Monday, March 25, 2013

The Importance of Race Volunteering

    One of the best ways to give back to the race community is to volunteer.  No kidding, this is shit people tell you constantly...volunteering for anything is giving back....but volunteering at races is also like digging into a book filled with race tips, secrets, and other crap you may not have thought of otherwise.

100 mile racers getting a pep talk from the race director.

    I spent this past weekend volunteering at the NJ Trail Series Ultrafest.  There were distances from marathon, 50k, and 50 mile to 100k and 100 mile.  What is great about this series is that if you are having a rough race day, the director will let you drop down in distance and take a finishing time rather than a DNF.  Same goes for a good race day and a jump in distance.
    This organization has a great following and the people directing, running, and volunteering are like a big family.  It was a great time.  I was able to lend at hand at both aid stations, which I consider pretty lucky.  You get a chance to see runners in all stages of excitement, exhaustion, and euphoria this way.  The race was held on a 10 mile loop, so runners were able to have drop bags in one spot and get anything they needed throughout.  Since I have yet to run a 100 mile race, this was a perfect chance for me to see what goodies people had in their prep bags.  Ibuprofen, moleskin, tape, food of choice...the usual things that I expected and typically carried with me as well. Extra socks, extra shoes, shirts, shorts, notes of encouragement...all great things to add to my mental checklist.
    This was all great to see and use to wrap my head around what lies ahead...within that unknown mileage. To see someone come in at the aid station at mile 40 feeling good and looking strong, and then 10 miles later nearly crushed and struggling was eye opening.  I paid attention to what foods people were switching to as appetites ebbed and flowed.  Encouraging eating and drinking was par for the course, and we made sure to give people broth and noodles when the chilly air seemed to be taking its toll.
So many different food options and preferences.
       I helped cover up runners who were shivering and shaking, refill bottles, make grilled cheese and burgers, and do anything else they were requesting.  Some people took to power walking and found they kept a better pace this way and did it through the finish.  Others kept shuffling, one foot in front of the other, barely being lifted off the ground just to keep moving.
    The cold windy weather turned runners down lap after lap.  As the sun went down and cold weather blew in even more fierce than it had been all day, people made the decision to drop down in mileage and call it a day.  For those that kept plugging away, layers, broth, and anything warm was a necessity.   The sleep deprivation was evident on people's faces and confusion set in for some.  Having people to chat with and get them all the food they needed was the key, and watching those same people later cross the finish line was exciting. Within two laps or so, you are able to remember what the runners preferences are and can get it without questions.  This way you can focus on encouragement and keeping their head in the race.  Soon enough you feel like a part of their race, and the hug at the end of the finish line with thank you's makes it all the more worthwhile.   I learned a lot from the runners and other volunteers and got a chance to peak into what may lie ahead for me; it's an opportunity to be taken advantage of.
   Although I'm still on the fence about registering for my first 100 mile race (I have about a week to decide about the race I'm debating on), watching runners take on the same challenge gave me hope.  Eat often, eat a lot. and keep one foot moving in front of the other.  One thing is for sure, I had a blast; a sleep-deprived, too-much-sugar-and-carbs-for-not-running blast, and I can't wait to do it again.  Mostly the racing part, but the volunteering experience is something that I won't soon forget.

Sun rising on the final morning.

    Get out there and volunteer, especially if you're on the fence about diving into the world of never know what you might learn.

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