Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Afton 25K/50K Trail Run Volunteer Report

When I was planning my running season, I considered running Afton. I even briefly considered doing the 50K as my first ultra, before settling on the Spring Superior 50K. But its reputation for heat and humidity (it IS in July, after all) was a bit of a deterrent, so when a running friend mentioned that he always volunteered at Afton instead of running it, it sounded like the perfect solution. A chance to be out there on race day, to see all the local runners doing the race, and to begin to pay back the incredible volunteers who made my races this spring so great.

So on Saturday morning, I got up bright and early.
Okay, not so bright. But definitely early.
Threw some hard-boiled eggs and roasted veggies into the car, grabbed my water, snacks, sunblock, hat, and sunglasses, and out the door by 4 to get to Afton by 4:45.

There wasn't much traffic on the way there (go figure!), but things were already bustling at the Visitors' Center. John and Cheri Storkamp and an army of volunteers had already been out at Afton for days getting things ready. The trail was marked and checked, tents and equipment were up at the start/finish area, tables were set up for check-in, timing chips and bibs and T-shirts were sorted and ready to go. There was even fresh coffee. Working at registration, I felt like I was jumping into a well choreographed dance.

About 8 of us worked registration, first for the 50Kers, then the 25Kers. I handed out T-shirts. And saw lots of friends from Lebanon Hills, Zumbro, Superior, and the Endless Summer races. So much fun to work in a spot where you can see everyone!
Way down on the end. Photo by Todd Rowe.
 By the time the last 25Ker had come through (two minutes before race start! Hope you had a good race, Gale!), it was 7:30. We broke down the registration area, put things back in boxes, folded up tables, put the Visitors' Center back together. A quick snack at the car (hey, when you get there at 4:45, you get rockstar parking), and down to the start/finish area to help out there.

Start/finish area. All the runners are out on the course. It got WAY busier later!
Finish line area -- the last part of the race is across that prairie.
Timekeepers, ham radio operators, and race officials working in the tent.

50K aid station and drop bags. The fastest 50Kers were
just coming through the first of two loops. 
 I helped set up for the after-race picnic. It was a pretty good spread -- burgers (meat and veggie), chips, aid-station snacks (brought in as the aid stations closed), drinks, and watermelon.

Two 50-gallon containers of watermelon. That's a LOT of watermelon.

Amy was a watermelon-butchering machine. She cut up
watermelon for HOURS. And it went fast!

Cooking burgers on the prairie. That's an industrial-strength
fan on the right, blowing the smoke and heat away.
Mary Beth and I set up the drinks. Water, lemonade, iced tea, and our personal touch, Arnold Palmers (half lemonade, half iced tea).
The Arnold Palmer went fast.
Once the runners started getting back in (fastest 25K runner finished in under 1:40! Blazing!), things began to get busy. I appointed myself the master of the drinks, and keeping all the containers full was, for a while, a full-time job. And hauling around those 7-gallon carboys of water was excellent physical therapy for the elbow!
Time to make the lemonade. Photo by Todd Rowe.
I also located ice, found chairs, hauled boxes, cheered for finishing runners, and saw lots of friends who were running or volunteering.

By the time I had to leave at noon (gotta get home to the boys), the post-race party was in full swing for many, some of the early finishers were heading home, and the slower 50Kers were still out on the course, some of them for several more hours. The thermometer in my car read 90 degrees, and the sky, which had started out cloudy, was clearing up. You could feel the humidity rising. It wasn't the hottest Afton ever, but it was hot enough. All the runners out there have my respect. It was an epic day to run the Afton trails.

Volunteering at Afton was a great experience. I was really glad to be able to give some time and energy to making such a great race possible. I was really impressed by the incredible amount of work that went into making this day as perfect as possible for the runners, and by the amount of time and energy many of the volunteers (and the race directors) gave to this race. 

Trail running really is a pretty special thing. A group of like-minded people come together in a remote place, build an entire, temporary village dedicated to a single purpose, give everything they have to that goal of running 25K or 50K, or beating a personal best, or placing in the top 20... and then pick it all back up, pack it into a truck, and head home till the next one. 

Thanks, everyone, for the great day. And congratulations to all the runners! See you next year!


  1. I have to say-Afton had the best volunteers EVER.They were all right on track and paying attention to jump in at any second and help! I can't tell you how many volunteers offered to wash my scuffed knees!They were my souvinee,so I declined ,but everyone was so kind!

  2. Laughing at your souvenir skinned knees. Yes, I was amazed by the aid-station volunteers at Superior (and Zumbro), who were so incredibly helpful. I'm glad you had a good experience. Hope your race was good despite the knee trauma!

  3. Were we at the same event?! My description seems more mystical, somehow.

    1. Pretty sure whatever you were at was way more epic. But we had more watermelon, that's for sure.

  4. Thank you for all the work you did volunteering! I ran for the first time this year and it was one of the most fun days of my life. I had a stupid, happy grin on my face the whole time. #571

    1. Congratulations on your finish! So glad it was fun.

  5. Robyn, this is a great report from the perspective of a volunteer! Thanks for sharing, and thanks for all you did to help out at Afton last weekend. The volunteers were amazing!

    1. Thanks, Jean. Did you run? It looked like a pretty great day, if a little on the warm side!