My running buddy Celeste D. told me last week as we were running Town Lake that she was running her first trail race at Rocky Hill Ranch the next weekend. She was nervous and wondered what she had gotten herself into. She was planning to run 25K (15.5+ miles) which was the shortest distance. The race was offering 50K (31+ miles) and 50 miles. Sheesh. Later that night I contacted the Race Director, Joe P., who also was Celeste’s trail running coach, and our mutual marathon coach last year and offered my services as a volunteer. I wanted to surprise Celeste by being at one of her aid stations. After a few e-mails back and forth with Joe I had volunteered to be there for the early morning start and I didn’t know if I’d ever see Celeste.
Now by early morning I mean EARLY morning, that is, 4 AM. So I contacted my son, Matthew, who lives 15 minutes away to see if I could sleep over on Friday night only to find out that his girlfriend had moved in. Now I’m not too smart, but I’ve learned through experience that two’s company and three’s a crowd. So although I stopped by, watched Beth get her purple belt in Kempo Karate, and had dinner with them both when dinner was over I headed out.
I arrived at about 9-10 PM and camped out in my car which included pillows, a sleeping bag, and an alarm clock set for 3:15 AM. The ranch was hosting a Biker night so I pulled my car as far away from the hubbub as I could. This place is way way out in the country, so it was quiet except when all the bikers decided to leave and notify the world with their straight-through exhaust pipes.
All too soon the alarm rang, I got dressed, brushed my teeth, and headed over to the race sign-on area to get my first job of the day. The temperature was in the mid fifties so I wore a fleece over my shirt and jeans. The 50 mile runners were starting at 4 AM. I recorded each 50-mile racer’s number on a sheet so we knew who was out there on the course. The course in general was a 25K/15.5-mile trail that takes it’s name from the ranch, that is, it’s rocky. The 50 mile runners were doing a short out and back before doing three loops of the course to complete their 50 mile distance.
Next I went with Joyce, wife of the race director, in her truck to each of the other aid stations because they were concerned that she might get stuck way in the back of the property. At each station we opened a few cases of water so the stations would be ready for these early racers.
Arriving back I saw the second smaller group of 50-mile runners leave at 6 AM. There were two heats because Joe felt that some people would want to start very early so they would be running when it was less hot. It was expected to be in the 80s Fahrenheit today which to a runner is very hot. I helped set up the start line aid station, but it would be a while before any of these runners would arrive back to the start line for their next loop of the course. We mixed up 5 gallon containers of Gatorade and Heed.
The sun was rising. Just before the 7 AM race I saw Celeste and wished her good luck with her 25 K race. My next temporary assignment would be to help direct the 7 AM starting runners to insure they got on the trail about 100 feet after the start line. You would think this was obvious, but an intersecting dirt road at that point was causing confusion so he wanted someone there pointing the way. Ringing a cow bell and waving my left arm in the proper direction seemed to do the trick. This was the biggest starting group consisting of several hundred people.
After the start I returned to the aid station. As runners finished their loop and arrived back at the start line they crossed a timing mat. We plied them with water, Gatorade, Heed, and Coke and lots of munchies that included M&Ms, jelly beans, Fritos, trail mix, crackers & peanut butter, orange slices, banana chunks, Chex mix, potatoes, Hammer gels, electolyte tablets, etc. Quite a spread of stuff from sweet to salty depending upon what the runners desired. Most of the time was spent asking “runner what can we get you” and then filling their bottle with whatever drink concoction they wanted.
Another running acquaintance, Clarence, was helping at the aid station too. As the morning went on it started to warm up. I was grabbing ice from the coolers in the trailer. When that got low I told Joe who directed Clarence and I to drive to Bastrop’s Walmart and buy 160 pounds of ice. This took us 45 minutes. During the drive Clarence and I talked about his recent Ironman (2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking, and 26.2 mile running!) in Florida. I was impressed, and I know that I’ll never be able to accomplish something like that. We arrived back and unloaded and again took over help at the station.
There was now two other people there, Dakota and Melissa. Dakota was a teenage runner, and Melissa was recovering from a serious ankle injury – big scar on her ankle. I started making peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, and continued cutting up oranges and bananas as they became low. There was now a regular flow of runners coming in and we helping them. It is now all a blur – keeping the various food items stocked, and making more if there wasn’t enough.
During a mini-break I saw Celeste finish. I cheered her in as she crossed the mat and congratulated her on her finish. Soon however I was back at the aid station and she was telling me that she had to leave to get back to her family. It was probably before noon when we said our goodbyes. She looked great and very proud to have accomplished this goal. I was sad to see her go, but I didn’t leave then. I worked the afternoon making ham/turkey, cheese and pita-bread roll-up, cutting watermelon pieces and constantly filling runner’s water bottles with ice and drink.
The afternoon flew by and the vast majority of runners had finished. The number of cars and people dwindled. It one point I was worried that we’d run out of water having only four gallons of water left so I mentioned it to Joe. Joyce analyzed the current number of runners out on the course and decided we had just enough water.
With only a handful of runners to finish we started packing up. We left only the timing table and mat in the middle of the field where before the aid station tent, ropes of colored flags and numerous folding chairs had been. I helped pack the trailer with tubs and tubs of food, tarps, poles, tables, and other stuff needed to run the race.
Finally at 7:15 PM there was about eight people left on the course and Joe felt that there was enough people to allow me to leave. I drove home tired and sweaty but feeling good that I had cheered on my running buddy, Celeste, and I had given back to the running community of which I am a member.