Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Went to a Race But Didn't Run

An experience that is always recommended for anyone serious about running is to volunteer at an aid station for a race. When you race, the people at the aid stations are an amazing source of support. They stand and wait for the chance to give runners aid and always seem ready to offer anything they can to help you continue your journey. For some time I have been thinking about volunteering but until this past weekend, I had never made the commitment and actually done so.

I happened upon a Facebook post a couple weeks ago about the need for more volunteers at a run on the Frisco Highline Trail. They were having a 10 Mile, Marathon, 50K (31 mile), 50 Mile, and 50K Relay. I thought it would be great to help and see all the different types of runners that would show up for the different distances. I especially wanted to see the 50 mile runners later in the race to see how they were coping and handling the race.

The Frisco Highline Trail is a 36 mile path from Springfield to Bolivar and is the second-longest rail-trail in Missouri (first being the famous Katy Trail). I have run the first 8 miles of the trail on the Springfield side but have not ventured any further. While it is prettier than running down a busy street, it’s not quite as scenic as some of the other trails that are right near our house so I rarely head there for a run. They recently finished paving the first 8 miles of the trail which was a victory for cyclists but as a runner I have to say, I was a little disappointed. Before the paving, the entire trail was compacted crushed-gravel which is an excellent surface for running. Though I will say, I do fully understand and appreciate why the bikes wanted it paved. I have always harbored the desire to run the entire 36 miles of trail in one shot someday and may incorporate that into this summer at some point.

They assigned me a position at the 5 mile aid station. This was a good place to be as I would get to see everyone on the course. Regardless of the distance they were running, they would have to come past the table I was helping at. When I showed up race morning to pick up the supplies for the aid station there were nearly 300 runners preparing themselves for their various distances. While this is not a large crowd compared to some of the big city marathons, like Boston with over 25,000 runners, 300 is more than I see at any of the runs I like to do. While I think I am a fairly social person, I just don’t like running with crowds of people at all. Come to think of it, I don’t really care for crowds in any situation.

I loaded up the supplies for my station and drove the 5 miles further down the trail to set up a table with cups of water and Powerade. It would be at least 30 minutes before even the fastest of runners made it to our table. The slowest runners would be almost a full hour after the leading group. Once they started coming by we had a steady stream of people coming through and grabbing cups. Some grabbed water and dumped it over their head. Some would grab two and quickly slam them both before tossing their empty cups along the side of the trail. A few had their own bottles and asked us to refill them.

The first groups flew by at a faster pace than I could run a single mile and yet they somehow managed to snatch up cups and drink while hardly spilling a drop. It was amazing! I felt bad for one the first fast guys through who reached for a cup but hadn’t aimed quite right. Instead of grabbing anything he managed to knock several over! Without breaking pace he continued flying down the trail. It would be another 3 miles before he got a drink. I can only imagine after practically sprinting the past 5 miles and being that close to almost having a drink that his mouth was feeling pretty dry.

The difference in pace ranged from that first groups’ extreme speed to one of the final runners to pass who actually stopped at the table to talk for several minutes while he downed 4 or 5 cups and carried a couple more off down the trail with him. He was walking and sweating profusely and more out of breath than I get after 20 flights of stairs. But in the end he was out of bed early on a Saturday morning and on the course. He was out there and busy tackling a significant physical challenge which is more than the vast majority of people are willing to do these days.

I was surprised by all the people in tights and long sleeves. Some even had windbreakers or hats on! With a starting temperature of 60, and a forecast of climbing temps, I would have started shirtless and still been pouring sweat. I saw two people with Five Fingers on and just about every other type of shoe out there. I saw 10 milers with fanny packs and bottles of water and 50 milers with nothing but their shorts and tank tops. There was one group of women with matching shirts having a party on the move as they traveled the course together.

Races attract such a wide variety of people. I enjoyed getting to see all the different approaches to the sport. No matter which category of runner you fall into, fast or slow, to show up at a 10 mile or longer race, you have obviously spent a large amount of time preparing yourself. To toe that line you must have a passion for running and this was evident on many of the faces as they sped by. I really enjoyed the experience and need to volunteer again. One of these days, I would like to volunteer for the late night portion of 100 mile race and see how other people handle some of their darkest moments of a race.

Week of April 25 - Bike 64 (day off work), Run 31, D 8, U 4

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