, in good spirits and appreciative. It is nice to volunteer because you realize how hard the volunteers work in attending to runners every need. At this time a small burst of rain occurred and in addition to helping runners we had to place the food under the shelter to protect it from getting too wet. This added a degree of complexity to our job, but soon enough we were back into our groove of filling bottles and checking on runners. During this time, I saw a bunch of runners I knew from Reston Runners: Jon N., Jim A., Dave Y., Ed C., Keith W. and some others. I also saw a bunch of VHTRC runners who my husband and I met during our January run up and down Maryland Highlands near Harpers Ferry as well as several Montgomery County Road Runners including the president Cathy. Finally, I saw my friend Charlie from the B&A trail marathon who I had run with both in 07 and 08. It was great to see so many friends! Pretty soon the main wave was over and we had a bit of time to re-organize the aid station and catch up in filling up cups of water, gatorade and resupplying food.

Unfortunately this break was over pretty quickly as the first place runners were on their way back and were at mile 45. Again the elites were very low-maintenance and yet very appreciative as they came through the aid station. Anne Lunblad's mother came back to the aid station and chatted with us again. She was very nice. She mentioned that at the previous aid station she had been "scolded" for taking a picture of her daughter rather then providing water. I made sure to take a picture that I will send. During this each of the runner/volunteers fessed up to times they have been less then gracious to their crew or pacers. I brought up my "Umstead sandal incident of '07" in which my husband brought me flip-flops instead of Teva supportive sandals. I definitely said a bunch of choice words at my husband during this incident, although in retrospect it is pretty funny. I am going to have to say the choice word I said to my husband he mile 98 and nearly 30+ hours of no sleep, there is no way I was mentally competent enough to make a good choice about this.

After a bit there became a steady stream of runners; however, this time they were not big clumps of runners. We were able to resupply water and gatorade bottles and the runners although hot and tired were very nice and appreciative. At this time my feet started to bother me, so I took on a few other tasks to get off the hard pavement of this aid station. One task I took on was helping runners cross the road. Although basically this task amounted to helping runners get up and over the guardrail and warning them it was an active road and to be careful. After returning from this task, I filled bottles and checked on runners for a bit but ultimately decided I needed a more "sit-down" job. Checking runners in was perfect for me and the other volunteer was leaving that job. I became the person to ask runners, "what is your number" when I couldn't see it, and when I could, I would acknowledge them with "Number xx, I have you" and then I would try to say something like: You are doing great, looking good or some other encouraging words. Once in a while there would be a cluster, although frequently it was a group of friends encouraging a runner so all my stress related to getting all the runners numbers was for nothing:-) When I was handed the clipboard less then 50% of the ~300 runners were check in, but by a bit after 6 p.m. when our aid station was closing nearly 270 runners had come by. There was a high drop out because of the unexpected heat and pretty muddy conditions. But all the runners (even the DNF's) deserve a great deal of credit for running in very tough conditions!

After the last runner passed through the aid station and it was cleaned up, it was time to go to the post race party. Last year I did not participate because a very bad thunderstorm arrived about 6 p.m., so the post-race barbeque did not sound like a good idea. But this year, the weather was holding off, so I followed several others aid station volunteers and enjoyed the barbeque. It was a really great party and I was really able to enjoy it since I had not just run 50 miles. I walked around and mingled with some of my runner friends and congratulated them all on a great race. It was nice to catch up to some of my friends including the folks from Reston Runners (pretty much they are the reason I got into ultra's and have been really supportive). I chatted a bit with Cathy from Montgomery County Road Runners and finally recognized where I knew her from (the piece of cake 10 km, my husband and I ran about 1 month ago). She is really sweet. I also caught up with Vicki and some others from VHTRC who I had met on the mountain near Harpers Ferry. Finally a really big shock occured when I ran into Monica, a runner who I was near much of Umstead 100 miler. She was volunteering at the finish line. Thus, at least 3 Umstead 100 milers were celebrating their victories by volunteering at Bull Run. I think it is a great way to celebrate the victory and is now a tradition I plan to keep up for a long time!

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