Category Archives: volunteering

Aid Stations

I’ve talked about aid stations a few times and I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but the volunteers at aid stations do a lot of work. For the past three years, my friends and I have put together aid station 13 at the Salt Flats 100, which is at mile 89.7. It’s kind of an unpleasant place as far as the course goes.

It’s about a half mile below a mountain saddle. It’s really the last climb in the race and they stop you before you hit the top! Although I’m glad my aid station is not right in the saddle. This race can be very winding, rainy and snowy all in the same race. This year was no exception, although, we had the best weather this year compared to the last two.

As a runner and an aid station captain, I think it’s important to have something special about your aid station. Our is pizza. We love pizza. We have a propane stone pizza oven and bake pizza right there for the runners. They can have it cold or hot. It only takes a minute to warm it up after we’ve baked it. We buy a bunch of pizza’s from Papa Murphy’s Pizza and it’s been a beautiful thing for three years. The pizza is always a hit, cheese is the favorite. By the time runners reach mile 90 your stomach is either screwed or starving.

This year we also had birthday cake out there because it was one of our volunteer’s birthday. The cake did not get as much love as the pizza, which surprised me. I would have eaten it at mile 90 (I will eat birthday cake here or there, I will eat birthday cake anywhere). Maybe there was too much frosting.

One of the things I find the most difficult, particularly in a smaller race like Salt Flats, is keeping broth and romen noodles warm. I wish we had a microwave. Keeping the romen simmering or warming on the stove turns everything to mush and keeping it going causes it to turn to steam and disappear. Having warm choices in the dead of night when the wind is howling and the rain is coming down is critical.

Vegan and vegetarian options are necessary to have as well. Many ultra runners are health conscious and environmentally conscious. We spend so much time in nature and among the wild things of the earth, how can we not become apart of it. There are many products which are “accidentally” vegan and easy to have at aid stations: oreo cookies, sweedish fish, hummus, tortillas (no lard or sugar), fruits, and veggies of course.

The strength of the human body and mind is amazing. It’s inspiring and rewarding to be able to give back to the sport I love so much.

Giving Back

Races of every distance could not happen without their volunteers. Giving back to the running community is essential because of this. We’ve all be “saved” by a volunteer at some point during our running careers. It could have been something simple, like them handing you a Gu or a cup of water, or as complex as helping you remove your shoes, take care of blisters, and get your shoes back on your wet muddy feet.

The volunteers out there may or may not have family or friends running in the event. I’ve run into many an aid station to find out the aid station is run by a family or community group who does it every year and no one runs.

I know we are all very busy with training, working, family, and some minimal form of social life, but there are races nearly every weekend, especially 5k and 10ks. They are not a huge time commitment either, just a couple of hours.

Experiencing the running world from the volunteer’s side, will give you a new perspective and much appreciation for what they do. It will help you make their lives easier when you come into their aid station. It will also help you, if you ever decide to be a race director or organize a race of your own to benefit a non-profit agency.

How do you get started?

  1. Contact the race director for a race you have run or that supports something you can get behind. There are always 5k and 10k races support things like prevention and research of medical and mental health problems. There are also a ton of races raising money for local non-profit groups. Even schools have them to raise money.
  2. If you don’t know about any races, go to your local running store or get on their website and find the race calendar.
  3. Search on the internet.
  4. Once you have a race selected, email/call the race director or volunteer coordinator.
  5. Let them know you’d like to volunteer.

If you are considering a big event, such as a ultra, it’s good to let them know your experience as a runner so they can place you at points in the race where you will be the most help to the runners. The other thing to know about volunteering for an ultra, especially if you’re going to be the captain of an aid station, is you have to bring a lot of your own stuff.

The bigger races such as Western States, Leadville, Hardrock and the like, will have bigger sponsors and more supplies. But your smaller races that draw mostly locals and rarely the top runners of the ultra world don’t have as much and you may be expected to bring things, including food items, canopies, chairs, cots, heaters, and whatever else you want for your own comfort and that of the amazing runners.

Don’t be put off by bring your own stuff. Call in friends and family. I’ve always been able to gather the things I need and haven’t had to buy more than some food items and even that cost is split between my friends who volunteer with me at the aid station.

Remember none of us would be out there without the amazing volunteers.

Heroes and Angels

heroes and angels

I love aid station volunteers. A Lot. They have saved countless runners who are ready to quit. They have assisted grumpy and rude runners with a smile. They’ve helped change dirty smelly runners socks and shoes. They stand out in the cold and rain patiently waiting for the last runner to come through.

They are heroes and angels.

Last year I decided to make heroes out of my running team. Well, they were already my heroes since they are my ultrarunning crew and pacers, but I wanted them (and me) to be heroes to other runners too.

