My Aid Station Experience
The San Diego Mountain Bike Association (SDMBA) posted a plea for help (at an aid station) for an event held last Friday. I figured, since I was retired and had nothing else planned I could help out (finding volunteers in the middle of a normal work day might be difficult). But I had another reason to sign up … to come in contact with some of the most tough-minded human beings on this planet … ultra endurance distance runners … people who were going to run a 100 mile race.
After I signed up I was directed to contact a fellow SDMBA member, Mike White, who sent me explicit instructions as to where and when to report, and what we would be doing. He also informed me we were helping these runners in order to strengthen our relationship with some of our fellow trail users.
I showed up at the Laguna Meadows pull-out area right at 12:30 and found Mike, and several other volunteers already schlepping supplies up the trail to the assigned position of our aid station. I jumped right in and was immediately overwhelmed by the spirit and friendliness of my fellow volunteers … a pregnant woman (eight months) hauling tables, 12 year old kids carrying food bags, a mountain biker carrying two five gallon water jugs at a time (one in each hand), senior citizens carrying ice chests, young men and women setting up shade structures, and Mike, making sure everything ended up in exactly the correct spot.
Even though the first runners were not expected to come by for another hour, I passed by dozens of people sitting in lawn chairs under the trees … family and friends ready to encourage the runners. Sitting in the shade was a necessity for temperatures were scorching in the direct sunlight.
Once the shade structures and tables were set up food preparation began. Watermelons, bananas, and oranges were cut. Sandwiches were made, and various snack items (candies, chips, crackers, cheese cubes, salt, and just about every type of sports bar or trail food ever made) were placed in bowls.
At the same time a five gallon jug of Tailwind (a sports drink) was mixed, another jug was filled with water, and cups were filled with Coke, ginger ale, water, and ice.
Mike had to send someone to the Laguna Store to get two buckets and sponges which were filled with cold water. Later a couple runs to the local market were required for more ice and a few other items.
A couple of people volunteered to record the runners as they approached and the rest of us did whatever was needed to get everything else prepped. I was thrilled to see a young, teenage boy cooking quesadillas, toasted cheese sandwiches, toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and boiled potatoes.
Once fully set up we waited more than an hour for the first runner came in (our station was 48.8 miles into the run). Our routine was pretty much the same with him as with all the runners … a greeting with the words, “What can we do for you? What bottles do you need refilled? Do you have a pouch you need filled? What would you like it filled with?” Once one of us got their bottles and pouches we directed them to the food and drink tables.
Heat was the main problem for the runners. Trail officials reported temperatures in the high 90’s (in the shade) climbing Noble Canyon, a steep (1,500 vertical feet), rocky trail with no breezes and not a lot of shade. Runners looking real heated were sponged off immediately (I spent most of my time dousing the runners using a sponge from the water buckets). Most runners asked two or three times, “How far to the next aid station,” and were told, “6.2 miles farther.”
At one point Mike had to hike up a couple hundred yards to remove a rattlesnake from the trail. But once he had coaxed the serpent back into the bushes (which took several minutes) he turned around only to find two different rattlers out on the trail.
As time passed the frequency of runners increased. Sometimes we had as many as six runners we were trying to help. I saw runners of various ages, various ethnicity, various sizes, and attires. One runner was reportedly 75 years old.
I saw several grey haired women (nobody shared their age). Some of the guys were at least 6’4” tall and one woman could not have been 5 feet tall (and I would guess weighed less than 100 pounds). One fellow was dressed as a joker and another had feathers in his cap. I saw one young girl head back out on the trail with duct tape supporting her leg.
Many of the participants took off their shoes and doctored their feet (yes, we supplied first aide). Some rubbed their legs with hands full of ice. Some of the runners called it quits when they arrived at our aid station .. many acting embarrassed because they couldn’t finish. I took it upon myself to remind them they had just ran 50 miles … and I was thoroughly impressed!
One trait all these runners had in common was their appreciation for our help. I have never been thanked so sincerely by so many different people in my life. I had signed up to work until 4:00, but could not pull myself away from this experience … staying until everything was packed up at 10:00 ( yes, someone had brought a generator and spot lights so we could service the last runners at around 9:30).
If you ever get a chance to help in an aid station … try it! You will meet a whole bunch of quality people and some courageous athletes. I felt great doing my little part to help these people achieve their goals.
For more details regarding the race please click San Diego 100 Mile Race.
Note* All the trails shown were open to all users during the day … so we had several hikers and bikers pass through. Since this is a mountain biking site I wanted to post a photo of a fellow who came through. He was riding a totally unsuspended, singlespeed bike which he has used to bike Noble Canyon in the past … I can’t imaging doing that!