For those who have never volunteered for an ultra event, it’s a must. Prior to this weekend I had stayed behind after finishing a race and helped out but never had I officially been a volunteer. The experience is as rewarding as others have probably told you from their experiences.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to work the finish line of Actif Epica Winter Ultra held right here in Manitoba. This is a fantastic event that included both a 120km bike and run and also included a 100 mile run and 200km bike event. So these are some big distances especially considering they are being held in the middle of February on the Canadian Prairies.
The night before the event we had our volunteer meeting. This was held at The Forks in Winnipeg which was also to be the events finish line. One of the neatest parts of the timing and location was that all the athletes were also being briefed here at the same time. The Forks was still open to locals too so they had the opportunity to listen in on what these endurance athletes would endure starting Saturday for up to 36 hours.
Our host for the evening Scott was fantastic in providing the details on our job requirements and addressing any other details that may have been required for us volunteers for the race. Also there were many experienced volunteers for the event who shared some other helpful info. It was quite amazing to see how dedicated the volunteers are and how prepared. No not only the athletes take events like this seriously. These events mean a lot to a lot of people.
At the conclusion to the meeting we were given a $10 voucher, shirt and food grab bag. Not that I expect anything when I volunteer but this was cool. That night I had probably one of the best curry dishes I have ever eaten. I picked up a Sri Lankan Eggplant curry dish.
On Saturday while the runners had started their long hauls from southern Manitoba I woke up early and hit up my new favorite running spot Garbage Hill. Have to admit I felt guilty only putting in 14k. At least I probably did get almost the same elevation gain in on that run as the others did on their march in. One thing did run through my mind while I was training, it was warm. With warm weather comes melting snow and ice. Not a runners best friend on trails.
Throughout the day I had been keeping an eye on the state of where the athletes were by following the live blog and Twitter. From what I was seeing it looked like a slow day out on the Crow Wing Trail for many. The trail seemed like it was getting the best of many. The good part about this was that I was likely to see many come through to the finish while I was running the 1am-7am shift.
After getting the kids to bed I set my alarm for 11:45pm and managed to get a quick cat nap. Once the alarm sounded I rounded up some warm clothes and thought about what I would be going through right now if I was out trekking the Crow Wing trail overnight. Was pretty sure that they were having a tough go and at the same time thinking how next year I want to be that runner out there battling it out.
I arrived a little bit before 1 with coffee in hand. Just after I arrived three bikes came in. Of this first group of riders two looked solid but one looked worst for ware. Turns out at one point he was waist deep in ice cold water. Their bikes were also caked with frozen mud. No doubt the conditions were as tough as I expected and perhaps tougher. Inside the riders confirmed the challenges and slow riding of the day. They also mentioned that one runner looked strong, the leader of the 100 miler.
The next few finishers continued to be 200k mountain bike riders. Most came in high spirits although a couple had concerns about riding along the now puddle filled river. One by one they would come in, tell a couple stories, get their medal, then hop on their bike and either ride home or to their hotel. That’s right, after 200k why not go for another short ride before getting some rest. I was super impressed with how tough these bikers were. As a runner I haven’t had as many dealings with mountain bikers and had no comprehension of how positive and stubborn they were before Saturday.
Shortly after 4am our first runners had arrived, the two Scott’s ran the final stretch of the 120k together. Both looked quite solid considering the distance they had travelled. Both confirmed it was more of a hike than a run out on the trail. My favorite part of their arrival was when Scott from Chicago reminded me of how much runners love to eat, all he could think about was pizza and burgers. Yes we are all the same.
By this point we had several drops confirmed and a few more bikes came in. Over the last couple hours of my shift no more finishers had come in. Prior to leaving I checked the updated timings for others out on the trail. Looking at the time that the final, and 3rd to complete, 120k runner and the leading 100 miler left the University of Manitoba aid station I predicted they would both arrive shortly after 7am. With my replacements arriving I decided to head down to the river to see if anyone was approaching. Sure enough I saw someone.
Here we go another finisher. Just like many others, he decided to run it in. Gaurav Madan from India showed sheer determination over the final couple hundred meters. It was impressive the pace a runner who just finished 120k could still muster. Once inside he completely collapsed onto the ground. Oh no am I going to have to revive someone? Turns out not at all, he was as tired as expected after such a gruelling race. He just needed to put his head down for a few minutes, or 10. Once he had slightly recovered you could see the sheer excitement on his face for finishing.
As I headed out the door getting ready to head home I saw someone trying to enter the building at another entrance. Quickly I recognized that the person was not looking so hot. It wasn’t one of the earlier in the night stragglers hanging by the fire, no it was the first 100 mile runner. Man he looked completely beaten up but still so upbeat. Considering the conditions what an insane performance.
After walking him into the building it was finally time to head home. As I walked to the car I had so many thoughts running through my head. First and foremost was what great performances by these endurance athletes. This year’s Actif Epica probably had some of the most unexpected brutal conditions imaginable yet most of the runners and bikers persevered. Secondly I was proud to be part of the group of volunteers that helped out at the event. As a runner I now have a better appreciation of what volunteers bring to an event.
Finally in conclusion, as I expected I am totally intrigued by this race. Any race that is run in the middle of winter along the Crow Wing trail is going to be one heck of a race. Pretty sure next year I will be at the start line. If not I can guarantee I will be part of the volunteer team again.