2010 Patrick Henry Half Marathon – Volunteer Report

An amazing volunteer experience at the Patrick Henry Half Marathon in Ashland, VA. Big shout out to Richmond Road Runners Club & SportsBackers for coordinating an awesome race.

It’s obvious they’ve been putting on races for years because they nailed almost every aspect of the volunteer experience. Although, I did find 2 things they could do better…

Night. And. Day… compared to my previous two volunteer experiences (Rockett’s Landing TriPink Power Tri)

Volunteers for the Patrick Henry Half Marathon had a great experience, thanks to the Richmond Road Runner’s Club & the SportsBackers.

Pre-race email

In less than 24 hours from when I signed up to volunteer, I received a detailed email from the volunteer coordinator. This email contained the following:

  • the name of my specific aid station coordinator
  • the name & cell phone number of the overall aid station coordinator
  • directions to the aid station
  • instructions on parking
  • a brief description of what I’d be doing (filling cups, handing them out, cheering on runners)

I can’t say enough about great communication. My hat goes off to Lisa Randolph at the SportsBackers for a well-planned, well-executed pre-race email. (There was one thing she forgot, but I’ll detail that at the end.)

A common sense approach to race morning

The volunteers were extremely efficient on race morning. A few, key decisions contributed to our success:

  • We went directly to our assigned aid station. There was no check-in required at the S/F area.
  • We showed up at 6:30 for a race that started at 7:00. No need to get there super-early and stand around for an hour or two.

I know. That’s why I called it a “common sense” approach.

We had all the cups that we would need (for all 1400 runners) filled up & ready to go 10 minutes before the first runner came through.

A coordinator who coordinates

Our coordinator actually instructed us on what to do.

“For those of you who may not have done this before, spread out in a line, hold your cup at the top with your hand directly above the cup, let them know we only have water here, no powerade…”

A few more aid station tips

I previously posted a list of aid station tips for both volunteers & race coordinators. Here are a few more that could fall in either category:

  • The elites run fast. And they will not slow down for water. Therefore, have multiple people – spread far apart – with cups of water. This will give them multiple chances to grab a cup in case they drop the first couple.
  • Use pitchers to dip into the large gatorade jugs, and fill the individual cups. It’s quicker than using the nozzle on the gatorade jugs.
  • Use cardboard or posterboard to place on top of cups on the table. This allows you to stack cups in multiple layers, and potentially fill up all the cups you’ll need for the entire race… before the race even starts.

Clean up, pack up & call it a day

As soon as the last runner came through, the Richmond Road Runners truck was right behind them, ready to pick up our supplies.

We had our trash ready to go. We just emptied a few cups, broke down the tables & loaded up the truck.

The Diamond Springs truck was right behind the Road Runners. He picked up the extra (and the empty) water jugs.

Then some guy dropped off a few volunteer t-shirts for us, and we were done… at 8:30. Only 2 hours after we had arrived.

Big thanks to the RRRC & SportsBackers for 2 of the most efficient, well spent hours of my life. Well done, guys.

The 2 things they forgot

They did a great job, but what good is it if I don’t have any constructive criticism? Here are the two things they forgot:

  • Ice. They forgot about the Iceman. Never forget the Iceman.
  • Directions on how to get home, since many roads were blocked for the race.
    Since we were finished at 8:30, and many runners were still out on the course, most of the roads were blocked. We couldn’t take the same route that we used to get there. A map of the closed roads, or directions on how to get back to the interstate, would have been nice (especially for the directionally challenged, like myself).

RMS volunteer coordinator, you’re 0 for 2

A letter to the Richmond Multisports’ volunteer coordinator detailing my volunteer experience at the Pink Power Triathlon in Midlothian, VA. My one and only suggestion for improving the experience at your next race… Pick Me!

Dear Richmond Multisports volunteer coordinator,

Your run course captain has failed… again. You are now 0 for 2.

Based on the fact that you didn’t choose me to be a captain, I’m guessing you missed my volunteer report for Rockett’s Landing. And your run course captain clearly missed my tips for coordinating volunteers during a race, being that he failed to show up. I should have been more clear in stating that

“I like to sleep in on Sunday mornings” is not a highly sought after quality for volunteers of any kind.

My Pink Power Tri volunteer experience went a little something like this

I arrived promptly at 5:30 – just like you asked – ready to lend a helping hand. You promptly checked me in (which was appreciated), but immediately told me to “sit tight” until my captain arrived. I knew right away he wouldn’t show.

