HOW TO ULTRAMARATHON
We made it a verb.
HOW TO BE AN ULTRARUNNER
The good. The bad. The ugly. And the funny. It’s nearly impossible to do what we do and not find humor and even some insanity in it all. Sometimes a race starts by being bused to a random gas station where a busload of adults wearing funny looking backpacks get off and escape into the wood for 8-12 hours. A LOT can go wrong out there, but we keep coming back. Why? Maybe some of the following will help explain. Or confuse you even more.
What even is a drop bag? Sometimes you’re going to run so far, or for so long, that you’re going to want a change of clothes or shoes. Maybe you’re super picky (or have specific dietary needs – we see you gluten free, vegan, keto, vegetarian people!). Drop bags are taken to aid stations for you to access these drop bags in those later miles, or in between aid stations where crew cannot be, etc.
Sometimes, race directors are left with drop bags that runners don’t retrieve from the finish line area. In cases like this, items are usually tossed if they’re perishable, or donated if they aren’t claimed.
Other times, folks turn these leftover bags into challenges…
This is not shorthand for duffel bag.
DFL = Dead. Fucking. Last. These are the ones who spend the most time on course, most time on their feet, longest without sleeping. Their finish typically brings as much energy and emotion to the finish line as those crossing the line the fastest. The grit and determination it takes to make it before the cut-off, sometimes with seconds to spare, is hard to put to words. You have to see it, or experience it, to fully understand it!
Amy Clark shares one incredible story from Western States in 2016. Read it here
There is typically little actual ‘aid’ to be offered here (you know, liability and lawsuits and whatnot), but what you will ALWAYS find is every 9 year old kid’s dream smorgasbord. You’ll find at our aid stations what we call ‘the usual aid station faire’. This includes potato chips, pretzels, pickles (and ALWAYS pickle juice), M&Ms, gummy bears (these rarely survive the Georgia heat and humidity), Coke, Mountain Dew, Ginger Ale, water, and an electrolyte drink of some sort. We have had the good fortune every year to have amazing aid station volunteers who typically show up with their own goodies that are guaranteed to convince runners to keep going. Fan favorites? Bacon and hot dogs.
One of the most stressful situations you may ever find yourself in in crewing a runner. I’m not saying don’t do it…but be prepared for an ulcer or twelve by the end of the weekend.
Crew members are responsible for navigating windy mountain, usually gravel, roads at all hours of the day and night on little to no sleep, in areas they’ve likely never traveled to before, and most of the time with no cell signal! They get to the aid station…and wait. Sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours. Once their runner gets to the aid station, it’s a whirlwind of chaos to get all of the supplies they need, remember what they’ve forgotten, and get them back on the trail. What mile are you at? How many miles to the next aid station? How many miles until crew access aid? Will it be dark? So. Many. Questions. Do your best to keep everything straight and take care of your runner. Hopefully they won’t be too much of an asshole. Maybe they’ll even say thank you! (but don’t hold your breath)
IRunFar has a great article on these responsibilities.
It’s flattering when people think the race directors do it all. Truth is, we couldn’t do A LOT of what we do if not for our volunteers. Enter course markers. These folks are out on the trail DAYS before the race, putting flagging on course, signs along FS roads, posting permits, checking for blowdowns, etc. We rely on them to have flagging 1. frequent enough that runners are confident they’re going the right way 2. heavily marked at intersections or weird spots and 3. on the correct trail.
No one is out there with a broom and dustpan. Or a Roomba. And the cord on the Dyson isn’t long enough. Enter the sweeps. These folks are the last on course and their job is to pull course marking flagging, any random trash that was (hopefully) accidentally left by runners, and make sure everyone stays on course and gets to the next aid station – hopefully before cut-off. They walk (sometimes literally) a narrow line of keeping far enough behind the last runners that they’re not seen, but close enough that the aid station they’re going to knows when the last runner has made it. Here’s what NOT to do.