The Old Pueblo 50 was this past Saturday, March 1st. Several of my friends were running it. The day was supposed to be cool, with a high chance of rain.
It was damned cold, with stinging wind and rain. Still, the Ham Radio operator in our group had a box trailer hitched to the back of his truck and that provided a great barrier, behind which we were able to set up a pop-up shelter, secure it with half-a-dozen bungee cords, tent spikes and a few extra rope tie-offs to be safe. It tried to blow away, but never really could.
We set the animal crackers, ham/cheese sandwich squares, pb sandwich squares, oranges, bananas, pretzels, tortilla chips, potato chips, M&Ms, Trail mix, Mt. Dew, Coke, V8-juice, Coconut water, Water and Sports drink. Then we waited while the wind howled around us.
The former race director came driving up, still involved, and was beside himself with frustration because someone had gone through large parts of the course and taken down the trail markers. Groups of runners were getting lost, taking wrong turns which put them a mile or more out of the way; it was looking bad. He was backtracking on a couple of sections to place stone cairns and stone arrow markers to indicate the path and had our Ham Radio guys call in to other stations to do the same. He hung around mile 19 with us for most of the day directing through the Ham Radio and giving runners a blow by blow of what to watch for.
The first pack came along, four guys, and just blew by our station without stopping. When the leader asked me directions, I had them right but I didn’t know the distance to the turn. Learning experience that could have a lot of impact; I needed to know my stuff. ‘Half a mile down the road, stone cairns on the left. Take that left!’. Got it.
While it was really windy, another twenty runners came through over the course of an hour before things got really nasty. Stinging rain coming in on huge sustained gusts almost horizontal. Last year the run had been too hot; so many repeat runners, reading the forecast for rain, were still not expecting this. They were in shorts and tank-tops in what amounts to a blizzard storm in Arizona.
As each one came in, I would call off the number to make sure they got recorded and we could keep track of everyone. “Can I fill up your water for you?”, “Water or Sports Drink?” and “Why don’t you go grab a snack and I’ll bring this to you.. get out of the elements for a minute, ok?”. Our whole aid-station crew was doing this beautifully, working together and helping them out.
The runners were all so appreciative and kind about it. We really tried to take care of them and let them just refuel and think about the race; taking off camelbacks and putting them back on like putting snow coats on little kids before they stumble back outside. Handing our S-Caps and making more sandwiches.
Once the sweepers came through, we packed up and got the hell out of there. My fingers were frozen and we all had a hard time putting the shelter back in the box.
It was only today that I learned that a huge number of runners dropped out; some were taken out with severe hypothermia. Even in the stinging rain, I felt a pang of guilt sending these runners off into.. that. I’m sure more than a few runners wished they had just hung out with us at Helvetia Station.
Some things I learned: – Volunteers should know as much as they can about the course, or at least the features and cautions, distances, around their particular mile-marker. – Should know when the cut-off times are and the policies surrounding the race. – Should have plenty of trash bags (Make-do Parkas) for the runners to wear. – Cold/cool days, should have something hot; soup, coco, coffee.
TL;DR It’s fun working at aid-stations for ultra-marathons.