Volunteer hero!

Here at BH Frontrunners we love to run as much as we possibly can, but we also like to give back to the running community by volunteering at organised races too. Frontrunner and committee member Graham, had an amazing experience doing so at the South Downs Way 100, back on the 12th June. Read his inspiring story below:

“Having been running several years now, I’ve found myself becoming fascinated in what makes runners do the crazy challenges that they choose to do. This really came to a head when I started to discover ultra marathons. These people were clearly insane! I had heard through the grapevine about the South Downs Way 100 race organised by Centurion Running, and I thought I would go to watch some of them run past, but it was very clear that no spectators were allowed to watch or be near the checkpoints due to Covid safety regulations. However upon some further reading, they were very keen to have volunteers to help man the aid stations, and my curiosity got the better of me at that moment and I immediately signed up.”

“I was offered the station closest to me at Housedean Farm on the outskirts of town, and I duly accepted, but then found to my horror that the shift was from 1pm through to 5am the next morning –  a total of 16 hours non stop! I pulled myself together, thinking how much harder it was for the runners themselves and how much they would appreciate me being there, and I made my way to the site, where I met the rest of the team and started helping to get the place ready. There were a record number of 433 entrants this year, and they were already well on their way!”

“First things first, you must know that this was a very warm day, peaking at 20C. This made the job a tiny bit harder for us, but very difficult for the runners, and we soon realised that getting fluids and drinks ready as quickly as possible was vital. We got the tables set up in a flash and started on this first of all, followed by preparing all the food required, which all had to go into individual serving bags for hygiene and Covid safety reasons. We then finally drew our attention to the 433 kit bags of runner’s own belongings that we needed to sort through and put into number order so we’d be ready to give it to them as soon as they needed it. With this complete, we could now take a breather before the first runners would arrive. We got to chat and get to know each other a little better, pretty much all the team had some running experience and we compared races that we’d done and soon found out we had mutual friends in common (the running community is nice like that!)”

“Then, we were given the heads up that the first runner was coming in, so we got ourselves organised, and I found myself on one of the snack table stations as well as generally helping out where needed. It was very exciting meeting the leader of a race, something I’d never experienced before. He (and then later his female counterpart) was lovely and polite, but you could tell he wasn’t there to hang around, so we got him ready as quick as we could – a lot like the F1 racing on TV.”

“But really the action all happened about an hour later when the early mass of runners arrived and suddenly the hours flew by. Every single person who had arrived here had already ran 76 miles and were in desperate need of assistance. And it struck me just how much help they really needed. They were by this point physically exhausted and motor skills for some were very poor or nearly non-existent. They all needed help opening water bottles, getting them refilled, even just to decide what snacks they wanted. Overheating and total exhaustion were an issue, and as the afternoon became evening, the drop out rate started to increase. I have now seen what true mental anguish looks like, where a runner wants so desperately to keep going and finish the race, but their body has since deserted them, and they are barely able to stand up, let alone run/walk for another hilly marathon. It was at these times where I felt the most useful, there to provide any assistance they wanted and my aim was always to lift their spirits in the hope they could continue, but ultimately there was a time just to listen and respectfully help them bow out with some dignity.” 

“Despite these lows, there were many more runners having the time of their lives and still smiling, and behind my mask so was I! I was genuinely buzzing off of the adrenaline, and our busiest times were between midnight and 4am, so there was no way I could be tired! As it got colder and darker, the demands for tea, coffee and soup became louder so I was making hot drinks, reboiling kettles, and throwing them out to be people without really thinking. At about 2am I had to stop before I burnt myself out, and so I swapped duties to head outside into the night and help marshal people into and out of the aid station. This was very nice to do as the runners were genuinely delighted to see you having been a little unsure of their directions, and were all therefore in a good mood. I got a lot of thanks here, especially on the few times I had to chase and redirect people leaving the station and immediately heading in the wrong direction!”

“Night turned into morning, and we received our final runner at about 4:30am. With them safely dispatched, we then got on with packing away the station and clearing up whilst yawning continuously, it had been a very long night. I was struck by what a good team we had become after only a few hours, we all knew we wanted to be there and support these amazing people and we all commented on how much fun we had. If you’ve ever thought about volunteering at a race, no matter the distance, just go and do it! I guarantee you’ll meet some incredible people, get lots of free stuff and have a great time.”