Thursday, May 15, 2014

Everyone loves an absurdly well marked course*

* Except maybe the sweeper.

We signed up for the Brazen Wildcat Half Marathon a bit over a month ago. A week before the race though, I had a cyst removed from my back and ended up with about a dozen stitches. And orders from my doctor to not run.

My plan was to walk the 5K (I had walked the 5K the weekend before at Brazen Western Pacific as well). Then I got an email from the Brazen Rabbit asking if I could help sweep part of the Wildcat course.

Trail races generally have a sweeper, which is a person that follows the last runner around the course. There are several duties for the sweeper:

  • Pick up all the trail markings, such as ribbons and signs.
  • Rub out all the trail markings (usually flour).
  • Pick up any trash the runners may have left behind.
  • Be the Ray of Joy for the aid stations since they get to be done once you arrive.
  • Do NOT be the Sweeper of Doom and cause the last runner to panic or worry. (This can be challenging, but when you are as slow as me, the last runner tends to not even know you are there.)

As slow as I am, my encounters with sweepers have been few, and only once (Way Too Cool in 2012)  did I have a sweeper actually catch up to me as the last runner. But I have always wanted to be a sweeper.

So I happily agreed to help sweep part of the course.

That horse on the right was laying down completely, and did not raise his head as we went by. It was not normal.
A fun thing was that we ended up with the grandkids for this race, and so The Big Wind volunteered to take them and direct runners at an intersection near the top of the first mean hill, about 0.6 miles from the start. Rather than waiting for the Half race to start, I headed up that first hill with TBW and the grandkids so I could watch the runners go whooshing by.

We had been told that there was a horse that wasn't looking good laying on the trail. When we got to that point (about a third of a mile from the start), there was a horse that really wasn't looking good, laying down next to the trail, surrounded by his buddies that seemed to be in protection mode.

This did not look good.

We got past the horses and stopped so I could call back and let them know back at the start what the situation was. But the horse sat up, then stood up, and suddenly looked fine. As it turned out the horses all wandered off the trail well before the races started and were never an issue (although they really wanted to get up close and personal with me later).

So is the leash on Jax, The Big Wind's dog, or Grandkid Second Born? They are looking back at the horses.
Enidualc, not her real name, showing proper hill running technique.
We were only about 0.6 miles from the start, but there is a lot of climbing in that short distance. I hung around to get a few shots and try to guess who was going to be the last runner that I would be chasing around the course. People's pace picked up when they saw me with the broom - the humiliation of getting swept my me would not sit well with any of them.

Mrs Notthat stopped sprinting up the hill so I could get this nice picture of her.
One thing you'll notice is that it was amazingly clear, but it wasn't nearly as warm as it looks. The views were outstanding as you wandered around this course, but the cool breeze along the ridge tops kept you moving forward.

The first aid station is the 5K turnaround. They were sad that I wasn't the Ray of Joy telling them they were done.
I hung around until most of the 10K runners went by so that I wouldn't be in their way and to give the last Half runner plenty of room ahead of me. I then headed out. I would not actually start removing markings until about three miles into the course since the early bit is shared by the 5K and 10K runners.

The second aid station, and for the Half runners, also the fourth aid station.
The second aid station is where the 10K runners turn and head up their last hill. Up to this point I had to be careful not to pass a Half runner, but by starting late, there was little chance of that. From now on the only runners I would see would be Half runners.

The Bermuda Triangle of this course, with runners coming and going from four different directions. (Bermuda Quadrangle?)
Eventually I made it to the start of the short out-and-back. My hope was to see one or two runners on this, which would mean I wasn't too far behind the last runner. If I saw no runners, that meant I was significantly back (which meant the various volunteers would be staying quite a bit longer than necessary, which is not a good thing). I could see a few runners that had just finished the out-and-back and were heading up the hill you are rewarded with, so I knew I wasn't horribly behind.

Shortly after I started out though, I saw this runner and knew my timing was pretty good.

