“I ran … an aid station at the Frozen Sasquatch-” Volunteer “Race Report”
I’m going to start this off with a pretty bold, perhaps debatable statement, to consider yourself a true trail runner, I believe one of the requirements should be to volunteer at a trail run. Why? As an ultra trail runner, there is sometimes literally nothing like approaching the warm welcomes of an aid station after spending miles along a beaten, rugged, often muddy path. The smiles, cheers, and of course fuel, make whatever came before an accomplishment and what lies ahead an adventure. Being able to bring that spirit of renewal to other runners can be refreshing, motivating, and provide a new level of appreciation for the challenges of putting on a race and a sense of achievement that parallels finishing the actual run.
Running is often a solo activity. I too prefer to train that way on most occasions; however, over the past year I have found a new love and method of accountability through volunteering and leading group runs on the Kanawha Trace. Being inspired by the kindness and patience given to me by friend, neighbor WVMTR, and modest running god, Bob Luther, I have learned that the only true way to get better at what you love, is to share it with others. This year’s Frozen Sasquatch often such an opportunity.
Through the delicate balance of charm and manipulation, I was somehow able to convince six participants in our group runs to work aid stations. Three of us, myself included, are ultra-trail runners, while three others are converted roadies—having never worked a trail aid station, going only on “my good word.” The majority of us worked Aid Station 2. Our mission simple: account for the safety of every runner and make’em feel like they are at the finish. As such, each runner who was seen in the distance was (hopefully) welcomed by the ringing of a cow bell, load cheers, and offerings of support—everything from filling water bottles, to warm miso soup, to freshly made s’mores, in addition to the traditional trail “buffet.” Being able to assist those who are in a position you have been in before is a great act of service. We all laughed, joked with them about the conditions of the trail, “small, clean” climb ahead… with my favorite runner quote coming from good friend and 25k Winner, Robert Smith, as he blazed by “The trail is epic!” To the 50kers, providing them with the needed, “your almost there,” even though it was a slight exaggeration brought smiles on their tired faces. When runner’s weren’t present, the “party” continued, sharing stories, tips, future running goals, and eating and dancing to the occasional 80’s classic…although dancing didn’t occur on tables it was heavily discussed at various points throughout the long day. Seeing the end of our station, the food ravaged, iphone almost dead, and cutoff time approach, we all knew that our part in their journey was done, I think a collective sense of pride was felt.
As I watched my aid station friends depart, my run on the trail began, sweeping with Charles Belcher and Gregg Yarborough. I was spoiled as the fun continued, this time on a path beaten by rain, 25kers, and 50kers—twice. The conversations were great, knowledge shared was enlightening, and somehow (perhaps through grace) my short-legs kept up with these towering giants, as we cleaned and closed the trail. From this experience and the one that followed (looking for a lost runner in the dark); my admiration and appreciation for these two runners grew tremendously as we ventured with limited supplies following the faint sounds of hope in the woods. The collective sense of comfort was felt by all when she was found and the “we are all in this together,” “leave no man behind” themes were steps in action.
Morale of the story, if you run, volunteer. If your race sells out, sweep, work an aid, at the finish, something. The “race” isn’t the run, it’s the one you live, through the steps taken daily and shared with others. Greater fulfillment, drive, challenge, and betterment can come, making you a better runner. Perhaps the challenge is not running every race in the series, but maybe taking on the greater challenge of stepping away from the pride and pursuit of your “time,” but to, at least once a year, “run” by volunteering.
“Seek to do good, and you will find that happiness will “run” after you.”—James Freeman Clarke