I had the pleasure of volunteering at the PCTR Sequoia runs in Redwood Regional and Joaquin Miller Parks. While it is a bit chilly in winter in the bowl where the start and finish is (it’s quite shady, which comes in handy in summer), the day was full of sunshine, blue skies, and warmth throughout the course.
When volunteering it helps to get to the race really early as there is always something you can help out with. You also get a little extra time to see old friends you haven’t seen in a while. I got a little time to talk with Eddie O’Rourke, who I met years ago when we were both nursing broken clavicles. I was also able to help direct runners down the path to pick up their numbers. Race day registration with Marissa Walker was at the top of the hill, and there were plenty of runners signing up throughout the early morning.
My main task for the race was to set up and run the aid station in Canyon Meadow at the Redwood Regional entrance, just where the Stream Trail hits the Owl Creek picnic area. I was partnered up with Brian Wyatt, a coach for PCTR, and one of my regular training partners. His daughter, Hiya, ably supervised us. After hauling the gear, food and water from our cars, we set up all the bowls of pop tarts, goldfish, potatoes, chips, pretzels, M&Ms (peanuts and plain), cookies, orange slices, PB&J sandwiches, trail mix, etc. Knowing that our first runners would be coming in at 10:00 plus, we hurried to get all the water, electrolyte drink, Coke, and Sprite cups filled. From past experience, we knew that once the runners started coming in there would be almost no time to refill anything, until some short and much-needed lull. The front runners are quick in and quick out, needing very little. But soon the trickle would become a deluge with runners coming in fast, needing a quick turn around, and tossing out some unexpected requests – band aids or ibuprofen, the latter which it turned out was best to simply announce to the gathering crowd “Anyone got ibuprofen?” Bingo, two seconds and it was resolved.
Good tips to remember when volunteering at an aid station is the miles the runners have traveled so far, how many miles to the next aid station, and where precisely to go when leaving the aid station. Other than that, simply being willing to do whatever a runner needs to put it all back together and get back out on the trail, whether it’s helping patch a blister, putting their powder in their bottle while they graze the buffet, or simply encouraging them as they leave. On a hot day, which it wasn’t, it’s also good to remind the runners to keep drinking and taking salt. Since we were about mile 9 into the run, and wouldn’t see anyone again during the race, we didn’t have many problems. Everyone was in a great mood and enjoying the redwood trails and sunshine.
When we closed up the aid station, Brian and Hiya took the remaining food and gear back to the start, while I swept the ribbons up Stream Trail, down Bridle, then up Golden Spike and Toyon up to West Ridge. From there I was on the pink section until I turned down Tate taking a different route back to Golden Spike, over to Joaquin Miller, down the Sunset Trail, and back to the finish. What’s interesting about sweeping is you really notice how many ribbons are used and how well marked the course is. I have gotten lost on PCTR runs more than a few times, but it was always because I wasn’t paying attention. I just wish Wendell wasn’t so tall because I had to jump for some of the ribbons.
If you’re a veteran trail runner, would like to see more how the front runners use the aid stations (not much), or just want to help out on a trail run to see the great variety of people participating, volunteering at a PCTR event is a great way to make a contribution and have fun in many of the Bay Area’s beautiful parks. You’ll also feel the warm gratitude of all the runners as they thank you for coming out. Lastly, if you’re working the finish line, you get to see a lot of happy people feeling blissfully satisfied with what they’ve accomplished that day. Perhaps that’s best part of volunteering – you get to help others achieve a big, wild goal.