Sulphur Springs Trail Race – Volunteer, Crew, Pace

Even before last year’s Sulphur Springs Trail race I knew I would not be able to participate in this year’s race. My friend had already claimed me for the weekend as I was to be a Bridesmaid in her wedding. I knew with a wedding on the Friday night, a race on Saturday would be out of the question but I would happily volunteer in the afternoon and help support whichever Burlies would end up racing.

Then in the fall when the 200 miler was announced one of the Burlies decided to take on the crazy challenge and I told him I would help in any way I could.

Earlier this year as plans settled out with my friend’s wedding knowing I’d need to head out to Cambridge Thursday evening I decided I’d take Thursday off work and help out at the race. I would then be in Cambridge/Waterloo until Saturday when I would head straight back over to the race until it was over.

4 days, 2 very big, very different events.

The 4 days kicked off Thursday morning as I made my way to Ancaster for 8:30, the Burly Trail Runners had been granted space by our friend and Sulphur Springs co-race director Tim to set up a tent for the weekend for David, our 200-miler, and any other Burly to drop their stuff. We set up the tent and hung our banner then I headed over to the registration tent to check-in for my volunteer duties. Pretty easy gig to start off I was helping with registration with the other volunteers, with only 28 registered it was a pretty lax time.

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I’m tying the flag to the tent, oblivious of the photo op occuring

The 200-miler breakfast was also under the tent so we got to listen to their instruction and then enjoy the food afterwards.

So most of the morning was spent chatting with the other volunteers (mostly all Burlies – go us!) and the 200 milers who were all looking very calm and ready to go. About 15 minutes before the start I headed out onto the trail for my marshall spot about 2km into the race. It was then I discovered the coat I had on while plenty warm for the weather, was not a waterproof as I thought, and the rain was coming down pretty steady, and I had no umbrella. I was out there for close to 15 minutes after the race started before the first runner came through and within a few minutes they’d all gone by and I headed further down the trail to where I knew there was a covered bench. I’d wait here until I saw the first runners headed back and then go back to my post. When David passed by I told him I might be back up at the tent when he finished his first loop (the 200 milers would be doing 16, 20km loops). The 200 milers hadn’t gotten too spread out yet by that point (about 11km in) so I was back at home base well before he came through.

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Waiting under shelter during marshall duties

I stayed by the tent ready to help with anything he needed coming through, still early in the race he was gone in a flash but he asked to have his extra bottle filled up for his next lap. After he was gone I went and finally changed into some dry clothes and an actual waterproof jacket. Knowing we had about 3 hours before he would come through again I hung out with the other Burlies there and started assisting with kit stuffing and pick-up for the other races. We got about a 5 minute warning before David was heading up to the finish thanks to Dan who was filming the 200-milers and keeping an eye on the hill.

He was through the tent quickly again, this time grabbing his lights incase he needed them at the end of the next lap. He also mentioned he was behind on food already and took some to go. Jenn was also there with me and we wished him well as we’d both need to leave and wouldn’t be there for his next laps. We were a bit worried as no one was stationed to be there to crew him that night but found out another Burly (Steve H) there to crew another 200-miler would keep an eye out and help him with anything. We got his bottle ready for him for the next lap then I headed on my way to Cambridge.

For the next 48+ hours I was able to follow along with his progress through Facebook. Vince texted me in the evening wanting to help in anyway he could, I suggested he bring him some soup which he did and then ended up staying there while he slept and got him ready to head out on his next lap with a group of other runners.

I got back to the race around 12:30pm Saturday and was happy to be able to see Jenn come through between lap 3 and 4 of her 50 miler as well as Steve F. between lap 3 and 4, Patty between lap 2 and 3 of her 100km, also saw Grace come through a lap on her 100km, not sure what lap she was on actually, might have been 3. Also saw many other people I knew in various stages of their race.  David came through with Liz during all this and we got him set-up for his next lap with Michelle. At this point we know he’s behind schedule and know we need to start pushing him.

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Hanging around the Burly tent chatting with everyone in between cheering

Soon after Shaun, Cody and Bogdan came through the finish of their 50km, the 3 of them had run the whole thing together. Steve F. also came through I almost missed him and cheered from the back of the tent. I had some warning before Jenn came up for her 50mile finish so I was able to get the flag out and wave it for her, she killed it!

It’s then a waiting game for David to come through again. During this time Gemma took a look at his schedule and the time left. He’d have to stay under 4 hours per loop in order to have 1 hour of play time to come in on time. Not a lot to work with so we immediately know he’s not getting the nap that was originally planned between laps 12 and 13.

Patty comes through finishing her 3rd lap while we’re waiting. Steve F. is still hanging around from his 50miler ready to hang with Patty through her next lap. Just before 7 David comes up, about the same time Scott, his overnight pacer, shows up with fresh food. We don’t waist too much time getting him ready but his quads are bothering him so he does head over to a friend for a quick massage before I head out with him on his next lap.

Having never paced before I was nervous for this. He’d told me a few days previously I’d need to stay ahead of him. Michelle also told me to run ahead when we’re close to one of the aid stations to get food ready for him. So with that in mind  got ahead of him and we made our way down the hill. He was not happy with the downhill but once at the bottom he started to jog. I then spent the loop trying to stay a head of him but not too much. I’m not very chatty so I was worried about this, but hoped he realized going into it. I updated him on the other Burlies and would shout out anything else I could think of every so often. He was directing me on parts of the trail which I found funny, but having gone through it 12 times already he knew which sides of the trial was better for the mud.

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Not from my lap, I was conserving my phone battery so I didn’t take any photos. Dan took this one earlier on in the race.