So I waited… more volunteers arrived… we waited… and waited. 50 minutes later (yeah, five-zero), at 6:20, one of your staff finally asked us why 20 volunteers were standing in the grass, doing nothing. Then you tasked the backup run captain with instructing us on what to do.

He wasn’t much of a backup. He had no map & very little idea what to do. He grabbed a large, laminated map, started pointing to random intersections and sending us off one by one. He said,

“We’ve got a small road here… uhh, looks like a sub-division… [pause] … someone raise their hand.”

That was my assignment.

Although, I’ll tell you, you owe that man a big thank you. Tom McMahon did a great job, all things considered. Before the runners were out on the course, he drove around making sure we had water, and gave us his cell phone number, just in case.

I don’t know what it is with the run course, but y’all just can’t seem to get it right. Mike West is 2 for 2 being the bike course captain. He did an excellent job at Rockett’s Landing, and again today at Pink Power.

I can’t tell you how to coordinate an event. I’ve never worn your shoes, so I don’t know what it’s like on race morning. But I can offer suggestions on how to make your events (more specifically, the volunteer experience) run more smoothly, and I sincerely hope you take them into consideration.

I’ll even make it simple. One suggestion. All that I ask.

  1. Make me the run course captain for Napier Realtor’s Richmond Sprint Triathlon on October 10th

… and I’ll take it from there.

Just as John Fogerty said many years ago, I now say to you. “Put me in coach. I’m ready to play.”

Running Wild,

Low Dough Triathlon – Race Report

A quick recap of the 2nd annual Low Dough Triathlon, held at Robious Landing Park in Midlothian, VA. No entry fee. No t-shirts. No awards. No nothing.

Just a free triathlon experience, great for beginner triathletes & experts alike.

Last year, a few friends of mine hosted the first annual Low Dough Triathlon — no entry fee, no t-shirt, no awards, no nothing. Choose your own distance in each of the three disciplines. It was their way of providing an opportunity for Amy to get one triathlon under her belt before she raced a half ironman for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. What a great opportunity.

Today marked the 2nd annual Low Dough Tri. 8AM arrival at Robious Landing Park in Midlothian, VA. We would officially kick things off around 8:45.

It was as close to a real triathlon as you’ll get for no entry fee.

  • Dave manned a clipboard with everyone’s name, and checked after each transition to ensure we didn’t lose anyone
  • Course maps were distributed at the race start
  • We had a safety kayaker & turnaround buoys for the river swim
  • Transitions were setup in the parking lot (other than the bike locks, it looked somewhat like a true transition area)
  • Everyone had the co-race director’s cell phone numbers (OK, so this probably made it not like a real tri)

The Swim

Choose your own distance. There were 200m, 400m, 600m & 800m options. We even had 2 buoys to mark turnaround points, and a safety kayaker. After a group picture on the floating dock, Tom counted down from 3, and we were off. (I don’t even think half the swimmers heard him.)

With my bum hamstring, I only participated in the swim, and took off after it was finished. But here’s a quick take on the setup for the bike & run.

The Bike

There were 2 different courses. The long course was 7mi out & back, for a total of 14mi. You could do that once or twice.

The short course was a 3.5mi loop. You could do that up to 4 times.

There were some who only showed up to bike, and they were gracious enough to help the rest of us with the swim, and take some pictures. The 3.5mi loop was great for a few of the beginners training for their first sprint triathlon this Fall.

The Run

The run was a 1mi lollipop on a dirt trail that paralleled the river. Run it once. Run it 10 times. Whatever your legs desired.


Tom had his boat, and rumor has it, there was some celebratory wakeboarding after the race. You can’t even get that with an entry fee.


What a great (inexpensive) opportunity to get a real triathlon experience, with some really great people. We had about 15 or so participants, and I hope to see that number grow each year. I also hope I can participate fully in the event next year.

If you’re in Richmond & would like to know more about this event, especially if you want to participate next year, just let me know. I’ll make sure you get the invite.

Volunteer for a race when injured

I know it sucks to be injured. And you probably don’t want to watch hundreds of people doing the thing you love, but are unable to do because of your injury. But you owe it to your sport. And more importantly, you owe it to your fellow athletes who I’m sure have volunteered (and maybe even saved your ass a few times) for races that you have run.

Here’s a recap of my volunteer experience for the Rockett’s Landing Tri in Richmond, VA.

