Friday, March 18, 2011

A Day In The Park

"One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." - Andre Gide

A few years ago, due to nursing balky ankles, I reluctantly broke my streak of running our local Oak Mountain 50K Trail Run at 7 years, and to be sure I didn't get any late, crazy thoughts, I volunteered to work it. Despite twangs of pain at not actually running, I loved being in the middle of it all and being able to assist my fellow ultrarunners complete their goals, and I've wound up volunteering at the race for the past 4 years. You know, we as runners are excellent folks to be volunteering because we understand what the runners are thinking, or just acknowledging the fact that they might not be thinking too clearly at all, and because of that, we can make their run much more enjoyable and improving the chances of them reaching the finish line that much more attainable. When a runner comes staggering out of the woods at 25 miles and I ask, "what can I get you?" and he just stares blankly at me, I know I better take charge and tell Mr Fatigue what he needs...get some shade, drink some sugar, eat some carbs, pray to St Christopher, etc - and make sure he doesn't sit too long if he wants to finish - BEWARE THE CHAIR!! By having been on the other end of the "What do you need?" scenario, I know how invaluable a knowledgeable volunteer can be. You have to recognize which runners are well in control of their race and let them dictate EXACTLY what they want - no friendly recommendations needed or wanted from this runner. It's helping the middle to back-of-the-pack runner that makes volunteering so rewarding. They say a good referee should just about be invisible, and I guess that's how it should be for a race volunteer - the runner should only have to worry about running.

When we run a race (it doesn't matter what length), we have this mindset that everything just magically appears - registration, aid stations, drinks, course markings, police, finish line timers, etc, but you really need to volunteer to get a feel of all the "behind-the-scenes" activity that takes place. You'll be surprised how all those aid stations get stocked, how all the course markings find their way to the right place, or how all the trash magically disappears. It's hard work done well before the race begins and unfinished till long after the last finisher crosses the line.

I'm writing this post on Friday night and tomorrow is this year's edition of the Oak Mountain 50k. The prediction is for close to 80 degrees. Not a good thing. The runners will run and want to finish, sometimes at the expense of better judgment. Having been in many hot marathons and ultras, I know how the mind can play tricks and muck up a sound decision making process. However, because of this, I also know what signs to look for in a runner that's in trouble and will do all I can to be sure this runner does no harm to himself. My ultra role has changed, but through volunteering, I still have a strong connection to the ultra band of runners. If you want to volunteer for a race, just give the race director a call and I'm sure he'll snap you up (with a big smile).

OK, so in addition to the Oak Mountain 50k going on, March Madness has begun and I'm watching basketball for purely entertainment purposes only. My bracket, which two days ago seemed to be perfect when I set it up, now resembles something from a new movie called "The Anti-Bracket". It looks like some hillbilly took a shotgun to it and blasted holes in it. I'm now asking myself if I really understood that the object was to pick the WINNERS of the games, and not the losers! Guess I'll just sit back and hope one of these little schools can keep it interesting and knock off some of the fat cat schools along the way. I'm still not sure what game my UAB Blazers were playing the other night (they certainly didn't know either!!). I guess one and out is better than zero and out.

One last, sad note this week. The Birmingham running community has lost one of it's pillars from the formative days. Bill Gates was a good friend of mine back in the old days of the 70's. He was a stellar track runner in High School and at Livingston University, but to all of us that ran with him, Bill was crazy, amazingly funny, always laughing, but most of all, he was one of those folks that you could count on as a true, genuine friend. And man, what a runner. One weekend, he ran the Vulcan 10k in 33 minutes and came back the next day and ran the Vulcan Marathon in 2:36! He was the first person I knew to run 50 miles in a race - how could anyone go THAT far? Every year, Bill would volunteer at the top of Peavine Falls for the July 4th race. After you'd climb for close to 4 miles, Bill would be there laughing and handing out water, encouraging you to begin your 4 mile descent. On a personal note, I feel good knowing that tomorrow, I will be volunteering at exactly that same spot during the 50K. We'll miss you Bill.

Hope you all have a great weekend, and I'll see you on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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