Thunder Bay, ON, Canada

©2017 by UpRiver Running

You’re driving 2000 miles to volunteer at a race?

June 20, 2018

By Nick Whitbread

First of all thank you so much for the support on last weeks post. Tonnes of likes and shares,we really appreciate your support, it means a lot to us and we plan to deliver for you on the Fall Races.

This week we wanted to talk about volunteers, the unspoken heroes of trail races. We couldn’t enjoy racing in this sport we love so much without the help of our beloved volunteers.

I started racing in 2012. From then until now I have run 17 or so races ( I don’t race a lot). It wasn’t until last year that I volunteered for the first time at a race. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, its just that I was always running in the race. Eleven days ago I set out on a journey to drive over 2000 miles to volunteer at one of the greatest races in the world. 

I believe in (ultra) running karma. I have been in some incredible situations in races where perfect strangers have given of themselves to me in order to help me make it to the finish line. Sometimes it was another runner who decided to take me on as their apprentice and help me figure out exactly how this running thing works. Other times it was a volunteer who gave me care when I really needed it, or a wood fired pizza with plant based cheese and a smoothie at the finish line of a long race. No matter who it was they didn’t know me but they chose to care, and they chose to participate in my race experience. 

Ever since I have wanted to volunteer and repay some of the kindness and karma that has been bestowed upon me. Whenever I would enter a race lottery I would tell myself that if I didn’t get in I would volunteer. I just kept getting in. Eventually it was wanting to show support for Black sheep Cycling Club that led me to volunteer at my first race. I had fun, riding though is different to running. Most of the riders were fairly self reliant and could travel the race distance without much aid. 

The next race I volunteered at was the Squamish 50. Other than Antonio having a huge man crush of Garry Robbins (the Race Director), I also had two friends running the race. I was in the neighbourhood so I signed up to volunteer at an aid station.

At aid stations late in the race most ultras have flat coke. They flatten is so you don’t have to deal with the carbonation in your stomach while you run. Fair warning once you begin using coke in a race you can’t stop or suffer the consequinces, so choose wisely if and where your start consuming it in your race. Back to the point, I always thought that they removed the caps on the coke and just let it sit there till it went flat. I was wrong. They pour the coke into a larger container and then stir it until it goes flat, then pour it back into the bottles for later use. This was my job, amongst other things as we were setting up the aid station. We were making up fancy names for our jobs, I was a “decarbonation specialist”. 

Once the aid station was setup we waited for our first customers. We happened to be right after one of the hardest sections of the race. We saw a lot of carnage. People looking dejected, bleeding from falls, I ended up taping a few people for injuries. The runners were looking like they had gone through the ringer. We even had a few people drop at our aid station. The most interesting was a runner in the top ten who came in got what he needed and then flew out only to return 8 minutes later telling us he was dropping. It was a tough race. 

It was the fist time I had been on the other side of the aid station table, so to speak. It was a new perspective and I was really able to provide great aid as I knew what it was like to be out there racing. It was a fun challenge to anticipate the runners needs as they came in. Some who were competing wanted to be in and out, others wanted to sample the buffet and have a nice chat. I enjoyed them all. We talked a few runners our of dropping and consoled a few other that did. It was a long day but I really felt like I was a part of the racing experience for these runners and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After we shut down and packed up our aid station, I headed to the finish. I got to congratulate all the runners who we had helped and both at the time and post race they were incredibly grateful.

The other folks working at the aid station were great. Some runners, some just fans of running, others had family running the race. Our aid station captain an older lady full of spirit asked me about my running and She actually knew a lot of elite ultra runners. She had volunteered at so many great races. It was fun to listen to her stories and also watch her keep up the good energy at the aid station throughout the day.

You may have heard of a race called the Western Sates 100 Mile Endurance Run. It was the beginning of ultra “racing”. A horseman and also runner had planned to ride a 100 Mile horse race called the Tevis Cup. His horse ended up pulling up lame pre race and so he decided to try and run the 100 mile course within the 30 hour time limit. Understandably folks thought he was crazy. He finished the 100 miles with 15 minutes to spare. The next year 4 runners showed up, wanting to run the course. It grew and grew and other races took this idea and created their own races around the 100 mile distance. Ultra racing had been born. The Western States 100 is the equivalent to the Boston Marathon in ultra running. 

Entrance to the Western States 100 is by lottery. You must complete one of a specific list of100 mile races in the prior calendar year in order to enter the lottery. I have been trying to get in since 2014. They tale 244 runners, over 3000 people enter the lottery. After DNF’ing my qualifier last year I decided that since I didn’t get in and it may be some time before I do (for some people it takes a decade), that I would volunteer. 

From Thunder Bay to Auburn California where the race takes place is over 2000 miles. It may seem a crazy distance to travel to volunteer, it’s also “Western States”. I will be working at “Fords Bar” aid station at mile 83 if I remember correctly. We have to hike a few miles in and apparently we are going to get savaged my mosquitoes the whole time. My shift starts at 8:30 pm on Saturday and ends when the last runner passes though, probably round 4-5am. I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of this race. It makes 2000 miles not seem so far to go. 

Volunteers are the life blood of Trail Running and racing. At Western states this weekend there will be over 1500 volunteers. If you have gotten as much as we have from trail running and racing, maybe think about volunteering at an upcoming race. It’s a whole new kind of fun. The best part is it requires little to no training 🙂

Thank You so much to all of our volunteers from last year. We appreciate every single one of you.

If you are intrigued about the Western States 100 and want to follow along they have some live video footage and also a great twitter feed during the race at  irunfar.com