A Weekend In The Forest

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.

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I wanted to talk about listening to the calling loons and howling wolves while sitting around a campfire under a near full-moon.

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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.

 

 

 

About Joanne Sisco

Retired but not idle. Life is an adventure - I plan to continue to embrace it.
This entry was posted in Adventure, Nature and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to A Weekend In The Forest

  1. dirty di on a running hiatus says:

    Thanks for calling out this behaviour as it needed doing. I think the ultra scene has lost its granola-y, touchy-feely vibe that it once had. Getting enough volunteers to staff a race is HARD, especially an ultra where vollies are asked to drive far to events, sacrifice sleep and go above and beyond. And then having to put up with abuse is ridiculous. It’s not a Haliburton thing, it’s everywhere now. If I had to give any advice I’d say to my vollies (I’m an RD too) to feel free to bite back. The excuse that a runner is “not themselves” is not acceptable either. Races are just a reflection of the society we live in. That all said, it’s hard to bite back when you’re tired yourself. Maybe it’s time we consider new rules for bad behaviour and littering- e.g. Time penalties for the runner based on the discretion of the volunteer. Thoughts on that?

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      It’s funny you should mention time penalties. I’m pretty sure that in an Ironman race (the only one I’m really familiar with), bad behaviour – including littering – will get you DQ’d.
      I had a conversation with Helen about this and qualified that the majority of my comments could actually be attached to runners I saw in the 26k race rather than the “true” ultra runners.
      Helen rebutted and said that the majority of litter found on the trail during the cleanup was on the portion of trail not used by the 26’ers
      In the end, I think you’re right. Races are just a reflection of the society we live in … the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thankfully, in this case, the good overwhelmingly outweighed the bad.

      Like

  2. Oh, somehow I missed this post. What a shame your experience was tainted in such a way. I have found the same in the Oxfam Trailwalkers I’ve done. I think everyone who does these events should spend one year as a volunteer just to see life on the other side of the table. I did my first Trailwalker as a volunteer and I’ve now competed twice. I always thank the volunteers as I pass (especially the ones who stand on the trail in the rain at 3am – absolute heroes), as do most others but I know from experience there are those who suffer, as you call it, Centre of The Universe Syndrome. Great post, Joanne. 🙂

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    • joannesisco says:

      Thankfully the experience wasn’t ruined for me. It was an amazing weekend. I just felt it was so necessary to put this behaviour under the spotlight.
      In reality, I think we are all guilty of it on occasion and offend people with diva behaviour and don’t even realize it 😉

      Like

  3. Bravo Joanne, for volunteering in what seems to be an ultra-marathon for the volunteers. I’ve done a few volunteer gigs over the years, and when people are jerks, I usually chalk it up to “consider the source.” The high water mark for my volunteering life was working the beer truck at an outdoor jazz concert. Nobody got to me that day. ~James

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  4. jannatwrites says:

    I’m glad you have mostly good memories of your time volunteering. It is sad that people are so rude (there’s too much evidence of this in daily life as well. When I waited tables in college, I got a twisted kind of satisfaction in irritating the rude ones.) I don’t believe I’d be running that course, either 🙂

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    • joannesisco says:

      Oh!! That’s another one! … being rude to service people… UGH!!!
      Where on earth do people get this I’m-the-Centre-of-the-Universe attitude?! Seriously, if I had that kind of attitude as a kid, my mom would have smacked me to the moon and back.

      Like

  5. NancyTex says:

    I’m not sure why this post never ended up in my Reader. I’ve been looking for a post about your weekend for days now. GAH! Sometimes I hate WordPress. 🙂

    I’m sorry the douchy-ness of a few soured what should have been a great experience (despite mosquitos /cold/ coyotes and lack of sleep!). When I read stories like this, I wish I could have been there with you to bitch-slap those entitled pricks. There would be nothing passive-aggressive about my response. It would be straight up aggressive-aggressive. 🙂

    Now, to figure out why your post didn’t hit my Reader??? GRRRR!!

