Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hyper-volunteerism @ Cascade Crest

This past weekend was the Cascade Crest 100 race. Although I wasn't a participant in the event as a runner, I did what I seem to do best - help out those that do run.

The jobs - Aid station work @ Mile 23 (Tacoma Pass) and Mile 60.5 (Keechelus Ridge).

I wouldn't be the captain of the aid stations like I was at the 20th Century 100k event back in June, but I was going to bust my ass to make sure every runner was taken care of.

Saturday morning, I had a drowsy & wet start being 4am and driving through a mild downpour on the way to Easton. Thankfully, the rain stopped when getting past the Snoqualmie Valley. The runners and volunteers wouldn't need to breakout the rain gear this time.

I got to Easton around 7am after getting some Starbucks and gas, headed to the firehouse and got some breakfast with the rest of the runners and volunteers that were there. Lots of familiar people. A good who's-who of ultrarunning. Mark Tanaka, Andy Kumeda, Catra Corbitt, Christian Griffith, James Varner, Rod Bien, etc. Some that I've never met in person, some that I've ran with (or rather, got outrun by), but all of them that I consider friends and fellow brothers & sisters in suffering. I kept mental note of who was there since I knew I'd meet them again...and again.

After a few more introductions, I started lugging supplies into cars and trucks for the various aid stations that were starting early, mine being one of them. Before 9am, it was off to the first aid station - Tacoma Pass. I followed our fearless captain, Eric Sach from the Balanced Athlete with his wife Iliana in their car. Eric has been the aid station captain here for about 4 years now and knows the way all too well, driving along the washboard/pothole dirt roads like a rally car driver. My poor minivan was so traumatized!

We eventually got to the aid station location and setup halfway. Afterwards, we went for a nice run along the Pacific Crest Trail, heading southbound. A good ~60 min hike & run for me. I'm looking forward to next year to run the event and actually RUN up some of those hills with a bib number attached to me. Once everyone got back, the crews for the various runners showed up and with the help of some of the kiddies who came along, we got the aid station ready...almost.

One thing we didn't account for was a few runners (i.e. Phil Shaw) coming in faster than expected. We expected runners to appear at 2pm, Phil came in at 1:30pm! Thankfully, we got our act together and worked like a well-oiled machine (even with the wasps that kept attacking our aid station table). When you're at this aid station, you can see who looks good to go another 50 miles and who's going to suffer if they keep going. Good to know for next year. This aid station also goes very fast, since there is still daylight and there's plenty of time to get VERY TIRED later on. When the sweeper finally came in, we all jumped for joy and started the teardown of the aid station. I had the dread of having to drive along those evil roads again.

The things to remember: A tablespoon or two of Yellow Mustard can cure leg cramping/pain. Seemed to work for Randy Gierhke, the co-creator of the original Cascade Crest course. (Randy dropped later on in the race. Guess he should have taken my mustard bottle with him.)

After another traumatic drive along the roads back to the Interstate, we finally got back to the race start/finish and unloaded. It was still daylight and I had time to get to my next aid station, Keechelus Ridge @ Mile 60.5. I had originally downloaded my directions from Google Maps, but it got really confusing when you go down dirt roads with no signs anywhere. After climbing what seemed like Mt Everest in my minivan and getting lost, I eventually found the aid station.

What a site! High up, a 7 mile climb from Hyak. I was crossing my fingers that the clouds would be gone and we'd get a starry sky. Sadly, we didn't get to see the heavens that night. This aid station is where folks can come out looking like rock-stars or they're on their way to a death march.

The hurried pace from Tacoma was non-existent here at Keechelus Ridge. With our aid station captain Adam and fellow workers Cameron & Ondrej, we gave more attention to our runners that came in and I broke out the mini-stove to make up some cheeseburgers for folks (a little experiment to see who'd be up for burgers - seems that the mid to back of the packers ate them up...the elite to front of the pack...not so much).

Towards the end, we were getting VERY TIRED and the last few folks that came in did their best to continue. 4 people dropped at our aid station, two that had their crew come to fetch them. The two that were left, one had enough and was feeling ill (his vomiting when we returned to the start was a giveaway), the other drop...well, a mild injury kept her from going, but her attitude towards myself and the rest of the aid station crew was unnecessary. Keechelus Ridge is a non-crew access aid station for the most part due to the narrow roads. If someone drops, they typically have only two options: Go to the next aid station at Kachess Lake (7 miles away, downhill) OR wait until our aid station was done and we closed shop. The first option can get most folks to the next point within 1-2 hours depending on how fast they are. The second option at the time could take 4-5 hours. Plus, the human body can often times rebound if it keeps going during events like these. However, this particular runner shot all of us a dirty look when we gave her those two options. A look of, "What? You're NOT going to drive me down to the finish right NOW???" Needless to say, we had a very difficult time blowing this attitude off and eventually, the runner decided to wait it out until we closed shop.

Runs like this are hard, emotions are high, this is understood. But when you're out there running, be grateful that there are people there to make sure that you're able to eat, drink, make sure you got a pulse, etc. No one paid us to be there, so if we can only give you so many options - cut us some slack.

Anyway...aside from this one incident, aid station #2 for me went well and I learned how to cope with the lack of sleep again and being on my feet for extended periods of time. Perfect for training with future races and the next Cascade Crest 2010 run.

After a quick teardown of the aid station, I headed back to Easton to unload one final time and get to see some runners finish.

Hanging out with friends, seeing the triumph of the human spirit as various folks finished their 100 mile adventure, embracing life. This is why I'm so hooked on this sport and even though I've done less running in these things, sitting on the sidelines and lending a hand puts me in a special place where I get to see the joy (and the sadness) that comes with this thing we call ultrarunning.

...although, I do miss being the sweaty one crossing the finish line. But all in good time.

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