This May, Jon and I got to experience the ultra marathon world from a whole new perspective. Yes we still sweated, had sore muscles, and were whipped by the end of the weekend but we didn’t compete. Instead, we took this race as an opportunity to join the volunteer team.
I’m always in awe at the passion, energy and aid that the volunteers bring to a race. Whether it is ringing a cowbell as you come around the corner to the aid station, frantically finding you a redbull that you’re demanding like a drug addict, or patting your back when the going gets tough during a race; these “mothers” and “fathers” of the course deserve a gold medal. So when we had the opportunity to go to our friend’s 2nd event of Atacama Xtreme 100 miler we jumped on it and hit the volunteer list.
Once arriving in San Pedro de Atacama in the Northern part of Chile, we met up with the organizing team and were here told that we were going to be the course markers. A sense of relief hit since now I knew we wouldn’t be stuck at an aid station all night in the middle of the desert with junk food staring us in the eye saying “EAT ME” for 12 hours. Although we didn’t really know what to expect with the course marking, we were up for the challenge!
GPS in hand, 10 lbs of flags, 1 water bottle, and a whole lot of high spirits; we were ready to start our first 15 km leg of marking! There was one thing we discovered we had forgotten…. sunscreen! Meh, we’re both pretty tanned from living down in Chile, so it won’t be too bad… but 2 hours into the run….we were just cooking!!
But the landscape distracted us from the beaming sun. It was like running on Mars and then time morphing to running across the Pacific Ocean floor that’s been dried up for 100’s of years. If you look straight ahead you see soft sand dunes spanning the horizon, to your left there was lagoons and mirages of oasis’s, behind you were mountain ranges with snow capped peaks, and to your right stretched miles upon miles of salt flats draped over the Earth like it was a snowy day in Canada. I was in heaven.
But now for the not so pretty parts. Volunteering is HARD work. Running around, trying to stay ahead of the competitors making sure the course is fully marked is not easy. Run 50 feet, place a flag, run another 50 feet place another flag, run and check that your still on course, place a flag, stop…look back & make sure flagging is even and in line, keeping run, place a flag…………………………. you get the idea.
After 42 hours of volunteering we were beat and ready for a shower + bed. But both of us agreed that it was 110% worth it. Not only did it feel good to pay back but you develop a whole new appreciation for races directors and their teams. The amount of man hours and organization that goes into pulling off a successful ultra is unreal. So I challenge you; if you’re an avid racer and are always on the competitor list vs. the volunteer, go find a race that you can pay back at…gain a whole new perspective of this sport 😉