I have started – and abandoned – a post three times trying to describe my weekend volunteering at the Haliburton Forest Ultra Race.
I wanted to talk about sleeping in the back of my car for 2 nights in a row and trying to function on only 3 hours of sleep a night.
I wanted to describe the 26 consecutive hours manning an aid station deep in the forest – trying to meet the needs of the passing runners while battling insect bites during the day and the cold temperatures (9C / 48F) during the night.
I wanted to talk about listening to the calling loons and howling wolves while sitting around a campfire under a near full-moon.
I wanted to talk about the friendships that developed among the small group of volunteers as we worked easily together – instinctively moving into tasks that needed to be done, covering for each other as the ebb and flow of runners moved through the aid station.
Instead, I found my thoughts hijacked by the very small handful of people who behaved badly.
…. runners who were disrepectful to the environment and dropped litter behind them on the trail. NEVER ACCEPTABLE ANYWHERE.
… the runner who was angry and chewed out a volunteer at our aid station because he had gotten lost on the trail inspite of the numerous flags used to mark the course
…. the runner who was verbally abusive because a volunteer “was taking too long” opening a box to provide him with a PowerGel
…. a runner’s coach who failed to recognize that her athlete was suffering from dehydration and hypothermia. Instead she sent the athlete’s husband into a panic when she reported that the athlete had renal failure out on the course. The husband put himself and others in danger with his careless and erratic driving attempting to reach his wife – tossing offensive comments implying blame at the volunteers caring for her in the forest.
…. the runner who was grossly unprepared for the demands of the course and arrived at our aid station expecting that volunteers would immediately drop what they were doing to shuttle him back to the Base Camp over 20 km away.
It is unfortunate that the actions and behaviour of a bad few can taint our memories of an event, but having said that, I really had an amazing experience at Station #5 through which the 50 milers passed through twice and the 100 milers passed through four times during the 26 hours our aid station was open.
The Race Director, Helen Malmberg, and her team work for months preparing for this event and spend days afterwards to clean up the mess left behind. For 20 years they have used their personal vacation time to ensure this race happens as a positive and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
I am not inspired to ever run an Ultra race, but I am hooked on the experience as a volunteer … even if some people need lessons in appreciation and respectfulness.