I ran ahead to the first aid station and asked them to get food ready. They mentioned they also had tortellini now after confirming it was nut/soy free I ran back and asked if he wanted that. He did so I ran back got that for him, he ate that there and then took soup for the road. He was making great time on this first half. I ran ahead once again as we were heading back to the first aid station, he said he wanted tortellini and had enough of the soup. Unfortunately they only had sauced ready which had nuts in it so one of the volunteers scooped up just the noodles from the soup and I gave that to him instead. His quads were still bothering him and the lady who’d massaged him before the loop suggested child’s pose. One of the volunteers had a yoga mat for him and he got down into child’s pose. It didn’t look much like child pose by that point so I asked if he wanted me to push on his back. He did and asked me to count to 10 and then do it again. Got him up and then carried on. We were heading into the tougher part of the course but were making great time. We started the lap after 7 and had cleared the first 10k by 8:59. I was determined to get him through the second half in under 2 hours. He sent me ahead again before the next aid station, he wanted to do child’s pose again, no one had a yoga mat but we got a box set-up instead. I also checked what food they had, they didn’t have anything warm, the best they had were some pirogies but they didn’t have the package anymore so I didn’t want to offer them to him unsure if they were nut/soy free. After child’s pose he picked at some fruit and carried on. I was hoping I could push him through the stick of the lollipop since he’d slowed a bit with the rollers through G. Donald & Reforestation but with all the mud it was down to a hike for most of it. We did pass a ton of runners through here including Steve and Patty once again (who we’d passed near the start), which I think helped him a bit, even though it was dark by this point and we couldn’t tell who was who half the time, he tended to pick it up a bit whenever we came across others.

He was really strong on uphills right to the end so we came through the 3 sisters pretty well but they tired him out a bit and we hiked a lot of the top portion but I did get him to eat some of the food he had on him. He then told me he wanted to start running again once the terrain flattened out and then run the downhill. I knew by the pace he was doing on the other downhills they must have been bothering him so I was surprised by this but ready to run down with him. Getting out of the stick we meet Scott at the aid station. I had texted him earlier while running ahead to that aid station to see if he could bring down a yoga mat but the reception is spotty there so he didn’t get it until later. He tossed off some encouragement to David and then headed back up the hill ahead of us to get ready for his turn.

Though he had slowed a bit in the second half his pace was still good and I was able to get him through the lap before 11. He wanted another massage before heading out again but we couldn’t find her so Gemma did what she could while he ate. Scott asked for any advice I had. I told him about the aid station with tortellini, pushing down very lightly for child’s pose, that he was strong on the uphills but slower on the downhills and to run all the flats.

Once they were off I headed back to my car and took off in search of food. I’d completely forgotten to eat before my loop with him so at this point I’m a bit out of it from lack of sleep (only got about 5 hours after the wedding) and lack of food all day. Ended up at McDonalds, I ordered an extra burger and fries incase David wanted them later. I then headed back to the race parking lot and napped in my car, nearly missing his next lap – cozier than I thought in there! The burger came in handy as he requested one to Scott when they were only a few k away, without much time Gemma sent out a desperate message on FB after not hearing from me and when I woke up I came running over saying I had one.

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Saw Greg was also at the tent, he was waiting for Patty to finish. David came up and we quickly got him ready for his next lap. While that happened Greg had disappeared so I chatted with Tim while waiting for him. He finally re-appeared, Patty must have texted him she was close as he’d run down to meet her. He’d come up to the finish ahead of her to get a photo. I hung around for a few minutes after her finish and then I headed back to my car for another nap.

Up around 6am I got changed, getting ready to head out for his final lap. I was out of clean clothes by this point and the only light-weight stuff I had was still wet from my lap with him early. Long sleeve hooded shirt would have to do.

We had a whole crew of Burlies ready to come out with him for his last loop and more that joined him along the way. I was holding back tears pretty much the whole lap thinking about how awesome the Burlies are and about how David was going to finish this crazy thing and under time. Like the night before, David was really strong on the first half, at one point running so strong the rest of us were kind of like whoa okay, we are RUNNING. His mind was sharp the whole way too, even though there were parts he wasn’t talking much, he still managed to give Matthew the finger when Matthew said he was tired from his 25k the day before, great moment. He had a bunch of fruit at the Martin Rd aid station and we gave him a straight pack of sugar which helped a lot it seemed as we actually got some full sentences out of him soon after, so we kept feeding those to him.

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Still strong on the uphills he got through the 3 sisters quickly – after a mild panic with some unleashed dogs. The hardest part was getting him down the lollipop as the downhills were really bothering him by this point and the poles weren’t being of any use. Down and out of the lollipop for the last time we reward him with more sugar.

Finally back onto the road and that’s an emotional moment as he makes his way toward the hill for the last time. At the bottom of the hill we get him in front of us so he can lead us all up. We see Dan 1/3 up with his camera recording the climb he’s on a lookout and comes down to meet us to get some closer shots. About halfway up the hill you can see the cheer section and they start going crazy once they see us coming around the bend. Someone has the Burly flag out waving him home. Right near the top he hands off the poles ready to run through the finish.

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An incredibly emotional journey we all let our the tears we’d been holding back all morning. I was so proud to have been there to witness this amazing accomplishment and to help and cheer on all the other Burlies. And I’m so proud of my entire crew in everything that went on this weekend and the amount of love and support that came out of that tent. I shared this on the Burly Facebook page after the race.

Just want to say how proud I am of everyone who was at Sulphur this weekend, whether you raced, paced, crewed, volunteered or all of the above. The amount of support coming out of that tent was amazing. I witnessed so many people 100% there for others, even those they never even met before. You should all be so proud of what was accomplished this weekend. Now let’s take a nap!

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