We decided to man aid station 13 at mile 89 of the Salt Flats 100. I soon found out just how hard it is to pull off a successful aid station. There is actually a lot involved if you want runners to leave feeling as best as they can at mile 89.

Race directors supply their aid stations with as much as they can depending on the money from registration after other costs and sponsors for the race. This means supplies can very greatly depending on how big and well known the race is.

Salt Flats 100 is not a big race. It doesn’t fill up days after opening registration. Most years it doesn’t fill up at all. Because of this, my team brings a lot of our own stuff to create a refuge for the runners.

Runners don’t ask for much at mile 89. What they want is a bit of shelter, food, and encouragement.

Shelter: my team puts up two big canopies and walls off three and a half sides to create a shelter for the runners. Salt Flats 100 is run in the west desert of northern Utah. If you’ve seen the movie “Independence Day” the scene where Will Smith is dragging the alien through the desert on a parachute was filmed at the Salt Flats. It’s barren and exposed. There are mountains, but those are also barren and exposed.

Food: by mile 89 runners are either hungry and want real food or they are having significant stomach issues and would rather die than eat food. Most are in the former category. My team brings out a big camp kitchen and a propane pizza oven. We’re able to make pizza and quesadillas in the evening and night and then breakfast burritos and pancakes in the morning. We also bring the snacks we love to have when we run.

Encouragement: the “You’ve got this” attitude is a must for aid station volunteers. My goal is to never have a runner drop at my aid station. It gets ugly out there and pushing forward when your exhausted, want to vomit, and have torn up feet is tough. The front of the pack runners come through strong and don’t stay very long. The longer the runner is out on the course, the greater the beating their body takes. It’s harder to go slower. I know it’s the same distance, but it’s not the same race.

I mean think about it, the back of the pack is usually less experienced, less trained, or injured. Their mental state has been going up and down for miles and hours. Their stomach is likely to be in bad shape because of the duration of effort being pumped out. They are more exhausted. They’ve been exposed to the weather longer. They’ve been on their feet pounding away with sweat and dirt in their shoes for much longer than the front of the pack.

Volunteering for an ultra aid station is rewarding and it’s hard work.

Thank you to all the aid station heroes and volunteers.

angels and heroes

Run for Home

Race for Home

Together with the Volunteers of America, I organized a 5k and 10k race, which was on June 13, 2015. Organizing this event was a lot more work than I had anticipated.

The race was a huge success. We had 240 runners!

As a first time race director and this being our inaugural event, I anticipated being in the negative funds wise, but we weren’t. The cost of organizing the race was approximately $5,000.00. The money raised from the race will support the first overnight homeless youth shelter in Utah. There will be many onsite services including education, mental health, and substance abuse for the youth.

Run for Home 6.13.15 003

We didn’t want to just bring a race to the community surrounding where the shelter will be built, but to bring the community together to support the youth in need. To do this we included a breakfast and raffle in our event. Every runner was given a raffle ticket and more tickets could be purchased. All the prizes were donations from various vendors within the city.

Of course, we had minor complications and last minute arrangements to scramble to get into place, but it was all worth it as I stood at the finish line watching runners come across knowing I had helped make it happen.

Run for Home 6.13.15 005

The homeless youth shelter is a project I am passionate about because I was a homeless youth in Utah from the ages of 13-16. I struggled with the same issues the youth who are out there now. Access to services will provide them with opportunities I never had.

When you are living on the streets it’s easy to fall into a hopeless cycle of self-destruction as you meet road block after road block trying to fit the pieces of your life back together into some semblance of a whole picture.

All of the finishers received a medal, which was a dog tag with the VOA symbol on one side and the name of the race and date on the other side.

Run 4 home medal 001

I chose the dog tag as the medal because one of the first things you lose as a homeless youth is your identity, who you are. You become nameless and faceless in the eyes of others and yourself. For the youth on the streets, the most important rediscovery is that identity of self, and their singular importance in this world.

For a soldier, a dog tag is the last piece of home and their final identifier. It makes them different and an individual among their brothers who is next to them with the same haircut and same uniform moving in unison. The dog tag is a reminder that each of these kids is not nameless and is not faceless, but a person who has lost their self and their way.

I know we are all busy and not everyone can donate their time to those in need, but even just looking these kids in the face when you speak to them or acknowledging their presence as you pass them on the sidewalk identifies them as another human being and it only takes a second or two.

 

Girls on the Run

GOTR

Logo is property of Girls on the Run.

“It’s time to wake up Sky,” I said while rubbing his back.

“MMMM,” he moaned from under the blanket.

“Come on it’ll be fun.”

“MMMM.”

“We can stop and get hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll.”

At that, he began kicking the blankets off.

“What are we going to have to do?” he asked once we were on the road happily munching on a cinnamon roll.

