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.

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

001

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.