That was right after the paragraph where Joe said, "My goal
[in 2003] was to create a long distance trail race that was as
difficult as possible, yet still runable, so it isn't easy, and
it isn't intended to be."
Mixed message re: taking care of the runners?
Volunteers are there to provide the runners with basics like fluids and calories
so they don't get depleted over 50K-100K distances.
Encouragement can help most runners psychologically, but no one can
run the race for them. They still gotta traverse that gnarly
course on their own.
And as in any difficult ultra (oxymoron??), completion is sweet
reward for all the effort expended.
Dunno if the horse sweeps picked up any
struggling runners or not . . .
I know now that I've run my last ultra marathon event. I still
need to write an entry called "Once a Runner, Always a Runner?"
to describe that big transition in my life. My heart and soul want to
continue competing until the day I drop dead but my knees no
longer allow me to do that. The only ways now that I will be
participating in ultras are as a volunteer and as Jim's crew.
Since Jim's been plagued with plantar faciitis and not training
regularly for several months, he's doing more volunteering now,
The Bandera course through the Hill Country State Natural Area,
which I described in the
last entry, is rocky and steep
enough that it would not have been a good course for me to run
in the last couple of years. I found it a challenge to hike
here the last few days. So I wasn't feeling as sorry for myself
as Jim was when I volunteered all day yesterday during the race.
In addition the the 50K and 100K ultra distances, Bandera also
offers a popular 25K (15.5 miles) race. Everyone starts
at the same time but the 25K course is only half the distance of
the 50K loops the ultra-distance races cover (the 100K runners
do the 50K loop twice).
Bandera started with 179 starters in the three races in 2003.
Last year there were 504 starters. Like some other
trail races with no or fairly high limits to the numbers of
entrants allowed, Bandera saw an increase of about a hundred
more runners this year.
Jim watched as the list grew every few days
website was updated, hunting
for names of runners we know. Unlike the 100-milers we attend,
there weren't a lot: Annette Bednosky, Marcy Beard,
Dan Brenden, Deborah Sexton, Lynnor Matheny, Angela Ivory, Diana
Widdowson, Olga Varlamova, Scott Eppelman . . .
We shook our heads over all the names we didn't know,
even in the 100K.
Runners (L) and volunteers (R) at
Well over 600 runners were registered for the three races this
year. My count
from the results indicate that 599 started: 237 in the
25K, 179 in the 50K, and 183 in the 100K. Runners in the 100K
could elect to drop down to the 50K and get credit for that race;
35 of the 183 original 100K runners chose that option.
I've been running ultras since 1992 and I can tell you this is
one of the larger ultra events in this country! In the last few
years there has been a significant increase in the number of
ultra runners, ultra events, and size of fields at many of those
events. Popular races like the Western States and Hardrock
100-milers with strict limits to the numbers of entrants are
seeing almost-impossible odds of gaining entry through
lotteries. Others like the Umstead 100-miler fill up within
seconds or a few minutes after online registration opens. Wait
lists are common.
Fortunately, there are still some races like Joe's Tejas Trails
series in Texas that have high (or no) entry limits and
sometimes even race day registration is permitted.
It's critical nowadays for runners to consider their race
options many months in advance and closely scrutinize race
websites to learn the drill for the events they're considering.
Even in races like Joe's series, it's important to watch the
entrants' lists periodically to make sure they don't fill up
before you plan to enter. E.g., Jim has been looking at the Rocky Raccoon 50-
and 100-miler (another one of Joe's events) to see if it's
getting close to its 750-runner limit; he's still considering that
one in a month but wants to wait until the last possible minute
to decide because of his foot injury.
There are five aid stations including the start/finish area along the convoluted
Bandera course, which
you can see on various course and elevation maps on the
website. There are also links
to the text descriptions of the three courses.
link features a good map of the
course configuration and shows details of some of the aid
stations, including Crossroads.
Crossroads is a double aid station, with runners coming in from
one direction (below),
Runners easily found their way TO the aid station
. . .
going out for a five-mile loop, and returning through the other
side of the aid station. 25K runners came in once and in
one direction only. 50K runners came through twice in each
direction (i.e., four times through our aid station), 100K
runners four times in each direction (i.e., eight times there).
When you multiply the number of runners in each race by the
number of times they came though our aid station PLUS the number
of pacers in the 100K who came through four times --
somewhere near 3,000 total appearances -- you can
see why I had some apprehension about how a dozen volunteers could
possibly keep up with them all!!!
Turns out, the aid station was pretty well laid out to
accommodate even the "bubbles" of runners in each of the races
as they entered and exited the tents during the morning. As the
day wore on the runners were spread farther and farther apart
and we could relax more.
