You know that thing that you used to do on those extra tired days back in school? That thing where you would be violently jerked back to the land of the living after slowly drifting off to La-La land? Usually this would be followed by a slow wipe across your mouth and darting eyes to check if anyone just saw your tell tell sign of exhaustion. Well, sunken deep into the camp chair, 2:45am emitting from my watch, I experienced this once again at the Locust Point Aid Station during the Grand Canyon Ultras event.
I have always heard that once you get into trail races (or preferably before your first actual ultra) you should volunteer as an aid station worker. This gives you a first hand account of exactly what you will be going through. You will see those that are in the middle of a hyper "up" and those who seem like they just got out of a bar-room brawl after being locked in solitary for a year. And if you have participated in an ultra race, it is also a way to give back to the community that held you on their gel laden, broth brewing backs!
So, which race would be my aid station debut? I was pretty much fresh off of my first ultra, Mesquite Canyon 50K (...still have yet to do that blog post, sorry). Looking through ultrasignup for my next race, I came across the Bryce Canyon race that is put on by Ultra Adventures. I have yet to visit Bryce and what better way to do so then a nice 31 mile jaunt around the Park? While I looked deeper into the race I noticed that they were also putting on their first Grand Canyon event. Now, me and the wife are pretty much addicted to The Canyon and since I was interested in the Bryce, well, let's make this the one. A weekend on the North Rim while helping runners achieve a bucket list event? Heeeeeell ya!
The race was held on the Rainbow Rim Trail. If any of you are mountain bikers in Northern AZ, or Southern Utah, you probably know this rim runner. It traverses from lookout point to look out point along a single-track that is actually on National Forest land. A thing of beauty and I'm sure a nugget of pride for race director Matt Gunn. This event is actually called Grand Canyon Ultras, plural, as in 50K, 50 mile and 100 mile. The 50 K and 50 mile are a single loop course, with a little out and back to a place called Monument Point (sick huh?). The 100 mile is a double loop and being so, some got to see the Canyon at both Sunset and Sunrise light. Me, Amanda, and Pongo were to be placed at the Locust Point Aid station at mile 25 and 75 and at the end of a finger between Locust and Timp Canyon (sick again!).
We decided that we would make a weekend of it and took off right after work on Friday. Good thing we did, as it was quite the miles on dirt forest roads to get out there. Isolation...check! Peace...check! Beautiful high desert forest...check! We pulled up to the point and pulled into our sleeping bag with the moon just beginning to blare down at us. Waking up to the dry 8000 ft air, we got the coffee percolating and scouted out the best placement for our future station. Rick came cruisin into the point loaded to the brim with our supplies just around 8:00am and got us newbies all set up (Rick, you rock man!). As this was our first ultra aid setup, we looked anxiously over the materials. Shade tent, double burner, two 5 gallon tuns, utensils, pancake mix, coffee, Nutella, soda, blah, more blah, and even more blah! Holy cow, this is a kush set-up. We got everything ready and awaited our first runner
Runner after runner came in through the day and the thermometer just seemed to keep on elevating. Salt started increasing in want and ice increased in need. We saw so many different clothing strategies and one of the coolest things we got from the runners were the various hydration systems. Vests were a must and there were some new little 20 oz bladder things in place of hard plastic bottles. Some wanted the chair ("beware the chair") while some just grabbed and blasted back off. The day cruised on and more stories, suggestions and needs continued pouring through. Eventually, the majority of 100's and 50's had passed through and the sun began to make its drop behind the cliffs.
The night aid station atmosphere starts off uniquely inspiring but slowly creeps into a world of sit, wait, heat water. Sit, wait, heat water. By 11:30, I told Amanda that she should go get some sleep. The runners at this point were far between and I could handle all the quesadilla needs that they might have. Then came the post 1:00am station. There was just enough of a lull in runners (say, 30 minutes to an hour and a half) that the infamous head bob began. Then, I would catch the glimpse of a headlamp bobbing along. Jump up, turn knob, light burner, ring cowbell, pour noodles, ask for needs, encourage zombies, fall back into chair...repeat.
By the time 6am came along I was quite delirious but full of new ideas, information, and experiences that I was anxious to process during a well earned Sunday sleep. Aid station volunteering for ultras, I feel, is a must. You will learn much about the long run, experience so many different attitudes and appreciate the tireless volunteers that help you achieve some of your most memorable life goals. I believe that this will make my Bryce Canyon run that much more special as I pull from this smile inducing experience.
==Props to Matt, Rick and the Ultra Adventures crew! They put on a great race that pushed most to their very limits and gave some their first taste of the greatest Wonder of the World.==