run, rest, eat, bitch, buy things, cross-train, blog, repeat.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Part 1: Volunteering at a 50 Miler

The morning of the race, we were up at 3:00am. The race started at 5:00am and Vandy Montana needed time to get up, get ready, eat, and drive to the start line. I spent this time getting ready as well. I made sure to take all my stuff with me, JUST IN CASE, when I got there, I wouldn't have time to get back to the hotel before I had to meet my ride to the Aid Station. There was no way in hell I was missing that ride to the aid station, folks.

It was still really dark on our way to the start and as we got closer to the park, you could see the early starters (early start time of 4am allowed for some runners) flickering headlamps along the side of the creek. For me, that's when it really sank in. Holy shit. Vandy Montana is running 50 miles today.

We got to the start line, got parked and I immediately hopped out of the truck to find the race director to get more instructions about my ride to the aid station. I found him pretty easily and we chatted briefly and I got the information I needed. I needed to be back at the start line area by 8:15. Because the caravan going up to the Aid Station 8 was leaving at 8:30. I realized that that gave me just enough time to go back to the hotel, fill up my water bottles, get my shit more together and organized, load up on the free continental breakfast, and get back to the meeting point. Perfect.

While we waited around before the start, I heard Vandy Montana say something that I've never heard him say before a race: that he was nervous.
Zingers for pre-race, of course!

Even though we got to the start line 40 minutes before the start of the race, those 40 minutes seemed to fly by and before I knew it, everyone was gathering at the start line.

Last Picture before the race started. I was hoping that this wouldn't end up being the last picture of either one of us, because frankly... it's not very flattering of either of us and I would hate for this to be the picture plastered all over the media about the girl from TN who came to help a friend run 17 miles and died along the way. Those "pansy southeasterners" people would say.

And, just like that... they were off. And so was I. Back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel, I tried to eat as much at breakfast as I possibly could. Being a pacer/volunteer is kind of hard to plan for. For one, I'm going to be out there all day, as well. And, I didn't pay to be in the race, so the food, drinks, etc at the Aid Stations aren't really for me. Now... since I was working Aid Station 8, I figured I could have a little of their water and a little of their food, if they had plenty (they did), but in general... everything that I needed for the day, I needed to carry on me (including water). So, I loaded every pocket I had with shot blox, cliff bars, a snickers bar, every bottle of water I had was filled to the brim.

And because I was nervous to miss out on the ride to the Aid Station, I got to the meeting place 8:00, instead of 8:15. (Yeah, I'm anal like that). I stood around in the cold (because I couldn't carry a jacket or anything else with me, because there was no way to get it back AFTER the race. Ugh) and finally the ride pulled up around 9:00am. We got loaded up and headed out around 9:15.

There were 3 other pacers that hitched a ride and 4 other volunteers for the aid station (along with 3 kids and 3 dogs) and then 3 volunteers who were manning the radio for our Aid Station. The drive was BEAUTIFUL. And it was also muddy, full of creek crossings, rocky, and long. But, as a bonus... we saw a Moose along the way!!! My first moose in the wild!

Once we got to the spot for the aid station, we had to unload all the drop bags, organize them by number (so we could find them easily) and then get the food and drinks set up.

View from the aid station.

It was a welcome distraction. We were busy all morning and I loved meeting the other volunteers and the pacers. We all kind of bonded as we got ready for the runners to come in.

The first runner came in way earlier than I think any of us expected. We were still cutting up some fruit and getting things in place. We were warned that some of the frontrunners might be very short and brief with us and that we should just try to get what they need as quickly as possible, because they don't like to waste time at the aid stations. The first guy who came through was unbelievably nice and grateful! He looked awesome, too! A guy in his 40s, who had just ran 33 miles. I was amazed! He didn't waste much time and then took off.

After that, we'd get a runner or two every 10 minutes or so, it was a good pace, we were able to handle everyone and give personal attention to each runner.
View of our food tent from behind while the 2nd runner in was refueling.

It wasn't like this for long though. By about 11:30/12:00 runners came pouring in and I was constantly running down to the drop bag area to retrieve everyone's drop bags for them. If I wasn't doing that, I was refilling water bottles, camel backs, sorting through the first aid bag for vaseline, insect repellant, etc. It was hectic.

I was keeping an eye on the radio tent, though. Initially, they were getting radioed in the bib numbers and times of the runners as they left Aid Station 7. I kept looking for Vandy Montana's number on the sheet, but quickly realized that the radio had lost communication with Aid Station 7. So, I went ahead and got all my stuff out and ready for when he came to the station.

The first pacer left around 12:15. She wasn't ready for her runner, either. But she quickly strapped on her fuel belt and took off. The rest of us looked at each other. Wondering who would be next.

The next 45 minutes FLEW by. It wasn't uncommon for us to have double the amount of runners than we had of volunteers. They just kept coming and coming. I was constantly running back and forth from the drop bag area, and it was getting hot out. I liked working the drop bag area, because I would see the runners coming in, so I could see when Vandy Montana got there.

I wasn't even looking for him, when I saw him coming down the hill. He had taken his shirt off, so I didn't immediately recognize him, but once I did, I ran to meet him and find out what he needed and how he was doing.

His first words to me were cuss words. But, he looked good. He told me his feet were killing him and that he was going to take a few minutes at this Aid Station to rest his feet. I urged him over to a row of seats we had and got busy filling his water bottles, grabbing him fruit and chips, and whatever else he asked for or that I thought he needed. When he wasn't asking for something specific, I was still trying to help out at the aid station. There were a ton of runners there at that time and not enough volunteers to take care of everyone at the same time. In between grabbing others drop bags, I'd check on Vandy Montana and see if he needed anything else.

I had told him the day before that I was there for him. So, whatever he wanted me to do, that I'd do it. For the whole weekend. And I meant it. I can't imagine how taxing and stressful preparing for and then running a 50 mile trail race in the mountains of Utah is. I wanted to help him out in any way possible. Basically I was his bitch for the weekend. And a guy sitting next to him at the aid station commented on the personal attention he was getting. And then Vandy Montana told him that I was his pacer, and had flown out there from TN to pace/support him. And then the other runner started making some comments about how he loved TN accent and before we got too deep into conversations about dialects, Vandy Montana was ready to continue on the course.

33 miles down. 17 to go. The hardest 17 of the course. I strapped on all my belts, made sure I had all my food, etc. I wanted to personally say goodbye to all my fellow volunteers, but they were too busy being slammed with runners, so I said a loud goodbye to the aid station and headed down the trail with Vandy Montana...

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