lessons from aid station volunteering

23 Sep

This weekend, we headed down with a group from #TrailsRoc to volunteer at an aid station for the Virgil Crest Ultramarathon.  I was pumped to camp and spend the whole weekend outside–I’ve been itching for another camp trip since our annual July ADK trip!


Friday after work, we packed up and headed down to Virgil, NY, which is just outside of Ithaca/Cortland.  We rolled into the campground as it was starting to get dark.  The campground we stayed at was more like a RV park–lame.  There were NO trees and we were on a hill, which is no good when the forecast calls for HUGE rainstorms.  Alas, we set up shop, built up a fire and had a few beers before calling it an early night.


Our alarms were set for 4:30 AM.  We got up, got in cars and headed to the start line to pick up aid station drop bags and see all the awesome people who were running 50 or 100 miles that day!  After the start, we went right to our station–4.4 miles from the start line, the Gravel Pit station.  After a rather interesting (read: terrifying for my overly-anxious-especially-as-I-get-older self) drive on a pot-holey dirt road, we hit the station.  Elyse was fabulous directing us how to set things up–I made PBJ sandwiches til my fingers bled (j/k) and helped set up the food tables. 


It was cold, but not raining.  We monitored all day for when the rain would hit–thankfully, it didn’t come until about 4.   When it rained, it POURED.  For the rest of the night.  When our relief came at 9, I was sad to leave (because the station had become my home and the runners were my babies and I felt responsible for their well-being), but so thankful as I’d been standing in a puddle ankle-deep filling water bottles and gubrew bottles and encouraging runners to keep going when so many were struggling in the horrible weather conditions.


you can’t tell here, but my fingers were bleeding hahaha

A few things I learned/decided while out there.

1.  I focus way too much on how my body looks rather than on what it can do.  I’ve known this for a long time–I have very deep-seated body image issues and work very hard to maintain a reasonable outlook on nutrition, exercise and my appearance.  As all of these amazing people were rolling in to our aid station, I was struck by how so many of the women were not the frail-looking, waif-like Grete Waitz types that I stared at and stressing out over (I did not look like her and knew I never would–just not my body type, even if I starved myself) my first time inside Fleet Feet when I first started running.  They looked healthy.  They came in and ate a PBJ sandwich and M and Ms and chips (when I first started running, I’d run on empty to “lose more weight”…uh yeah…not smart).  They were covered in mud, their hair was a mess, they were sweaty and nasty, but smiling and BEAUTIFUL.  Skinny is not healthy.  Again, this is something I’ve known for a long time, but something that I struggle with, and will probably struggle with for the rest of my life.  This was a positive reaffirmation of what I know and need to focus on. 

2.  I would NEVER run an ultra alone at night.  I had to pee last night, I took my lantern, went about 20 yards from the aid station, turned off the light to pee and almost had a heart attack.  I finished and sprinted back up the hill to the people and light.  I said afterward that I would want to have Eric with me, then changed my mind.  I would need a posse.  If zombies come attack, I need more than 1 person to fight ’em off.  Last night, right before we left, a girl from a relay team set out on her own for the 5.3 mile trek to the next aid station.  I saw her this morning and asked how it went.  She said not bad once she stopped being scared.  I give her mad props.  I’d have been terrified for the entire run…

3.  Volunteering is inspirational.  Any time I go to any athletic event, I get pumped.  I want to run more, get stronger, participate.  I haven’t raced since May.  I’m starting to miss it.  But I’ve been to countless events, and every time, I leave with a renewed desire to set goals and train hard.  If ever you need a motivational boost, hit up a race. 

4.  So with that said, I am ready to make an official commitment to running an ultra.  I won’t commit to a time frame.  Our primary goal right now is a healthy pregnancy.  Running major mileage, even slow mileage, is not a good plan, since I’m not currently doing it (I will, however, run through my pregnancy as long as it is safe to do so).  That being said, Clomid is done in cycles, and after about 6 tries, you have to take a break to let your body recover before you can go again.  My hope is that we will need 1 time, not 2, 3, 4 or 6.  But it is helpful to think to myself that IF things don’t go well, instead of moping and waiting for a chance to get back on the crazy drugs, I will train for and complete an ultra.  Our struggles with infertility have left me in some very dark places that I don’t want to go to ever again.  Having a “b goal” (if you will) makes me feel a little more in control of the uncontrollable situation that we currently find ourselves in.  And if we get pregnant, then after the baby, I will train for and run an ultra. 


AND I want Eric to run it with me.  This summer, we celebrate our 5 year anniversary.  I would like to run an ultra together to celebrate!  This time, it’s my turn to sign him up for some crazy running event that will test our endurance and patience and persistence!  🙂 


Why run an ultra?  I don’t know.  Ever since I heard about ultras, the concept has fascinated me.  It used to be something fascinating in an unattainable way–kind of like those cliff jumpers in the flying squirrel jumpsuits.  But after Buffalo, I kept thinking about how distance running is all just a big mental game.  If I say I’m going to run 10 miles, the last 2 are tough.  If I say I’m going to run 20, the last 5 are tough.  If I say I’m going to run 26.2, the last 6.2 kind of suck.  But I get there.  And that makes me wonder how much further I could go.  When would it start to suck?  When would I get a second, third, fourth wind? 


Also, you get to eat M and Ms and drink Coke every 5ish miles. 


So this is my formal announcement that I WILL run an ultra.  It’s just a matter of when and where, but I want to do it.  And I will do it.  The end. 🙂


One Response to “lessons from aid station volunteering”

  1. Jen September 23, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    I have no doubt that you can and will run an ultra. Also, what a cool way to celebrate an anniversary. I love that idea!

    I totally get #1 too. Sometimes I still feel like I don’t have the right body type to be a runner or like my ass is too fat to drag up all those trail hills. But then I finish another run and think it doesn’t matter what my body looks like, as long as it’s healthy and taking me on lots of awesome adventures.

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