Paying Our Dues

50k race Volunteer Crew on Cougar Mountain

Over the course of the countless races that Matt and I have run, none of those races would have been possible without the volunteers. They help with sign-up, they mark the course, they hand out water and Gatorade and they block the road crossings. They are definitely the unseen heroes of our running events, especially because they are usually there before us and they leave after us.

This past weekend, Matt and I got a little taste of the volunteer side of a race. We just started to discover the local trails here around Seattle and one of the most popular is Cougar Mountain, where there are about 30 miles of trails. On Sunday, there was a 20 mile race and a 50k race on Cougar Mountain, and while we were tempted to sign up last-minute, we didn’t feel we were quite ready to race just yet, as we’ve only been training the last six weeks since finishing the Colorado Trail. Instead, we did the next best thing to racing, which was volunteering.

By 7:15 am on Sunday morning, us and three other friends were packing up our cars with a canopy, a folding table, tubs of food and coolers of water. Once the starting gun fired for the races at 8, we headed to our aid station down the road and set up before the runners made it there nine miles into the course. My job was to fill up sweaty water bottles with water and to refill any of the food, like the bowl of boiled potatoes, complete with a dish of salt to dip them in. It sounds disgusting, but is actually a fantastic treat once you’ve run enough miles. Matt’s job was to help the 50k runners cross a busy highway.

What made for a long day, where I now truly appreciate a volunteer’s job, is that the 50k runners came back through our aid station again after 21 miles, where Matt had to help them cross the highway again, and where I had to handle even sweatier bottles. A got a couple whiffs of people and thought, “Wow, do I smell that bad too when I race?”

Overall, it was a great experience, but it only fueled the fire for racing again. I missed being out there, part of that racing community, slipping around on the muddy trails, and downing a gu every few miles. I think Matt and all the people we volunteered with felt the same. I also had a few take-aways from the volunteer perspective: 1. Be a nice runner (myself included in this lesson). So many runners thanked us for being there and were in good spirits, but there were a few sourpusses who were angry with their race and who were unpleasant to us and their crew. I understand if they’re upset about the race, but I realized how much better it is for everyone when they can at least muster up a smile about something. 2. Volunteers don’t know that much. We got to the race and didn’t even know how to get to the aid station. All I knew about the course was that the 20 mile racers turned after seeing us and the 50k races saw us twice. I admit, I didn’t do much due diligence to study the race course, but I also think there is some ownership on the runner to know when the aid stations are and what the course is like. Definitely a lesson for me as a runner. 3. I love this community. Runners are the best and volunteers are even better. Our group of 7 volunteers stood outside for eight hours (thank goodness it didn’t rain!) and we stood around the finish line to talk to racers and such, and though it was tiring, it was so great to see people accomplish their race and to meet new people.

All that’s left now is for us to sign up for some races! We don’t have anything in the pipeline just yet, but are looking forward to whatever it may be.

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