The main problem was directing the runners the correct way out
of the tent (one way is shown above) after they'd come inside from either direction on
the loop. They didn't get confused coming into the AS
because Henry marked the entrances and exits very well with
yellow tape extending for several hundred feet. However, once
inside the runners got "turned around" and had difficulty
knowing where to go next.
Jim and Henry added some signs as the race progressed to try to make it
less confusing for the runners but it was still a chronic
challenge for them and the volunteers. I don't know how
to fix that either, unless the two Crossroads aid stations are
kept completely separate. That's impractical in terms of labor,
equipment, or supplies.
I never heard
if runners got "lost" on various parts of the complicated course. I know there were tons of signs and ribbons on the sections
that I walked. This race organization reportedly does a good job of course marking at its
events. Some folks manage to get off-course in races anyway,
mostly due to inattention.
10°F. -- OH, MY!
As noted (emphasized!) in
the last entry, it was officially a bone-rattling 10°F. on
Saturday morning when the race began. That is definitely not
typical southern Texas weather! I thought more runners
would weenie out and not come but almost everyone who
registered showed up. Ultra runners are a tough bunch!
So are ultra volunteers. Maybe more
so, because we weren't able to generate the body heat to keep
warm that the runners did. Even the big propane heater in our
tent wasn't adequate to keep some of us warm. We had our
Jim (L) and four other Crossroads volunteers
inside our aid station on Saturday morning
Jim and I got up about 7AM and
walked all of about 75 feet from our camper door to the entrance
of the Crossroads Aid Station half an hour later -- very
convenient! That also ensured we'd work our butts off for over
12-14 hours during the day . . .
The races began at 7:30 but
the first 25K runners didn't reach our AS until about 8:40.
That gave us time to get the aid station in pretty good order
before their arrival. We rolled up enough of the tent sides to
allow ingress and egress while trying to keep as much protection
for the volunteers as possible. We erected more signs, filled
cups with water, Heed and Gatorade, made sandwiches, cut up
fruit, put out little bowls of standard salty and sweet
munchies, heated up water for coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and
oatmeal, and generally got as much done as possible before the
initial onslaught of runners reached us.
Other volunteers delivered a
gazillion 50K and 100K drop bags (above), which Jim and I didn't handle.
Even the AS captain had trouble deciding where they should go.
It was clear they had to be outside the tents but directional
ribbons caused some problems with access throughout the race. Volunteers ended up
organizing the 50K bags at one end of the tents and the 100K
bags at the other end. That turned out to be almost as confusing
to the runners as which direction to go when they left the aid
station each time.
There weren't enough volunteers at
Crossroads to give the runners their bags each time they came
in. They were on their own in that regard. All we could do was
point them to the correct pile of bags the first time they came
through and let them hunt for their own bags. Runners still got confused where their bags were
located on subsequent loops. In addition, the bags were in
numerical order at the beginning of the race but soon became
disorganized as runners left them hither and yon.
With so many runners, it will take
several more volunteers at this aid station to keep on top of the drop
bag situation in future years.
WELCOME TO CROSSROADS!
Yesterday is somewhat of a blur in
our minds because we stayed so busy for so long.
The flow of 25K runners was heavy
and steady. Because of the way the courses are configured, they
were the first to arrive around 8:40. They came in only
the "OUT" side of our aid station (the side farther away
from our camper).
The main job I chose at that point was keeping the
fluid cups full. I had problems keeping warm and quickly tired of standing.
It's easier on my arthritic joints to run and walk all day
than it is to stand relatively still for an hour.
Then I saw an opportunity to help
with timing. I've always enjoyed that job so I quickly
volunteered to sit and record the 50K and 100K runners as they
Bandera has chip timing but there
was no mat at our aid station. That meant volunteers needed to
record numbers and times of the 50K and 100K runners into each side of the tent. I
volunteered for the job on the "IN" side, the
side the runners entered the first time they came through our
aid station on each loop. The "IN" side had the advantage of
facing our camper, so I could watch Cody when he was tied up
outside. There's a photo of this farther below.
Another woman sat a couple hundred
feet out on the course where runners turned toward the aid
station after doing the five-mile loop on their way back to
Crossroads. That was called the "OUT" side.
Other timer (L, above) records numbers and
times on "OUT" side;
larger perspective below is from the aid
Don't feel bad if you're confused.
So was the race staff member who initially gave me the wrong
notebook in which to carefully record the numbers and times! I
didn't know about the "IN" side and "OUT" side yet. I was
confused why my book said "OUT" because I'd clearly been told
not to record the runners as they left the aid station (to me,
that was "out"), only when they came in. Turns out, that wasn't
even the same "in" and "out" the timing folks meant.
