Despite being a member of the ultra community for the past 6 years, this is the first volunteer report that I’ve written. It’s the first one because this past weekend was the first time I had ever volunteered at an ultra. My family and I have run an aid station at the Mushroom Cap Half Marathon for the past two years, but I have never helped out at an ultra before.
I know, shame on me. Even worse is that the initial impetus to help out was brought on by a race I was thinking about this fall (Black Forest 100k) having a volunteer requirement. So I reached out to the RD and Stephan said they could always use a hand. A couple weeks before the race, I changed my mind on running Black Forest however decided to go ahead with volunteering.
I got to the starting area at Blue Marsh Lake a little after 6am to help set up. I helped get the tents and benches set up for the aid station and then lent a hand getting the starting line erected. There were about 3 people per task so in no time at all I was just standing around talking to the other volunteers. One of them thought I looked familiar and it turns out he saw me in Florida back in January as his wife ran Long Haul. He brought his her over (she was checking people in) and we chatted for a couple minutes about our day. I then spent 15-20 minutes chatting with a co-worker who was running the 20 miler.
A half hour before the 8am start, I got in my truck and headed out to the second aid station where I would be spending the rest of my day. I made a quick detour to the Wawa to grab another cup of coffee because coffee makes everything better. I got to the aid station on route 183 a little before 8am. Scott was already there with his grill, a pop up canopy, and a couple tables already set up. I grabbed a knife and started cutting up oranges and potatoes. It was pretty cold out so I took little breaks to put my gloves back on to warm my hands.
About 8am or so Karen and Jim Blandford showed up. I’m not sure if they were the official or unofficial aid station captains, but they knew what they were doing so the rest of us pretty much deferred to them. Darren, who I had met earlier at the start, and Ryan, who I’ve run into at races all up and down the east coast, rounded out the team. Jim and Ryan took care of manning the road crossing. Scott manned the big grill. Darren and I were on fluids (water, Coke, Mountain Dew, Gatorade). And Karen handled the smaller grill and the rest of the food.
The second aid station is about 6.5 miles into the twenty mile loop. It took the front runners about 45 minutes to get there. The aid station then got steadily busier for an hour or so. Then it was fast and furious for a couple hours as slower runners came in and the faster runners finished the 7 mile loop and returned. It probably wasn’t until about noon that it really started to slow down as the bulk of the 20 mile runners were through for the second time and the fast 40 milers hadn’t gotten back around yet.
It was right around here when Ryan, who had donned a Grinch costume at some point during the morning, had a couple pizzas delivered from a nearby restaurant. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until they arrived. I had a couple slices and they really hit the spot. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have tossed some bacon on them but that thought didn’t cross any of our minds until about 3 hours later. Sigh.
The afternoon was a lot of standing around helping runners fill bottles. It was cold, but not freezing. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t think the temperatures ever got above freezing. Especially considering the fairly constant breeze as we were out in the open. We even got a little flurries at a couple points.
Each aid station had their own little thing to set them apart. One had beer. Another had whiskey. Ours had music. Jim brought a couple portable speakers and hooked them up to Pandora on his phone. He started with an Offspring station and then moved over to a rap strength training channel, which was ridiculously good. He switched the stations up occasionally and the music made the day extra fun. It kept us going throughout the day and gave the runners something to distract them from the stiff headwinds and tired legs.
The cutoffs for the aid station were 2:30pm outbound and 4:15pm inbound. One girl came through right at the first one so we let her continue on. As four o’clock rolled around, we were still getting a runner here and there. The last one seemed to come through about 4:10pm. We had already started breaking down the aid station (grills, pop-ups, tables), but still had some food and drinks available for runners as they came through. Everything was packed up at the cutoff time, but Jim and Ryan went up the trail a bit so we waited around for them to return. They returned 7 or 8 minutes later with the last runner. We were supposed to cut her, but she was moving well so let her continue on knowing there wouldn’t be any support until the finish. Hopefully, we did the right thing.
Overall, I had a ridiculously good time. I was a little surprised how tired I was, but I guess standing around in freezing temps for 10 plus hours really takes it out of you. I had run this race the 5 prior years and I think I’ll see if I can match that with a volunteer streak. If you haven’t run this race, definitely put it on your schedule. It’s well worth your time and forty bucks.