A tribute to aid station personel.

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11/03/2012 at 21:04

We all know that aid station personnel are the unsung heroes of ultra running.  Sometimes in the toughest ultra distance events, having the right person on a given aid station can be the difference between success and failure for a participant. 

The purpose of this thread is to collect stories of how aid station staff have helped you out, and perhaps even saved your race. 

At the NDW 100, I mashed up my ankle pretty badly at around the 60 mile mark, with the result that it hurt whenever I put weight on it.  I thought that I had a stress fracture, but it turned out to be soft tissue damage.  I asked the aid station captain if he could do anything to help me, and he replied "yes we could shoot you, or you might find that lots of hard running down hill helps".  On the face of it this might not sound very helpful, but it showed me very starkly that I was coming at it with the wrong mental attitude.  After that it was like a switch had been flipped in my head, and I stopped feeling sorry for myself and focused on breaking down the race. 

Most of you will be familiar with the events at the TP100 this year.  Suffice it to say that from the 90 mile checkpoint onwards, I was in quite a bad way, shaking uncontrollably, and spilling the cups of soup that the aid station staff plied me with everywhere.  By the 95 mile checkpoint, there was a significant danger that my deteriorating condition would cost me the race.  The checkpoint captain saw this, and took me to one side.  He fashioned me a makeshift jacket out of a bin liner, and told me that however much I wanted to walk, I needed to run as much of the remaining part of the course as I could.  He repeatedly used the phrase "5 more miles" to focus my mind on covering the remaining part of the course, and promote the idea that it was easy. 

I guess that the best aid station staff are good psychologists. 

Any more stories?

12/03/2012 at 17:43

Doesnt look like it.

Bollocks to them then.

seren nos    pirate
12/03/2012 at 19:45
on saturday i arrived at the aid station as it was turning darker and decided it was getting darker and remembered that i had forgotten to put new batteries in.......
the kindly guy opened my torch and put my spare batteries in......i was very grateful as i have trouble at the moment using my hands for that sort of thing when i'm tired......it saved me a lot of faffing and stress........

also on my first off road ultra I got caught out by the rain getting stronger and the wind picked up......being december and dark the temperatures dropped and i hadn't put my coat on......it was too windy and wet to stop and so i got colder as I aimed for the checkpoint......

when i got there my hands were too cold to even unbutton my rucksack let alone unzip it......I was helped to strip down to my bra and dress in dry clothing and coat and gloves from my rucksac before i caqrried on for my last 5/6 miles........
made it safely and never made that kind of mistake again.......running in the rain in daylight for 4 hours might be ok............running at night in the wind and rain in december in the mountains is not sensible....
AndrewSmith    pirate
13/03/2012 at 10:03

It's true, if it wasn't for aid station staff who are unpaid volunteers there would be no races! It saddens me that for every person who is thankful and friendly when they come into an aid there are plenty of miserable bastards who are ungrateful and moody. There is a rising mememe attitude going through ultras, maybe it is the way it is evolving as tri did, I don't know?

Aid station staff are quite often taken for granted by competitors and treated rudely by supporters who just get in the way of what we are trying to do. I am afraid as I have said before, the 'clientele' of ultras is changing and the attitude of many ultra runners-whether they want to admit it or not-is selfish.

Recent experiences from marshalling have left me disenchanted with the ultra community and it is a shame that people cannot move a sport on without it becoming a platform for egocentrics who think the world revolves around their running.

iIf it wasn't for volunteers there would be no ultras for people to enjoy or make profit from!

13/03/2012 at 10:50
I could give examples from every race I've done - definitely the unsung heroes. Without all those who give freely of their time, our sport just wouldn't happen.

I always try to say thank you at every aid station - sometimes it just mumbles out though!
13/03/2012 at 13:10

Agreed, I try to thank the marshalls every time I race but occasionally it comes out a little more inarticulate than I'd like. Most importantly though I always strive to be polite no matter how much I'm suffering. For every couple of races I do I marshall another just to keep the ultra karma balanced.

 Having stumbled through many a checkpoint I know exactly how important a good aid station can lift a runner, I did a 22 mile fell run around Snowdon last year and had the pleasure of meeting two volunteers at a checkpoint on top of the glyders, horrible weather freezing cold mist reducing temperatures to low singlefigures but you never would have noticed it from the way these two greeted you. Fantastic attitude that made me thing running the race was by far the easy part.

seren nos    pirate
13/03/2012 at 13:19
i definitely think that running it is easier than marshalling it..and i always try to remember that going along the courses..and hopefully my gratitude always shows through my pain.
13/03/2012 at 21:24

Well, I haven't actually run any ultras yet, but I do have entries in for a few this year. And I've already signed up to marshal at another three. Figured that as they're mostly organised and put on by enthusiasts and not just to make money, I should make an effort to do my bit to help out...

