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Monday, April 27, 2015

Volunteering At The Salt Flats 100!

The one thing you learn early on running races is that no race can be successful without volunteers, so when my friend Blaine Hawkes posted on Facebook that they needed volunteers for the aid station that he and his family were running at the Salt Flats 100, I was happy to volunteer.

Two years ago, I paced my friend Galen during his first 100 miler at the Salt Flats 100, so I was familiar with the race, in fact aid station 11 was same said station I helped at while waiting for Galen to come in.

My friend Rob had never volunteered at a race, but he said he would like to help too. Not an avid runner, I hoped he would have fun and get a little glimpse of what I call exciting. Staying up all night in the cold desert waiting to help runners that have run almost 75 miles is something not everyone would think was fun, but to my surprise, he was a great volunteer, really stepped up to the plate and had a great time!

After work Friday night, I picked up Rob in Salt Lake and we headed out the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in the pouring rain.

Rob and I hitting the road! (Photo by Rob Benson)

Before we left we had to stop and pick up some supplies for the aid station. The last stop was for ice at the gas station right before you hit the Salt Flats. We had to wait for the RD to come down and approve us to pick up the ice, so while we waited, Rob took some photos and bought a few Bonneville Speedway souvenirs. He just moved to Utah from the U.K. and was looking forward to seeing the Salt Flats, but it was dark by the time we got there.

Picking up ice for the aid station and I photo bombed Rob's selfie! (Photo by Rob Benson)

Once we got the ice, we headed out to find our aid station in the dark. We had instructions, but I of course got lost and we drove up and down the rocky dirt road until we finally found it.

When we got there, the tables were all covered with tarps and the tent that covered the aid station was on the ground. Apparently, the wind was so bad during the day, that the tent completely blew off and broke and the food was being blown all over as well. The poor folks running the 50 miler had a terrible head wind the entire race.

By the time we were there about 30 minutes, it was cold, but the wind had calmed down, so we uncovered the table, Rob built a fire and the grill was fired up to make some hot quesadillas (the wind was so bad earlier that the grill would not stay lit making it hard to keep hot food going). 

While we waited for runners to show up, we made tea and tried to keep warm around the camp fire or in our cars. Blaine's wife Shera (who was in charge of this aid station), and their kids had been at the aid station since early Friday morning, so Rob and I were a welcome sight. This allowed them to get a few hours of sleep while we kept watch for runners.

Waiting for runners to show up!

It was quite cold and I was so glad Rob had good fire making skills and I had a warm cup of tea! (Photo by Rob Benson)

While the Hawkes family got some sleep, I took over the important job of checking runners in and out of the aid station. This job is vital to ensure the safety of the runners. The RD MUST know where every runner is at all times. Most of the experienced runners knew to check in AND out, but some first timers or runners that were just too tired to think, would forget and we had to make sure we were keeping a close eye on everyone. One runner in the morning didn't even stop at the aid station and I had to grab her pacer for her bib number!

When there was a lull and no runners were in, We would all sit in our cars with the heat on until we saw a light. Then we would spring into action. 

Getting ready to run my first 100 miler in October, I tried to look at what runners were doing at mile 74.3 and I learned a lot! 

Some runners got to the aid station in the dark and looked like they hadn't even run 10 miles, while others looked pretty beat up. There is really little more heartbreaking than to have a runner tell you they are dropping at mile 74.3. Some runners knew they were done when they got to us, while others would rest a while before making a decision.

We had a tent set up with sleeping bags if runners wanted to rest. It's not something I would recommend unless it was a factor on finishing. One man came in, not sure if he should continue. He went into the tent and slept for 30 minutes (he asked Rob to wake him up) and after the nap, some regrouping, and some food, he was back out there and looked like a new person. It is something I will remember this October.

Welcome to the Rock Pile! (Photo by Rob Benson)

Our aid station. Our cover tent was blown off in the wind, but our rest tent survived! (Photo by Rob Benson)

I had great respect for the runners who came through our aid station. Going out on this long and lonely road in the cold darkness did not look like fun! (Photo by Rob Benson)

(Photo by Rob Benson)

Morning came quicker than I thought. Runners at this point were having a tough time, so we did all we could to make them comfortable. I had fun cooking pancakes, quesadillas, bacon and eggs for tired and hungry runners. 

The runners would be happy to see me cooking up quesadillas, bacon, pancakes and eggs! (Photo by Rob Benson)

The only wildlife we saw. (Photo by Rob Benson)

The aid station was supposed to be open until 12:30pm, but the last runner hit left our aid station at 9:30am!

Our crew was AWESOME!

We broke down the aid station and headed towards Wendover, but not before showing Rob the Salt Flats in the daylight! 

We drove back to the Finish line at the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway and took a spin in my Mazda!

The finish of the Salt Flats 100!

This is all that marks the infamous Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway!

I pretended to go 600 MPH on the speedway, but I still drove like Miss Daisy! (Photo by Rob Benson)

(Photo by Rob Benson)

I take every opportunity to photo bomb Rob's selfies! (Photo by Rob Benson)

Me looking fast on the Bonneville Salt Flats! (Photo by Rob Benson)

We didn't want to make the 2 hour drive home after being up all night, so I reserved a room in Wendover where we could get a shower and a nap before heading home. 

Wendover is a TINY gambling town on the boarder of Utah and Nevada. There is only like 5 casinos there. Everyone appears to be overweight, old, or in terrible health (smoking, drinking, etc.). I can honestly say that we looked like the fittest people in Wendover!

I needed to get my streak run in, so I headed out into the rain. You would have thought nobody had ever seen a runner before. I got the strangest looks. At first I though they thought I was crazy for running in the rain, but I think they thought it strange that anyone was doing any sort of physical activity! Our hotel (one of the bigger casinos in Wendover) didn't even have a fitness center!

Even Wendover Will pointed and laughed at me while running!

After we got some food and rest and headed back to Salt Lake City! 

I would like to thank Galen for watching Zoe at the last minute! I would also like to give a HUGE shout out to the Hawkes family. People sometimes don't realize what goes into running an aid station. They had to supply most of the equipment and food themselves! That is truly giving back to the sport!! We were so glad we could help out.

I would like to encourage ALL runners out there to give back and volunteer at at least one race a year. Not only do you help make the race a success for the RD's and the runners, you can learn a lot too! 

If you do volunteer, PLEASE show up!! There were 5 other volunteers signed up to help and they didn't show up. If Rob and I had not shown up, the poor Hawkes family would have had zero break. 

I might have to run this race next year (well, at least the 50 miler)!

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