Volunteering at a Trail Race

Races, both those on roads and on trails, would not be possible without the help of many MANY volunteers. We caught up with some of our Hillbillies Team members who recently volunteered at the Orcas 25k/50k race put on by Rainshadow Running and asked them to share a little about their experience. - Andrea

Amanda & Pablo Were Sweepers at the 25K
This was my 4th time to sweep a race (Pablo’s 2nd). Sweeping is an awesome way for a middle-of-the-pack runner to volunteer because you get to experience the race itself (and the afterparty!) but with no stress about speed. Typically I start a few minutes after the start time and catch up to the last people on the uphill. A lady turned her ankle at mile 2 and needed help hopping out on one foot; later on, a woman from Texas who had little experience with elevation (let alone ~4500’ gain) needed some encouragement hiking up the mountain. Both were lovely spirits and just unlucky or underprepared, and both were super grateful for the support. After we got everyone situated, we were able to pick up the pace on the way down, and we came in just a few minutes behind the last finisher. Usually (but not this time) they also ask the sweeps to pick course markers (signs and streamers) which can be a little awkward/heavy but not too bad. It’s always a positive and worthwhile experience – I feel I still get uphill training even at a slow pace, and it’s fun to be part of the machine behind these races. 

Kaylee Worked an Aid Station at the 50K
When I first decided to try my hand at trail running, some fellow runners told me that I should always plan to work as many aid stations as races I run in a year.  Karma, or whatever.  So, I was "soup girl" at the Mt. Constitution aid station for the Orcas 50k.  The weather was terrible and it was so cold and the typically-gorgeous views from the top of the mountain were totally obscured by fog for, like, 85% of the day.  And still, it was so awesome. So many friendly athletes who just ran up a damn mountain thanking us for being out there while shoving unbelievable amounts of food into their mouths--encouraging one another, commiserating when necessary.  It truly is a community and working an aid station gives you a front row view of that (while also making you jealous that you're not racing).  If you're feeling a little burned out and need some inspiration, work an aid station.  Just make sure you have enough warm clothes.

Heidi Worked an Aid Station at the 25k
This is not your typical race report, namely because I did not officially run the race! I was involved in the race however, as a volunteer at the North Arch aid station, at mile 5.6. One of my co-workers and I worked our shift, from 8:15 to just after the cut-off time for the runners coming through our station, and then we ran the remainder of the course, which totaled about 10.5 miles. I’ll describe a little about our experience at the aid station as well as the remaining 2/3 of the trail run. 

There were 6 of us volunteering at the aid station, and we gathered at 8:15am to load giant tubs of food and snack items into our cars. We drove up to our venue, which would be the first of two aid stations offered along this 25k course.  Once there, we set up our tables and got to work – we figured we had until about 9:45am until the first runners would be coming through. We worked fast and furiously, assembling pb and j sandwiches, cutting oranges, opening m&m’s and chips and pouring them into bowls, not to mention filling tiny cups of water and electrolyte drink for the runners to grab as they came through. Someone brought a bottle of Fireball to offer up as well so of course that had to be prominently displayed (right between the coke and the electrolytes!)! The first runners came through in a pack of about 5, and grabbed drinks without slowing their pace. After that there was a nearly continuous stream of runners coming through, almost all of them happy and already a bit out of breath from the first set of hills.  We did not tell them that about 50 feet away started the dreaded “powerline” hill – nearly 2 miles of continuous uphill! We had a time of 11am as a cut-off, and despite two women walking into our aid station at 10:59, they left by 11 and we didn’t have to hold anyone back. I can’t count how many sandwiches we went through, how many oranges, or how much GU was eaten, but I do know that 7 brave runners took shots of Fireball!! What I loved about volunteering in this position was to see and talk with all of the runners who came through. There were huge smiles, laughter, gratitude, some tears – I found it to be all so inspiring and motivating! 

Our volunteer shift ended at the cut-off time and we put the food back in the tubs to be taken back to the finish line. The rest of the volunteers left as well, but my friend Wendy and I had planned to run from our aid station to the finish line. We ate some of the sandwiches and loaded up on some other treats to take with us before setting off. Unlike some of the runners coming through our aid station, we knew what was right ahead of us – a nearly vertical climb of 2 miles, followed by another 1.5 mile of uphill switchbacks. We accepted our fate and started up. Wendy and I found our uphill pace – slow and steady - and soon came across Amanda and Pablo, fellow FF Hillbillies who were volunteering as sweepers on the course. We passed 3 other runners on our ascent up this hill, most of them struggling to get through this tough section of the course and battling the fear of not making it to the next aid station before cut-off time. It was liberating to not officially be in the race and I found myself stopping to help and talk with these runners much more than if I had been “racing” the course.  We gave one runner water (she had nothing on her, just a donut!), and another a pep talk to help her through the hills. The end of the Powerline hill came faster than I thought, and soon we were running downhill and stretching our legs out on a gorgeous moss-lined, pine-needled trail. Unfortunately, this glorious stretch didn’t last long enough, and we soon found ourselves on another very difficult uphill section (about 1.5 miles) before reaching the summit of Mt. Constitution. This was more difficult, but luckily with a friend to complain to and be inspired by, we power-hiked our way to the top. There, at mile 10.7, we found ourselves at the summit of Mt Constitution, with a 360 view of the water and mountains, not to mention another aid station! It was beautiful up there, but windy and cold so we were not tempted to linger. In fact, we had to layer up all over again, including hats and gloves!  We started running to warm up again, and were greeted with amazing views around every bend. And the trail got better and better as we descended. The course for the most part is soft and covered in pine needles, and the trees are thinly spaced and mossy, so it’s not as dark and dense as trails can often be here in the NW. It was one of the more beautiful trails I’ve been on, and, even better, it was downhill!! There was a brief uphill at the very very end (a cruel way to end the race I must say!) and then we were done. 

My favorite parts about the race? The gorgeous scenery and the exhilarating downhill of the last 6 miles of the race!! I also loved being more connected to the runners and the race itself, and being more in a “volunteer” mode than “racer” mode. I will definitely come back and run this one next year!


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