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      LOL!! I had a mental image of that encounter and it wasn’t pretty 😀
      Unfortunately I never think of the right thing to say or do at the time. I have to sit and stew about it for a while.
      I call it Centre of The Universe Syndrome and some people have it. They certainly didn’t come close to ruining the experience for me, but I felt a blog post calling out the bad behaviour was needed.
      Read and learn, people, read and learn!

      Like

      • NancyTex says:

        I am surprisingly non-confrontational when it comes to people in my real life: friends, family, etc., and also with people who seem genuinely too stupid to realize their behavior is douche-y. (I forgive them because…stupid.) With those groups my response/reaction is passive-aggressive 99% of the time.

        Oh but when I encounter someone who is just so in your face with their entitlement and bullshit…I let them have it. And you’re right…it ain’t pretty. 🙂

        I’m so glad to hear your weekend wasn’t tainted too badly by the few rude pricks!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. treerabold says:

    The first time I ran a 1/2 marathon I called my life long friend (who happens to be a seasoned marathon runner) and asked for advice. Her advice had nothing to do with my actual training or run…her advice was to walk through each water station and make an effort to get my water cup in the trash can. She felt the volunteers would appreciate it!! I’ve done quite a few races since then…and I always remember her advice. I also thank the volunteers….if it weren’t for them we would not have the opportunity to do these events!!
    Thanks for volunteering….and thanks for sharing your story….this sounds like an amazing event. Even if some people acted like jerks!

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      What amazing advise!! I too try to get my cup and other garbage into the garbage can at aid stations. A thank you goes a long way – both at a race and elsewhere!!
      Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

      Like

  7. Pierre Marcoux says:

    Great entry, although the experience was tainted. I organize a race in Creemore and find a thick skin is a bonus! I have vollied at numerous races and wish that those focused only on themselves could see a race through the eyes of a volunteer. I have gone off course at Hali and realized something was wrong because I did not remember running through a lake… After retracing my steps to where I missed the turn, I was amazed at all the flags, signs and arrows I had missed. I never thought to blame a volunteer!

    Pierre Marcoux (Using my wife Lee Anne’s computer)

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    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my post! I’m going to have to develop a thicker skin. I never have a decent response and I end up stewing over it. I’m glad I could use my blog to finally get it off my mind.

      This was my 2nd year at Haliburton and I’m getting to know some amazing people. Everyone has a story … funny, challenging, inspiring, heartwarming. I think I’ve been getting back so much more than I’ve been giving as a volunteer at this race 🙂

      Like

  8. pambrittain says:

    Sure am glad you weren’t alone, but what an experience. Maybe next time the organizers could make the runners sign a contract agreeing to being cuffed and jailed at the aid station for any acts of rudeness or littering. They wouldn’t be able to finish the race. Guess you might need to gag them too.

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  9. joannesisco says:

    Mwahahahaha! I like the way you think MM!! Revenge, with a side dish of evil 😉

    Like

  10. hey are very lucky I wasn’t on the stand. Someone would have ended up with the entire box of power aid thrown on his toes. People throwing superstar paddies drive me up the pole, and deserve, at the best, to be hung upside-down off the nearest tree with their knickers on their heads.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      LOL – unfortunately I’m the type of person who will just sit and stew about it for days … which is why it wouldn’t go away while I was trying to write this post. Getting it in writing helped purge it.

      The race director suggested that in the future we should ask them for their telephone # so we can contact them to be a volunteer at the next race to make it better 🙂

      Like

      • They’re not worth wasting time on, Jo – they’ve probably already done the same thing to loads of other people since. That kind of behaviour is a regular, acquired habit. Get the phone number… then phone them at hourly intervals all night.

