Monday, July 18, 2011

VT100 - Volunteering and some pacing

My wife and I worked at the Vermont 100 run all weekend. Even in the years I don't run the race or plan to do any significant pacing, it's nice to be there and see many of my ultra friends.

On Friday, we worked the medical part of race check-in. I got to meet some new people, say hi to old friends, but the thing I noticed the most was the number of first timers and new faces who were doing the race.

After the medical check-ins were complete, we headed home to get a good night of sleep, knowing that we'd be awake a long time after we woke up on Saturday.

We got to the Camp 10 Bear aid station at about noon on Saturday. Runners hit this station at mile 47 and again at mile 70 or so. So, it's a busy, busy aid station. We immediately jumped into the fray, trying to help as many runners as possible. At first, the focus was on runners hitting the aid station for the first time, as a few returning elite runners showed up on occasion. Eventually, by early evening, the runners were all past mile 47, and we had a break until the masses returned to mile 70. During this lull, some of the volunteers ended their shift, leaving us a bit short for a while. I was re-assigned to be the chef for the station, although it was a pretty easy gig. I handled it just fine, except for occasionally burning a grilled cheese sandwich on the grill.

At this point, I'm going to make some statements that might be controversial, but they might not matter if no one actually reads this blog. The sport of ultrarunning seems to really be changing. The crews of the runners assumed that the aid station food was for them, as well as the pacers and runners. One woman asked my wife if she could take a certain food for herself, as a crew member. My wife replied that the food was intended for runners and pacers. The woman clearly didn't like the answer, and as soon as my wife turned her back, the woman simply took what she wanted. We had people inside the aid station all day, taking food from wherever they wanted. We had a huge number of runners complain that we didn't have what they wanted. One person let us know that not having a vegetarian broth was not acceptable. A few others let us know that not having coffee was not OK. Another person complained that our fruit supply was inadequate for the vegans. We didn't stock the aid station. We were merely volunteering, giving up our weekend to help runners finish a race. But, it sure seemed like we were being blamed for perceived slights.

When I run 100s, I find out what the aid stations will supply, and if I need something else, it goes in a drop bag or my crew brings it for me. It's dangerous to assume that an aid station will supply something critical to your race success.

At one point, so much food had been taken by crew and spectators that my wife drove to a nearby store to re-stock our station.

Demands were common. Thank yous were almost unheard. I got fewer thank yous in 18 hours of aid station work than I hand out while running a 100.

The entire mentality seemed to be one of entitlement; the race was responsible for feeding the masses and satisfying every whim. I found this very disappointing, to be honest. In all the years I've worked at this race, I've never seen this prevailing attitude before.

A week ago, I ran a new marathon here in Vermont. The marathon drew runners from all over the country. The race had 21 aid stations - for a marathon! However, running near the back of the pack, I was shocked at the litter on the course. How could people just throw their trash on the ground when there were so many aid stations.

Is this what running has come to? A sport of high race prices, where runners feel entitled to anything and everything? Litter doesn't matter. Volunteers don't matter; they are servants for the runners. I don't mind being that servant, but I don't accept being treated rudely by runners, pacers or crew persons.

After my wife and I had worked over 10 hours at Camp 10 Bear, we moved to Bill's aid station at mile 89 or so. We were scheduled to work there through the close of that aid station at 6:45 a.m. The runners here were tired and the crews were tired, so the rudeness was reduced. However, runners did seem incapable of using a trash can. They would pick food and drinks off the table, use some or all of what they picked, and then just leave the mess on the table or the floor for others to clean up. They were also very demanding of the medical personnel.

Finally, about 5:30 a.m., I'd had enough and I decided to try to sneak in a nap. Minutes after I laid down, a good friend of mine, with ten prior finishes at the race, came into the aid station. I heard my wife offer him my pacing services and he said he'd love the company. The heat the previous day had taken a toll on him, and he's essentially been walking since mile 57. We had plenty of time to finish if we simply walked the remaining 11.4 miles without wasting too much time. And, that is what we did, getting Joe to the finish line at 29:40 for his 11th finish. I was glad to be part of his race. Joe has incredible longevity in the sport and is someone I respect a lot.

I was amazed when we passed the final aid station - an unmanned station. Not 30 yards from the station, which had a garbage bag, I found a Gu wrapper on the ground. Again, I fail to understand why the littering is OK. It just makes no sense.

