Research suggests – as does the US Olympic Committee – that athletes allow one day of recovery for every hour of time zone they cross en route to a competition. I’m convinced this applies to volunteers who provide support to athletes at events…especially at ultras.
It’s now Monday and I’m still recovering from the Cayuga Trails 50 Miler and I didn’t run a step of the race. Arriving in Ithaca, New York, on Friday afternoon prior to Saturday’s race, I was already at a deficit. The two-hour time change as well as the dehydration inevitable from the air travel, which for me included a routing change to my original flight plan to Rochester, the discomfort of sitting in an aircraft for a cumulative six hours, and not having a proper meal all day had me at a loss from day one on the east coast.
I had arrived in Rochester three hours later than expected on Thursday evening due to the itinerary change as well as a two-hour delay in Dulles. Upon arrival, it was straight to bed in the hopes of a good night’s sleep. Of course my body thought it was eight o’clock, not ten when my head hit the pillow. Hoping for the best, the morning recovery run was just the opposite. Tired and heavy legs coupled with stiffness from the plane ride made for a lumbering stride for the four-mile effort on the trails in Cobbs Hill Park. Post-run, it was off to the Finger Lakes region on a 90-minute car ride with fellow USATF liaison Richard Bolt, and his Dad.
Race packet pickup was the next stop after checking into the hotel. After four hours chatting with registrants, it was back to the hotel for a dip in the pool before bed. The alarm clock went off before the roosters woke up. On the road by 5:05 a.m. for the 6:00 race start. There’s no question that my body thought it was a mistake when I rolled out of bed at 4:45 a.m.
Thankfully it was light by the time we drove to the race venue. For many ultras, the start happens well before the light of day resulting in headlamps and flashlights leading the runners and volunteers to the start line.
From the start, volunteers have to think about – and more importantly, adhere to – the same advice the runners receive. Hydrate, get enough calories, wear sunscreen, stretch when you get achy, focus on the task at hand, and keep a positive attitude. It’s not easy running 50 miles and it’s not easy volunteering, spectating, or supporting a runner who is on course for 50 miles. Rewarding yes, a walk in the park…hardly.
Fortunately the course at Cayuga has easy aid station access points, and the runners do a large loop twice so you can see and support them at various points along the course. The boredom one often feels waiting for runners to emerge from the woods was negated by the scenery, which included waterfalls, creek crossings, wildflowers, and historic landmarks. Plus, driving from point to point to track the top runners ate up some time.
Remember, it’s a long day at a 50 miler with the top men finishing in about seven hours, the women an hour or so later making it crucial to keep your hydration and calories in check along with your positive attitude. Often the positive support from a volunteer or support crew can quickly lift the spirits of a struggling runner. Even though you’re getting tired before the halfway point in the race, so are the runners.
Being on site to cover the race as a USATF representative requires a lot of focus and work. Putting up the banners is one task, but there’s more to it than handling a few zip ties. One of the goals is to provide support to the race director by handling all aspects of the USATF presence. This means verifying membership, liaising with the results and timing company, live tweeting, taking photographs, distributing awards, and interviewing the top runners after the finish for a post-race recap.
At Cayuga, I was able to interview all of the podium finishers, which created a more thoughtful story, but also resulted in pages of notes. I deciphered the notes and wrote the majority of the story on the ride back to Rochester. So the work was not done after the last finisher of the day, rather it was nearly midnight before I rested my weary head and body.
Of course it was up and onto the trails the next morning to enjoy a post-race recovery run. Like most runners, getting that daily fix is important even on tired legs. The run was in Mendon Ponds Park and was expertly navigated by Richard, who had run and skied the same trails when he was in high school. Some sightseeing later in the day before my flight home provided some additional relaxation. But, then there was the flight home.
Like the flight to Rochester, the flight back had delays. I made it as far as Chicago and had to overnight. I got up in the morning to run, and headed to the airport for a 9:00 flight. When I get back home, there’s a bit more post-race follow up. It’s no wonder I have post-race fatigue.
To all of the race supporters out there, keep up the great work and remember to take care of yourself just like you take care of your friends and loved ones who are on the trail racing.