        Like

  11. cory bennett says:

    Hey Jo, Cory from AS2 & Med tent. Sorry your positive experiences were eclipsed by those who think their’s is the only experience that matters. For my part I have come to realize that the race is a mirror for all it’s participants. Who you are in a test like this is who you really are in life. Regrettably, some people are self absorbed, arrogant and rude. I can think of one runner who had a team of pacers and friends helping him to build his dream in a past race. He was horrible to them screaming at them, name calling, barking orders, swearing. He did not finish. I saw him again this year and he was alone with only the ASs to help him. Again he did not finish, however at least this year there was less carnage in his wake. Most however realize that the volunteers at the HFR are dream builders. They are the people who help you make it there. If you are ungrateful the forest will humble you, it will literally bring you to your knees and if you are paying attention to your reflection in the puddle of mud into which it has thrown you you will learn gratitude. If you are wise you will wear this disgrace in silence and when next someone offers you help you will be thankful. I have been at the HFR for a decade. I have seen the most gracious athletes you could ever want to know. I have also seen the opposite, some learn and others keep coming back to class not knowing their teacher is infinitely patient and has a very long memory. Thank you for your service I know it was appreciated by many.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Cory! How nice of you to read my post and comment!! You said it so very well.
      I met some very amazing people at HFR over the past 2 years – including both runners and volunteers. Then on the other side, there are those who make themselves look so remarkably bad by their poor behaviour.
      I salute you and your team for 10 years in the medical tent! Looking forward to seeing you again next year 🙂

      Like

  12. Lynn says:

    We run a large cycling event annually & make every attempt to ensure that all participants & volunteers have a great experience. For the most part, we receive accolades for our efforts in organising such a wonderful event, but there are always those that seemingly think that it is their lot in life to complain. Try not to take it too personally Jo. Constant, crabby complainers are just that. No matter what you do, you cannot please them!

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Isn’t that the truth!!!
      I have so much respect for people like you who are planning events, organizing volunteers and sponsors, etc. It is a huge amount of work and thankfully the vast majority of people are appreciative and grateful 🙂

      Like

  13. Tiffany says:

    I felt totally taken care of at all the aid stations I stopped at! Thanks to you Joanne and all the other volunteers. Maybe some of those runners are unaware of trail race etiquette. I think most of us, especially the core HF ‘family,’ really do appreciate all you volunteers do.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Tiffany! How nice to hear from you. Thank you for reading my post and commenting!!
      I’m so glad you enjoyed your experience at the race 🙂
      I really had a great time and the amazing people I worked with at AS#5 were the best 🙂

      Like

  14. Hmmm, sad thing that a few people can ruin a great experience. For a part, at least. Good thing it had enough good sides to make up for it!

    Like

  15. Sue Slaght says:

    I agree with Eric and value the contributions of volunteers so much in the races I have done. Too bad that some have to act so disrespectfully. A great way to write the post Joanne.

    Like

  16. I’m gobsmacked grownups act this way. Sorry to hear those people still haven’t grown up. Still I hear your excitement of having contributed and for having being involved in this project. 🙂

    Like

  17. Anonymous says:

    Blimey Jo, sounds like quite an experience of both good and bad. It’s awful when a handful of people spoil things for the masses. Nevertheless, it sounds like good memories were made. And I’m glad you got back safe and sound! Did the mosquitoes behave themselves?? Xx

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t know why it’s tagged me as anonymous, it’s Sam! Lol. Bloody phone! Grr! Xx

      Liked by 1 person

    • joannesisco says:

      Unfortunately my skin is pretty thin so I take rudeness to heart even when I shouldn’t … times like this when people aren’t at their best.
      The vast majority of people were so nice and so grateful.
      I have a few bites but nothing too serious. I did have insect repellent and was largely covered up so the bites are minimal under the circumstances 🙂

      Like

  18. Love how you solved the “how do I write this story” issue.
    It sounds like you and your volunteer team had more than the usual number of hiccups. Or not?

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      I got the impression from our team leader that we had the worst possible aid station from a location perspective. He was not a happer camper the night before when he found out where he was assigned.

      We made the best of it though and had a good time in spite of the numerous issues we had – including having to hike 4km into the trail to evacuate a runner who was down and needed medical help.

      Every runner who came through our station after dark told us we had THE BEST camp fire. I think it could have been seen from space 🙂

      Like

  19. As one who competed in Triathlons for years, I applaud and appreciate you and all volunteers who help to support races. I also hear and understand the frustrations with some competitors who do sporting events and natural surroundings a disservice. Their actions are disrespectful. Nice post.

    Like

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