After Joe finished, rather than staying for the awards, as we usually do, we headed home. Even though my pacing was at an easy pace, after the marathon the previous weekend and being on my feet for almost 18 hours at aid stations, I was beat. So, my wife and I headed home, and by noon, I was showered and in bed for a well-deserved nap.

I will continue to participate at the VT100 in the future, as an athlete, a pacer or a volunteer. But, if the trends I saw this weekend continue, I'm not sure how many more years I'll participate. I'm glad we helped out and I enjoyed time with friends, but some other parts of the weekend were really disappointing.


Olga said...

The report from an AS is very troubling. As a former RD and a volunteer of almost as many ultras as I ran (which creeps above 80), I tend to say I get thanks aplenty, and runners on average are good at throwing trash away. Not to say that when I RUN an ultra, I don't find garbage on trail - I do, and in the first half I still bend over to pick it up (not so in the second, I am too stiff and dumb by then). My empty gel pockets go into a bottle-holder. It's such a habit right now, I forget to get rid of it till I wash those holders at home! As far as what AS serves, as long as thye have water, ice, and occasional soft drink any quality - I am good to go. I pack my gels myself (to not rely on other brands), and I pray that some night AS will have soup. OD100 I ate ONLY my gels for 23 hrs. Can't say it didn't work. That's why I love Cactus Rose in TX - Joe gives warning on it being self-supported (water and ice) and my AS goes "minimal Olga's style" (what still means I cook grilled cheese, soup and other staples). Common, people had become total catered to wusses! And they called themselves ultrarunners?

Deborah Sexton said...

A year that I was aid station captain at Rocky Raccoon 100 in Hunstville, I had a similar experience with trash. After working literally the entire weekend with almost no sleep, I looked down the trail Sunday morning and it looked like it had snowed. I almost started crying.

I think that one way to solve this is simply education. It should be clearly stated on the Web site: no trash on the trail, rules for crews, say thank you. The race director should bring all this up during the pre-race meeting as well. I have been to races where these things are never mentioned. With an influx of new people, they need to be educated on etiquette and made to understand what goes into putting on a trail race. It's a privilege to run one, not a right.

Western States has very clear rules and threatens disqualification if a runner's crew or pacer breaks them. And I don't think you see these issues that often at WS.

Jim Bruening said...

Thank you for all you did as a volunteer this weekend. Sincerely. You must not have met me, or any of the super kind runners that I shared time with. I am sorry it wasn't a good experience for you and I hope it was an anomaly. Every volunteer I came across was generous and giving - and I appreciated all of the help.

Damon said...

Jim, it wasn't a bad experience. And I know the majority of runners are very polite and thankful for the help they receive. I love the race and I'm glad to be there. I have run the race four times, paced another half dozen times, and I volunteer every year. It was simply a handful of people who seemed to have some serious attitudes. But, overall, it did have a different vibe than in past years, and that's what struck me the most.

Harriet said...

Yeah, hopefully some of the litter was out of ignorance (e. g., it being dark and not knowing that something had fallen out). That has happened to me; I'd be going along only to find that my water bottle had popped right out somewhere hours ago.

I've had that happen with mittens too.

Jeff Farbaniec said...

Sounds like some runners and volunteers alike had unrealistic expectations. That's not totally surprising with volunteers, and should be correctable with some basic information / education of volunteers beforehand. I find the poor behavior of runners surprising, esp since it's a given that a runner in the VT100 wouldn't be a newbie to the world of racing. I think it's fair for runners to expect good support from the volunteers in a race - good vol support is part of what makes a great race - but it sounds like the expectations of some runners were inappropriate. Pre-race info may keep the expectations realistic, but won't do much to correct bad manners. I make a point of saying thanks every time I take a cup of water, or a volunteer helps me out in some way, whether in a 5K or a marathon. I suspect most other runners do the same - it's a sad world if people stop saying thanks.

Anonymous said...

It was my 1st 100miler and a memory that I will never forget. Without my crew(wife) pacer & all of you volunteers it would not have been possile. After reading your blog, I felt bad. I want you to know that I am truely appreciative of the work you put in. Many racers may have been caught up in the moment during the run but I'm sure that they are greateful for what you have done. Keep up the good work ;-) and happy trails!