I unfolded my legs and wobbled a bit as I got out of my car at 9pm on Saturday night. It took a few steps before my hips felt normal again. My entire day was spent at the Indian Creek Fifties near Sedalia, CO and by my random whines you would think I had actually ran the races, but…no. Turns out an untrained body who knows the couch better than the local trails gets sore after 14 hours of volunteering!
My original plan for the weekend was to run the Indian Creek 50K with Marissa as it was her first ultra and it would be my first big run back after the Run, Rabbit, Run 100 mile race. Apparently my Achilles did not get the confirmation email from UltraSignUp because it was NOT on board for any sort of running in the weeks leading up to the races. I decided to listen to my body and pass on actually running but I’d already thought up my costume for the race so I headed to the race as a costumed volunteer!
With my last minute decision to not run the race I didn’t take the time to actually sign up as a volunteer. Instead I showed up at 5am with a headlamp strapped to my head and a bundle of energy ready for orders. I wanted to be at the finish line when Marissa came in so I took on the role of “RD’s bitch” and did whatever was needed. This kind of evolved into manning the Reservation aid station – which was right near the start/finish. Other volunteers had to come and go but my only goal for the day was to fully support Marissa in every way possible so I had no where else to be until she crossed that finish line.
If you want to see some incredible things happen…volunteer at a race!
Seriously, if you’re in a slump with your own running or recovering from an injury or just considering a running longer distances do a quick Google search of ultras or trail races in your area then get your butt there as a volunteer.
You will see runners at their highest high and runners at their lowest lows.
You will get a chance to swap stories with fellow volunteers who are nearly all runners of some sort.
You will be the one that gives that encouraging word that gets the runner out there when they don’t think they can keep going.
You will make a difference in their race and they will give you a lesson in appreciating what you have.
You will walk away exhausted but stupidly inspired to run all the miles!
All that sounds like a mushy gushy way of convincing you to give up your free weekend to deal with stinky, sweaty, exhausted runners…and that is exactly what it is. But I promise I’m not lying about any of it!
This past weekend at the Indian Creek Fifties I spilled sticky electrolyte mixes all over myself, nearly singed off my eyebrows multiple times [do NOT trust me with propane and a lighter], heated and reheated soup, dumped opened SCaps on noodles [intentionally, so tasty!], rubbed BodyGlide on strangers and balanced ice packs on swollen joints.
That’s the less glamorous side of volunteering at ultras and NOT the reason I was out there…but I still loved every sticky, stinky second of it.
I was really there for the people…the runners!
Like the girl dressed up as a slice of pepperoni pizza [whom we all called PIZZA!] that came limping into mile 15 with a wrapped knee but would not even entertain the idea of calling the race. Instead she did a little creative stretching, sucked down a few ibuprofen and headed back out, determined to cover 32+ miles. A few hours later she was back…running down the finish line chute with a big ol’ grin on her face. As soon as she crossed that finish line and got her mug her grin became a grimace. She fought through a lot of pain to get to the finish line, the least I could do was fill her mug with beer, hand her a cup of hot soup and balance an ice pack on her knee! Oh, and she ran the entire freaking race in that pizza costume! You better believe she won the costume contest!
Or Mike, a runner who started the race gunning for a 50 mile finish. But then he found “the rock” along the course and decided to drop down to the 50K and bring it in. What is “the rock”? It’s a 56lb rock painted bright orange that the RD places along the course. For the IC50s it was roughly 3 miles away from the finish. Who ever brought it across the finish line would receive $250…Mike opted for the money, not the miles. This might not sound like a big deal but don’t hate until you’ve tried to carry an awkward 56lb rock over technical trail after running 30+ miles!
Then there was Meaghan, one of my pacers at Run, Rabbit, Run, who came into mile 15 a very happy camper with high hopes for the day. She was on a roll and loving the trails. I was insanely excited for her…this would be her first ultra and I was going to be there to see it go down! The next time we saw her she was running down the road headed for the finish line but her silly “yay I did it” grin alternated with a “just kill me now” grimace with every step. She was hurting, a lot. After a very teary hug I plopped her down in a chair and had the honor of pulling her shoe off a swollen foot. The relief on her face with the ice pack settled over her ankle was palpable! According to her the race doesn’t start until mile 26…then it chews you up and spits you out! But she did it…she ran a freaking 50K! She hasn’t quite come around to “ooh, let’s do another” just yet but I think there is hope, we just need to give that selective memory a little time to kick in! Meaghan learned the hard way what a mental + physical suffer fest an ultra can be…but she also learned that she can survive it! This is going to give her so much in future races!
Last but not least, Marissa! Oh, Marissa! I am so incredibly proud of her! I cannot put into words how elated I was to see her come into the finish with a stupid grin on her face! Val was kind enough to take my bib and run with Marissa, a true act of kindness I am so thankful for! We saw them at the Reservation AS about 4.5 hours into their race. It’s insane to think that by the time Marissa made it to the 15 mile AS she’d already hit a PDR by 2 miles! Every single step past 13 miles was new territory for her and she took on each step with a smile! After watching runners come into the finish line exhausted, bruised and shocked by the terrain I was a little worried that Marissa may actually kill me for telling her this was a good idea. But she shocked us all with a bouncy, happy finish! I’ll let you read her recap for all the details but I can say we are all [yes, ALL!] so impressed with her finish and her attitude throughout the entire race! If she has any desire to go further she is going to rock it – especially with more experience + training!
And then we have Micah who called it after 18ish miles and was shocked by how much encouragement he got from other runners as he hiked his way back to the Reservation AS. And Christoph who became a volunteer after getting bestest by a cranky IT band. And Jared who willing laid down after 50K just for some deep tissue abuse so he could head back out with his pacer for a 50M finish. And Steve who’ll I’ll always remember as the “DON’T SUCK” guy from the TommyKnocker races. And Becca who dominated the 50K to finish as the first female. And Courtney who fought through to the 50M finish as the first female while battling the flu. And Val who stuck by Marissa’s side every step of the way sharing all of her ultra knowledge. And Laurie who ran the 50K and is the sweetest, most encouraging person I’ve ever met. And…Lesli and Milan and Luke and…yea, I could keep going but you get the point.
There were 120+ runners that took on this race and they all did incredible! Many have been so encouraging with my slightly stupid approach to ultras this summer and I am forever thankful for that. Others were complete strangers that allowed me to dig in their drop bags, force food into their hands, and tape their nipples. The ultra running community is a special bunch and I am so glad to be part of it…even when it’s gross and stinky!
But this all goes beyond the runners and volunteers — there are kids who get involved too! I had Margo helping me for 90% of the day! She was fantastic and so helpful! When I was helping unload Noodles + Company at the post-race tent she was manning the Reservation AS 100% solo. She served up warm soup, filled up soda cups, kept the food stocked and was always right there next to a runner ready to do whatever they needed. I have no idea how old she is [I’m terrible at guessing kid’s ages!] but I was impressed with how awesome and patient she was! Her dad ran the 50K so she knows a thing or two about ultras…the ultra community definitely isn’t dying with families + kids like this!
My Achilles is finally on the mend – I ran FIVE MILES on Sunday, no residual crankiness! – but if it gives up on me again I’ll just keep getting my fix by crewing and volunteering at ultras. That’s not weird, right?! If only one could become a full time race volunteer…