When you’re injured, volunteering for a race is a great way to spend your weekend. With a bum hamstring, I decided to put in some serious hours this weekend with the Rockett’s Landing Triathlon in Richmond, VA. It always feels good to volunteer, but this time I learned quite a few lessons along the way… and am very motivated now to be a race coordinator next time.

Big shout out to Ginny for keeping me company for 7 hours on Sunday morning. It wouldn’t have been half the fun without someone to share it with.

Below, you can read about my experience this weekend at the Rockett’s Landing Triathlon, or jump on over to my separate entries about tips for volunteers at an aid station & tips for coordinating volunteers during a race.

Saturday before the Rockett’s Landing Triathlon

I was assigned to ride with the bike coordinator, Mike, while he drove the bike course Saturday morning. We marked the course with spray paint. Mike took down some notes on where to place volunteers with flags, and noted where he could get away with fewer than the recommend amount of volunteers (because we were running low in that department). We even swept the course with a broom.

Sweeping the bike course before a triathlon

I had no idea someone was actually responsible for doing this. In theory, it’s a great thing to do. However, for the detail-oriented, anal-retentive people, it’s probably not the best job. I think Mike and I swept many more pebbles than what was necessary. The course was clean, but it took us 2 hours to ride 26 miles… in a car.

Sunday at the Rockett’s Landing Triathlon

We arrived just before 5:30am. Of course, we were ready to go. But you can’t always count on having something to do right away. We waited around for 20 minutes before anyone really told us what was going on.

The rest of the day was a blur. We drove around for a while and helped setup the other stations. Then we arrived at our station, got it setup, and waited. Once the first runner came through, chaos ensued, and 5 hours went by in a flash.

How volunteering made me a more conscientious runner

  • It’s easier to pick up cups that aren’t smashed, so if you must throw them on the ground, do it away from the running area
  • You never know if/when the aid station might run out of cups, so if you can, refill the same one instead of using 3 or 4. The runners behind you will love you for it, especially on a hot day.

I’ll leave you with my favorite comment of the day…

Said a woman somewhere near the middle of the pack, and I quote, “I’ve never put a sponge in so many inappropriate places in my entire life.” Yeah. It was that hot.

Don’t forget about tips for volunteers at an aid station & tips for coordinating volunteers during a race.

    2010 Old Dominion 100 – Race Report

    I set out to run 100 miles… and I didn’t even come close. This race marked my first ever DNF. I under-estimated the course & over-estimated my ability. I got completely dominated today. It was a humbling experience, and I gained an enormous about of respect for all the finishers.

    If you’re interested in my pre-race interview, you can view it here.

    Today I set out to run 100 miles… and I didn’t even come close. This race marked my first ever DNF.

    I under-estimated the course & over-estimated my ability. I got completely dominated. It was a humbling experience, and I gained an enormous amount of respect for all the finishers.

    Old Dominion Video Recap

    Old Dominion Pictures

    Update: Ryan finished in 22 hours, 20 minutes, and I waited until 2:30am to see him cross the finish line. Another buddy, Abe Moore, finally got a buckle in his third attempt, finishing in just over 20 hours. He was 4th overall. Great job guys.

    Old Dominion 100 Pre-race Interview

    A video interview with myself the day before my race at the Old Dominion 100-mile endurance run in Woodstock, VA. I feel anxious, prepared and ready to go.

    Just before I head out the door to head up to Woodstock, VA for the Old Dominion 100 this weekend, I interviewed myself. Here is the result.

    If you’re looking for the post-race recap, you can read my race report.

    2009 Bad to the Bone 50k – Race Report

    The Bad to the Bone 50k has 8,800 ft. of elevation gain through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It’s a challenging course, but offers some pristine views of the moutainside. One of the most enjoyable races I’ve done so far.

    A true ultra

    Right from the beginning, this felt like a true ultra. I spent the night in a friend’s condo at Wintergreen Resort (thanks to the Cushnie’s). I woke up at 4:15am to buckets’o’fog. Visibility was zero. A chilly morning, in the low 50s, but great running weather. Overcast. Forecast called for rain later in the day.

    Going vertical right from the start

    I arrived at check-in, got everything ready to go, and last minute decided to ditch the jacket. I was hoping I’d warm up as soon as I started running. After a 1-mile warmup on the entrance road, we climbed a 2-mile section, straight up, on fairly rough terrain. The 8,800 ft. of elevation gain this race advertised… it was no joke. And it started right away.

    Road runner turned trail runner

    A half hour in, I witnessed a conversion: road runner to trail runner. I heard a man behind me say, “Wow! This is beautiful. I’m never running another road race again.” Sir, welcome to the club. We’re thrilled to have you.