“Fill water cups, cheer, ring cow bells, and hand out granola bars.”

He rolled his eyes. “Cow bells?”

“Yes, you can’t have a finish line without cow bells.”

We arrived at the Girls on the Run 5k at 7 in the morning to help set up our aid station filling cups of water and setting out thousands of granola bars on the table.

“How many runners are there?” I asked another volunteer named Lisa.

“1500,” said Lisa.

I smiled. This was going to be an amazing morning.

Girls on the run is a non-profit program for girls ages eight though thirteen and Sky and I were volunteering at their annual 5k event. The goal of the program is to “unleash confidence through accomplishment while establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness.”

Learn Live Dream Run

Everyone who ran the 5k was assigned the number 1 on their bib, because each of the girls is number one. The theme of the race was be your own superhero, the girls (and boys if they wanted to run a mostly girls race) wore florescent green capes as they ran. They had face painting and colored hair spray the girls could use to become a superhero before the race began.

The aid station Sky and I were assigned to was actually a pre and post-race station. When we arrived there and I realized we were on the wrong side of the finish line, I was a little bummed because I wanted to see the girls race past with the green capes streaming out behind them, but I smiled and handed out water asking them what their super powers were.

I was really impressed with the number of parents who were running with the little girls both mothers and fathers were out there with their hair and faces painted too.

The race began at 9:00 in the morning with the firing of a blank out of a gun. It’s a beautiful sound when the sun is rising over the mountains into a cloudless sky and you have 1500 superhero’s lined up at a starting line arch.

After they all run beneath the arch, it was empty in the pre-race festival area. Crickets chirped inside my head as I looked around at the green and pink balloons dancing alone in the morning breeze.

The program manager came up to us and asked us to hand out medals to the girls as they crossed the finish line. I was overjoyed. Handing out medals at the finish line is the most rewarding part of a race.

Slipping the medals over the heads of the red-faced sweaty girls as they came across the finish line was more amazing than I could have hoped. They laughed, they cried, and they won, every last one of them.

we believe

Volunteering: Team Nut Up or Shut Up, Gives Back

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My running team volunteered at the Salt Flats 100 endurance race this past Friday to Saturday. I ran the Salt Flats 100 last year during the epic wind and rain storm. Thankfully, the weather this year was much better. We did have some rain and wind, but it was nothing compared to last year’s run.

My team was assigned to man aid station 13 located at mile 89.3. We wanted our aid station to be the best out there and we wanted to provide the runners with everything they needed at that point in the race. This took a little thought on my part recalling what I wanted and needed during my 100 mile races at mile 89. At mile 89, many runners just want to be done. They are tired, hungry, and hurt.

We set up two canopies with sides to hold in the heat from our propane heaters. We had a full kitchen in one canopy to provide the runners with quesadillas, romen noodles, coffee, and hot chocolate. We had Christmas lights strung up around the canopies and other lights illuminating the entire aid station. The runners drop bags were kept dry under tarps.

Inside the other canopy were chairs, the heaters, a table with fruit, chips, water, power aid, coke, mountain dew, ginger ale, cookies, candy, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, gu, salt tablets, salted potatoes and various over the counter medications. We were ready for any blister or foot issue the runners presented with. We had massage tools for tight muscles and blankets to wrap cold runners.

There were fourteen of us out on the top of the last climb in the race waiting for runners. From my team I had Swiss Miss, Spongebunny, EZ, J$, Gear Gnome, Cousin Jon, and myself. There were four people from the ham radio team and three other volunteers.

We massaged them, filled their water bottles, brought their drop backs to them, and packed them full of snacks for their last ten miles.

The greatest thing we had at our aid stations was the portable propane pizza oven. We were able to bake fresh pizza (take and bake pizzas) right there for the runners and volunteers.

We didn’t expect any runners before 10:00 pm, but we arrived at 430 pm to set up before dark and before any rain began to fall. Forty-three runners started running Friday morning at 7:00 am. Just under thirty runners came through aid station 13. No one dropped out at our aid station. We tried not to let them linger for too long because body temperature drops quickly when you stop running.

The first runner arrived just before midnight. We went a little way down the road to meet him as he came in, telling him about the options available and asking what he needed. The look we got when we told them there was fresh baked pizza was so worth the cost of getting the oven and pizzas.

“You have pizza?”

“Yes, fresh baked right here.”

“Oh my god! I love pizza.”

“Let’s get you into a chair and you can have all you want.”

We’d usher them into the warm space, sit them down, and set a piece of warm pizza in their waiting hands.

Through a mouth full of pizza they each said, “This is the best pizza I have ever had!”

Cost of the pizza and oven $300.00; The appreciation and joy on runners faces at mile 89, priceless.