by Arielle Knudsen
Ultrateering: a word coined by my good friend Erin Hazler to describe long volunteer shifts at trail/ultra races. Who can be an ultrateer? Why do it? What do you get from it besides the snacks you ate off the aid station table? By the way, have you seen the snacks at ultras? It’s like a buffet; and the longer the race, the better the snacks!
Anyone can be an ultrateer. Experienced ultrarunner? You help troubleshoot runner problems and give advice that comes directly from your experience. As an experienced runner, you are in a good position to recognize the signs of a dehydrated runner who needs to be reminded to take their salt pills and take in fluids because you have probably been in that situation before. Curious about a race but not sure you want to run it this year? Volunteer! Be inspired by the racers and get excited to sign up for next year. Not an experienced ultrarunner? We still need you! Most runners are fine and only need help with opening a water bottle because they lost the dexterity to do it themselves. Family member of a racer? Volunteer and you get to see your runner! Bonus if it’s a loop race: you get to see them again and again! If you can take care of a toddler for 5 minutes, YOU can volunteer at an aid station. All it requires is a positive, encouraging attitude (and sometimes lots of patience).
Erin says, “ultrateering is one of the most satisfying and healing things I’ve found since discovering trail running.” There is something magical about being in the woods all day, helping runners push through their pain, hearing stories of what they overcame just to show up at the starting line, and realizing their joy when everything falls into place. Most of all, at the end of the day, you know that you contributed. In fact, you were a part of every runner’s race! The person who is running their first ultra? YOU helped them. The lone runner hitting the aid station at 2 a.m.? YOU were the reason they smiled or muttered, “Oh, thank God!” When I meet up with my runner after a race, we exchange tales. He tells me his race stories, and I tell him the race stories of 10 other racers (like the runner who jumped OVER the aid station table or the one who recently finished chemo).
It’s true that you don’t get a buckle for ultrateering. There are no age group awards or Strava kudos, and sometimes you have to deal with barfing runners or their stinky socks/shoes. You may get volunteer swag, but there is not a lot of recognition. The runners you helped the most may not even be aware enough to know what you did. Occasionally, a race director will forward on an email from a grateful runner who mentions an aid station that saved their race. More often than not, you only have your own satisfaction of the good you have done. But I guarantee you, you will come away with an appreciation for what the volunteers do.
Give it a shot. Try volunteering at that race that you always run for one year. See how good it feels to contribute to everyone’s race. Give back to the trail running community. It’s easy: find a race, sign up to volunteer, commit to it, and have a blast on race day!
Originally published in The Sugarloaf Sun November/December 2019 issue
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