I got out of the house late yesterday to head up to Kirkland / Redmond to volunteer for the Bridle Trails winter running festival. I found my way to the back of the park and was hit by the realization that parking was a mess. I had to park a half mile down the street from the Bridle Trails entrance. I jogged up the street to the trails and arrived about 2 minutes before the 50K racers started. I asked around and found the race director's wife to check in. It started out with normal "Gofer" duties, carry this to them, fill these with water, mark this part of the trail in an idiot-proof way, etc...
After this I set up a water stand near the relay exchange point and tried to keep cups full and available for the runners who were either starting or just finishing their laps. After probably 2.5 hours all of the 5 and 10 mile runners were finished and the water stop was broken down and consolidated with another. I did more gofer work and then sat down at the timing station to track runners and help record finish times for the next 3.5 hours. I worked with a great guy named Glenn who is quite a good photographer and seemed to know everyone that was entered in the 50K race. We talked and tracked runners until everyone was on the last lap and then I volunteered to run the sweep with two other runners (one of whom had finished the 50K race a few hours earlier) to pick up all of the tape, glow sticks and signs that were used to mark the trail.
With the race starting at 3pm, everyone gets a lap or two in the daylight and then has to run the rest of the race in the dark. I've only run the Bridle Trails during the day so despite wearing jeans and a rain jacket I wanted to run a (5.2mi) lap at night. We three set off with head lights (I had to borrow someone one as I'd loaned mine to a runners for his final lap) and a bag to carry our findings in. We started out jogging a bit until we'd find something we had to take down and then we'd stop and walk to pick all of the ribbon / glow sticks up and stuff them in the bag or our pockets and continue on. I was surprised at both how dark the course was and how well it was marked. Every wrong turn had caution tape going across the trail and there were glow sticks hanging so that you could see them far enough ahead that you never really had to search for the trail. You would really have to try hard to get off course on this race. With the format of six identical loops, you'd be even harder pressed to get lost.
It took us almost 2 hours to sweep the course and we all chatted and laughed the whole time as anyone running in a pitch-dark forest at midnight would do. When we finally got back to the finish area and emptied out our pockets, I chatted with the race director for a few, helped polish off some of the leftover food (M&Ms actually can go stale in short time outdoors apparently) and said goodbye and headed back to the car a little after midnight. I remembered that I'd parked a half mile away and started my jog back to the car. I was back in bed a little before 2am and glad for the chance to sleep in today.
I didn't plan to stay so late but I was having a great time meeting the other volunteers, runners, and the race directors. Running the sweep lap was totally fun and makes me want to work it out so that I can run the race next year. Although the conditions this year were some of the best they've ever had and the mud on the trail was very mild by comparison. The finish race was about 88% if my memory is correct. Staggeringly high for this race. What a great day. Volunteering at an Ultra was quite an experience. Get out there and try it!
I was talking to some of the other runners last night and heard that both the Chuckanut and Orca's Island 50K races had sold out already (on the day registration opened!) so they're off my list of potential races. Partially out of paranoia of getting shut out of another race and partly out of inspiration from my volunteering experience I signed up for the Mt Si 50K race in April. I've never run a 50K race before but I finished a 50 mile race 8 or 9 years ago. I've never entered a trail race either come to think of it. It's only a 50K so the training should be similar to a marathon, only more trail work and hills. I hope to enter another 50K race later in the year also. So... um... there, it's on paper.