    Ridiculous up-and-down

    About 10 miles in, we descended this dirt mountain road… for 4.5 miles. At the bottom, we turned around and ran straight back up. Correction: we walked back up. No hill work can prepare you for something like this. It was ridiculously awesome. I must have passed at least a dozen people with my patented power hike.

    We ran along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a mile or two before heading back onto the trails. Stopped at a few more aid stations. I met a nice couple from Illinois. We ascended Bald Mountain, reached 3,500 ft., and I turned around and ran straight back down toward the finish. I ran almost the entire last 5 miles (which is unusual for me), but that’s just how fresh I felt. It just started to rain too, but at that point, it wasn’t a factor.

    One of my favorites

    This was one of the best races I’ve done, in terms of both performance & fun. I’m looking forward to doing more trail ultras, especially difficult ones with technical terrain & lots of ups and downs.

    Course description

    It’s challenging. Compared to other 50ks out there, the 8,800 ft. of elevation gain is amongst the most I’ve seen. There are a few 1-2 mile stretches of pretty technical terrain, most of which are on ascents & descents. A majority of the race is on dirt single track, with 5-6 miles on paved road, and ~9 miles on dirt road. There are several beautiful views from the mountainside (if the fog dies down).

    What I Learned

    • 8,800 ft. of elevation gain in a 50k is no joke. It’s also a lot of fun.
    • I’ll always get passed on the flat, road sections.
    • I’m slow. And will probably always be slow. (see previous bullet)
    • I love uphills & downhills, basically all the more difficult sections. They’re just more fun.
    • Running downhill on rocky terrain is awesome. Short, quick steps, almost hopping from rock to rock, hips turned one way, then the other, focusing on every step, letting gravity do the work. Ah, it’s paradise.
    • The longer the race, the better I place.
    • Mountains are a) beautiful  b) humbling  c) a bit scary at times  d) my second home

    The result

    23/82 – overall

    2009 3Sports Sprint Triathlon – Race Report

    The 3Sports Sprint Triathlon just outside Richmond, VA is a great entry-level triathlon. It consists of a 300m pool swim, 20k bike, 5k run. I continue to perform poorly on the bike, and excellent on the run. I always have spent more time on my feet than on my ass.

    300m pool swim, 20k bike, 5k run

    The course

    It’s identical to that of the HHHunt PowerSprint which takes place in May. So if you’re looking to see how you’ve improved from one race to another, these two are just far enough apart to get some decent training in-between.

    The Swim

    My swim was almost identical to the PowerSprint. I ended up being a few seconds faster. This race only had 10 seconds in between each swimmer (as opposed to 15 sec), but the pool was no more crowded than it was for the PowerSprint.

    The Bike

    I tried something new. I had my shoes already attached to my bike. When I entered T1, I threw on my shades and helmet, and ran barefoot to the mounting area. My feet were on top of my shoes (not inside of them yet), and I pedaled out onto the course. As I was coasting, I worked my feet into my shoes.

    Doing what the elites do = Fail

    I saw the elites doing this, so I thought I’d give it a try. It makes sense to cut down on total time because you’re putting your shoes on while moving, instead of while standing still. But it’s definitely something you should practice before doing it in a race. It took me almost 3 full minutes to get both shoes on, and one of them still wasn’t securely on my foot. It probably cost me more time than if I had just put them on in the transition area.

    My chain popped at about mile 2. Stopping, putting it back on, and getting back up to speed, probably cost me about 2 minutes total time. A little bummer, but the fact that I got it back on and successfully finished the next 10 miles is something I’m proud of. I’m far from the world’s greatest bike mechanic.

    The run

    Hot damn. I continue to surprise and impress myself. Completed the run in 22:54 (a 7:22/mi pace). I did take the bike a little easier, and focused on pushing myself on the run. But that’s still a great time for me. And it makes perfect sense because I’ve been running 40-50 mile weeks for the past 5 weeks. Training works.

    Smart (or dumb) training

    One other note to mention is that I ran 22 miles the day before the race. So I wouldn’t say I was well-rested, but when I needed them, my legs came through.

    This will probably be my last tri of the season. I’ll continue to focus on my training for the Old Dominion 100 in June 2010. I’ll most likely either continue training for ultra runs, or try my hand at some longer distance tris.

    The result

    300m Swim, 6:25
    T1, 1:27
    20k Bike, 43:12
    T2, 0:41
    5k Run, 22:54
    Overall, 1:14:38