I am fascinated with the world of ultra running. A few years ago, before I started running, a friend of mine signed up for a 40 mile race and I remember thinking that he was completely and utterly mad. Now, having run an ultra of my own, I have realised that he is as sane as they come.
Volunteering at the 54 mile point of the SDW100 gave me the chance to observe even more ultra runners in action, and to take away a few pointers about mind set and attitude which I hope will stand me in good stead.
So, what did I learn?
There is no one way. Obvious, I know, but worth saying. Our aid station was one of the more luxurious, and was just past the halfway point. Some runners did little more than pop their head in and drink some water before pushing on, though most of these were top ten runners in pursuit of a fast time and a high position. Other runners spent half an hour with us, changing kit, eating pasta, tending to blisters and taking a mental and physical breather.
More haste, more stress, less speed. Aid stations can be a time sink, so I fully understand the desire to get through the aid station as quickly as possible and not to be lulled into wiling (whiling?) away half an hour with family and friends. I can also recognise that tired and stressed leads to snappy (goodness only knows my nearest and dearest will attest to that!). I hope though, that when the time comes for me to meet my crew mid race that I will be able to remember that stress is contagious. Crews who had been perky and happy and looking forward to meeting and supporting their runners were transformed into depressed-looking posses wondering why on earth they’d given up their day to support the snarling, snapping, demanding, whining, me me me beasts who came through the door. Such creatures were rare (and I am exaggerating more than a touch) but there was a noticeable rise in tension that accompanied a few of the runners into the hall.
Dress for warmth. Running is a sweaty business and wicking fabrics are critical to stop you from overheating and chafing while you are running…but once you are doing more walking than running, and once the sun goes down, those wicking fabrics that were your friend now wick away heat and leave you shivering, cold and miserable. And shivering, cold and miserable is a rotten way to spend 20 hours.
Grim determination can do marvellous things. I was updating the live timings, so didn’t have much direct contact with the runners unless they happened to sit down next to me. But those that did were amazing. Runner 190, for example, had strained a calf muscle but was determined to finish this year (and did) after last year’s DNF when he fell asleep in a portaloo at mile 66.6.
Enjoy it. Another runner who sticks in my mind, a 64 year-old woman, came into the race with no time target and no expectations and was having (at mile 54 at least) a blast. Without the pressure of targets, she was able to relax and enjoy the experience. All the way to mile 100. When I’m 64…!
Volunteers are ace. Not me, the others! I say it most weeks, being a parkrun junkie, but the running world really is made special by the volunteers. I was a light-weight, doing one stint at a single aid station. Most of the others there had also done time at an earlier station and/or were going on to help out at the finish in Eastbourne. They’d been up since the crack of dawn but had more energy and enthusiasm than an excitable puppy. If you ever find yourself at a loose end, I really can’t recommend volunteering at an ultra event highly enough. And if it’s the TP100 in 2014, then so much the better 😉