A year is a long time to be working towards a goal - espcially when there’s so many individual milestones to be met along the way. In 2018, ...

Feb 15, 2020

Oasis in the Darkness

Last year, I wrote about the volunteers at Stories - doing the course marking the day before the race and then the volunteers staying up all night to help the runners. Granted, I didn’t really visit the aid station last year because I was focused on my goals and I had the best crew possible. But I could image the loneliness of the volunteers - bundled up against the chill, huddled around the fire, waiting for that lone headlamp to appear in the darkness.

This year? I was on the other end. Doing the six hour race allowed me the time to give back to the runners braving the darkness and cold of the overnight hours. We got the watch the 15 hour racers complete their last laps on the Golden Loop. And then it was time to settle in... With just the 30 hour racers on course, there were long stretches of quiet, when it was just us trying to stoke the fire and stay warm. We knew that the runners would want warm food or drink when they came in from the darkness. We didn’t know how long people would want to linger by the warmth of the fire, or if they would be focused on staying moving.

Shoveling snow... Not usually in the RD's handbook!
A good aid station is a well oiled machine and the runners never notice if something is amiss. Getting to the point is challenging! There’s a lot more involved then just making quesadillas and cooking bacon. In the afternoon hours, before my shift at the aid station started, the wind kicked up, blowing most of the bowls off the table. Quick thinking and duct tape got all the bowls fastened in place - they were never blowing away again! But cooking with the wind provided it’s own set of challenges. Such as trying to keep the flames going for the grill overnight! Hard to cook tots if the burner goes out... 

The sunrise Saturday morning was worth every chilly hour waiting
The overnight shift was a good crew. Those are long hours to stay awake and we supported each other though nap breaks. Between the four of us, there were at three people awake at all times - and two of us had run in the morning! The hardest task was the food. Cold tots and hard quesadillas are not appealing at any stage of the race, especially in the darkness when you want the burst of energy warm food provides. We figured out keeping the food warm for runners, having one corner of the pan far enough from the heat to keep everything warm, but not burnt. We kept the fire stoked so runners would have some warmth to rest in if needed. I tried to great every runner as they entered the circle of light, asking what they needed - food, drink, bottles refilled. A head lamp to help with digging through drop bags - whatever was needed. It was brief moments of craziness as we helped runners and encouraged them to head back out onto the course. Or provided a chair and warm blankets if someone needed to stop for a while. What ever was needed to serve the goals of the runners. 

Heading back out into the darkness
But mostly, we waited. Sitting near the fire, bundled up in heavy coats, hats and gloves, waiting. Waiting for that hint of a headlamp in the darkness, across the road. Then waiting as the light slowly, so slowly flickered through the scrub oak, getting closer with every step. As the night drew on, the speed of the light’s approach took longer and longer. I knew exactly what the runners were going through - last year the oasis was visible, but so far away! The sign of life and civilization after so many miles traversing the frozen trails.

Clouds gathering as the weekend comes to a close
Volunteering for the overnight shift at any race is something all ultra runner should do at some point. Those volunteers give up sleep and comfort to help others achieve their goals. If you’ve run a race, you’ve benefited from the help of others. It’s not a sacrifice - it’s a gift to the running community.

Clearing the course as more snow falls. 

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