The Brazen Rabbit and her trusty steed Spokes, ready to tackle any Half runners that forgot to turnaround here.
At the turnaround, the Brazen Rabbit was waiting for me. The two of us started back out, pulling ribbons, picking up signs, and rubbing out flour markings.

Then a funny thing happened - another Half runner appeared! Ekim (not his real name) had started late, well after the 5K runners, and had been warned that there might be course marking issues. As you can see, he was really stressing over that. HA!

Those of you with good eyesight will notice the runners going up that hill in the distance. That would be me in a couple of hours or so.

Once we reached the end of the out-and-back, I waited for Ekim to pass me before I headed up the hill that starts this loop. Then I got down to serious business. These are the kinds of signs I had to pull up and carry in a bag.

These are the kinds of ribbons I had to remove along the way. Brazen uses clothespins to attach the ribbons (as opposed to tying them directly to the trees, shrubs, or cows) which makes them easy to remove. The tradeoff is that it also makes them easy for vandals to remove, and in fact that first mile or so ended up having very few ribbons (they were found later, tossed in some berry brambles). The good part was that this bit of trail had no real intersections, so the ribbons are really just for confidence (which is a good reason to have them, but not critical).

Now you see it…
I carried a little broom with me to rub out these sorts of flour markings.

… now you don't (mostly).
The third aid station. I was their Ray of Joy!
I kept Ekim in sight for a bit, but the rubbing out thing started to slow me down. By the time I got to this aid station I was told he was about ten minutes ahead of me.

Refinnej (not her real name) on her way back. I was her Ray of Joy, although the magic of text messages had beaten me to give her the news.
From that aid station there is a mile and a half or so of paved trail. There is a sneaky left turn off the pavement onto some fun single-track that could be easy to miss, so Refinnej was stationed there. That area took me forever to unmark since Brazen REALLY didn't want anyone to miss that turn.

Eventually I made it all the way around that loop and was able to be the Ray of Joy for this volunteer that had spent a long day directing traffic at the Bermuda Quadrangle and taking lots of great pictures.

Picture by Bermuda Quadrangle volunteer photographer. 
Mrs Notthat came through here hours before I did. She ended up getting second in her age group!

Picture by Bermuda Quadrangle volunteer photographer. I set him free! (And note a bonus of having the ribbons on clothespins - a ribbon skirt!)
Miles and miles of trails and hills. They never end.
Sadly, I failed to get a picture of the fourth aid station when I showed up there. Probably because I knew that, from there, I had a nice long climb. I was only about three miles from the finish, but it was a tough three miles.

When I passed through the horse area, they seemed to delight in coming up to me and listening to me scream like a little girl.

By the time I made it to the finish, the gate had been locked and everything torn down and put away. Except the porta-potties.

That was fun. I might not be invited back since it took me so long, but in my defense I also would have been a tiny bit faster if I could have run a bit more. The thing is, when I started jogging I would get into race mode and nearly forget to grab the ribbons. (To my credit, I only had to backtrack once to get a ribbon I missed. I hope I didn't miss any others, but it's quite likely one or two escaped me.)

There is great honor in volunteering at these events, and I always thought working at an aid station was the best way to do that. But after doing the sweeper thing, I think this is the way to go. I was able to cover the entire course and bring joy to a number of volunteers (although I wished I had been a tiny bit faster and brought them joy a bit quicker).

And the best part is that nobody ended up getting humiliated by having me catch them.

This time. (Cue spooky music.)

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the horse update! I started with the Hikers that day, and when I saw that almost-dead-looking horse, I called back to the start with the "alert", which apparently was just a trickster horse playing dead. Or maybe the horse was just tired from going up that hill? ;)
Kim L.

notthatlucas said...

As I passed that horse, it's head was on the ground and its eye was open - it was really odd that it didn't react to someone being so close. I feared the worse. When I got by and turned around and called headquarters, I was really surprised that it had lifted its head, and even more surprised that it then stood up and seemed fine. That was so weird, but at least it seems to have worked out.