13/03/2012 at 22:35
Incidentally, if anybody is ever undecided about taking on a race that represents a step up (e.g. you have done a 50 and aren't sure whether you want to do a 100), then volunteering at such an event would be an excellent way of deciding. 
17/03/2012 at 18:23
I've seen an aid station volunteer reduced to tears because of abuse by a runner as she couldn't find his drop back quickly enough. He wasn't even at the 'sharp end' of the race. That could well be one volunteer that won't be back. Unforgivable.

Ever since I've vowed to at least say thank you to the aid station people as I go past.

TP100 was brilliant for the volunteers this year in some pretty miserable weather.

Take them for granted and you lose them. Lose them and the race won't go ahead. I organise a 5 k race every year and I know the value and difficulty in getting people to help.
17/03/2012 at 20:49
Well, I just did my first ultra today and I really made sure to thank everyone I could as I trotted past. I always do though anyway, whatever distance race I'm doing. Guess the difference for volunteers is being out there for a couple of hours or being out there all day and night and maybe the next day too! My first volunteering stint is an a couple of weeks, at the Glasgow to Edinburgh double. I'm looking forward to it!
17/03/2012 at 22:11

I guess that the people who are rude to aid station staff, are in a lot of pain, and probably feel awful about it afterwards. 

Even so, they don't get paid for helping you out!

18/03/2012 at 09:44

No, I don't think so. I think they're probably people who are just suffering from a genaral lack of manners. Some people can be incredibly rude. To waiting staff, to shop staff, to bus drivers, to work colleagues. I suspect these are the same ones that are rude to race volunteers.

If they are really nasty, I think their race number should be taken down and matched with their name, and  they should get a 'next race ban' the same way that footballers can get a next match ban. For races run under Scottish/British Athletics League rules I assume it would be feasible...

AndrewSmith    pirate
21/03/2012 at 21:32
Noanie wrote (see)

No, I don't think so. I think they're probably people who are just suffering from a genaral lack of manners. Some people can be incredibly rude. To waiting staff, to shop staff, to bus drivers, to work colleagues. I suspect these are the same ones that are rude to race volunteers.

If they are really nasty, I think their race number should be taken down and matched with their name, and  they should get a 'next race ban' the same way that footballers can get a next match ban. For races run under Scottish/British Athletics League rules I assume it would be feasible...

22/03/2012 at 09:48

"I'm a bit tired so I can be rude to this pointless little skivvy, who is here to serve me and my awesome brilliance"

Triple ditto!

They should push the bastards in a canal or something

22/03/2012 at 10:16
The checkpoint I'll be marshaling at next weekend is right beside a canal. Heh heh heh...
22/03/2012 at 10:29

A lot of the problem is in the name I think.  Calling a race an "ultra marathon" is appropriate as it is, literally, beyond a marathon.

But then calling the people "ultra runners" gives them a false sense of adequacy.  They aren't "beyond" the average runner at all, not by a long chalk.  Compared to most races (london marathon excepted) the difference is that "ultra" runners are generally older, fatter and slower.

Call the race an "ultra marathon", and the entrants "not-quite runners".  That'll learn 'em.

(I do include myself in that.  I'm shit at running.  Completely shit.  Therefore I do ultra marathons, which levels the playing field a bit for me, because everybody else is, too!)

But I am always nice to the volunteers. 

22/03/2012 at 11:01


I do think that ultras field a much higher quality body of runners than marathons or 10ks. 

I am not fast either, but I almost invariably get a higher ranking relative to the field in shorter races.

Edited: 22/03/2012 at 11:01
22/03/2012 at 12:16

From my own observations there has been quite a change in the types of people participating in ultras since my first in 2004.  Then there were quite a few older slower fatter ones at the back to keep this slow old waddler company, but now the entrants are much younger, fitter and faster.  I think the increasing popularity has probably meant that there is now a much harder edge to the events.  I used to get an acknowledgement from the majority as they swept past me, but now it is about 50/50 - not that I expect it. but it's nice when it happens.  It could be that some people are so centred on getting their desired result that they don't consider the support they are getting from the marshals, although this is no excuse for ignorant behaviour.

I, myself am pathetically grateful to them, especially as I am usually the last, or nearly, to go through  the CPs and I really appreciate them still being there for me.  I am even more pathetically grateful if they give me beer!! 

22/03/2012 at 13:14

There's a random example.  Which just happened to be one I looked at a few weeks ago.

 Average age 45, and there are twice as many over-50s doing it than there are under-30s.

The #1 ranked entrance, based on past results through that system, did a 100k race in 4:24.  Being generous, that gives her a 3:30 marathon time.  Whoooosh!  Hardly.


Definitely not-quite runners, rather than ultra runners!

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