The problem was solved when the
staff member returned, scratched out the big "OUT" on the cover
of my book, and wrote "IN" on it. He did the reverse on the
other volunteer's notebook and all was well with timing . . .
Why does this remind me of the
classic comedy routine "Who's on First?" with Abbot and
ARE WE HAVING FUN
My post was right at the entrance
to the aid station. I was very happy the sun was on that side!
It was still in the teens. I started out in the shade (duh!)
Sue with one of the communications team
but discovered very quickly how
much warmer it was in the sun. All I had to do was keep moving my
chair a little bit as the sun's position changed during the day.
Unfortunately, it set again about 6PM and got very cold very
The first 100K runners started
coming in about 9:40 at a more moderate rate than the
more bunched up 25Kers. Soon the faster
50K runners appeared. It never got so busy that I couldn't keep
up with my task. I wrote down each bib number (asking for it if it
wasn't visible) and time (hours and minutes, not seconds), then read the numbers off periodically
to the ham radio guy assigned to my side of the aid station so
he could report them to headquarters.
It was fun to see friends
as they approached the aid station and to give encouragement to
all the runners. That's why I like a job with a lot of runner
contact rather than one behind the scenes. It's less like
work and more like fun.
I stayed at my post until 8PM, with
occasional trips to the camper (which was only a few feet away) to stretch my legs, eat, go to
the bathroom, and tend to Cody -- ten and a half hours,
mostly in that chair! I enjoyed it a lot more than some other
jobs I could have had. Jim relieved me for a few minutes every
couple hours when I needed to loosen up or go over to the
Our camper (L), radio antenna and equipment
(center), and my timing chair (R)
The only downside was how cold I
was most of the time because I was so sedentary. Even keeping the chair in the sun didn't completely
help. The wind blew in on that side of the tent and, well,
temperatures in the teens and low twenties are doggone cold,
even in the sun! I'm just not acclimated to temps that cold. It
was better in the afternoon when it was in the low 40s. Still,
that's at least 20°F. lower than normal.
I had my ways of trying to keep
warm, including running in place, adding layers of fleece,
wraooubg myself in a fleece blanket, drinking hot beverages and soup, and finally, after the sun went
down, putting a small propane heater two feet away from my
I was still shivering.
Meanwhile, Jim kept busy inside and
outside of the aid station all morning, afternoon, and evening,
astutely seeing what needed to be done and
doing it. He's very good at that. About the only jobs he didn't
do were cooking and drop bags. He mostly helped serve and take
care of the runners inside the aid station.
He found lots of other useful
diversions, too. He modified the signage to
lessen confusion of the runners re: which way they were to go,
adjusted the heater and tent sides as the day wore on, drove
into town for more propane and light bulbs, kept the generator
going (those things take as much care and feeding as propane
Dinty (L) and Jim maintain the generator.
strung up lights when it got dark,
relieved me when I needed a short break, and cleaned up two
bloodied runners. On short "rest breaks" he went over to our
camper to adjust the heat, turn the generator on when the
batteries needed recharging, and took care of Cody.
By moving around more than me, Jim
was better able to stay warm. As cold as our hands and feet
sometimes get, you'd think we both have Reynaud's Syndrome, but
we've never been diagnosed with it.
Jim got to spend some time
with the four ham radio operators, who were set up on our side
of the aid station. He had already committed to working the aid
station before finding out that hams worked this race. By then
enough hams had volunteered and Jim's assistance was needed more in the aid
station. He enjoyed learning more about the communications
process at Bandera and specific equipment the hams were using. Each race does
Jim handles my timing duties during a brief
break; radio guy on right.
Jim finally wore out about 10PM and
returned for good to the camper. I was already in bed, trying
desperately to get warmed up. I had been so cold for so long
that it took a while to get comfortable again. It was also
difficult to get the camper as warm as we wanted it.
Many of the 100K runners and their
pacers were out part or all of the night. The last ones didn't finish until
near the 7:30AM cut-off on Sunday. I imagine some of them
got pretty cold as they walked the course; temperatures
got down into the upper teens and low twenties in the natural
area, depending on the elevation and exposure.
Crossroads was a welcome sight for runners
during the long, cold night.
The cut-off time for Crossroads was
3AM. There were several volunteers left at our
AS to take care of them when Jim went to bed. Dinty and most of the other volunteers
disappeared for several hours during the day Saturday to take
breaks and/or naps, or they worked shorter shifts and left.
Since Jim and I worked straight through we had no guilt stopping
after putting in 14½ and 12½ hours, respectively.
We were pooped. We probably slept
better that night than any of the runners who finished before
midnight! Volunteering can wear you out as much as running
an ultra. We know that from many years of both running and
volunteering at these events.
next page . . .
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil