The Other Side Of The Race

For the fourth year in a row I have been selected through the lottery to run the Hardrock Hundred. Once accepted, runners must do eight hours of mandatory volunteer work at an ultra event to complete the registration process. Aside from the obvious irony of mandatory volunteer work, I do appreciate the willingness of the Hardrock Hundred board to institute a system where runners are required to give back to the community in order to participate in the race. Last year, I went down to the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs 50 Mile in New Mexico to sweep the course. This year, I called up good friend Nick Clark to see about helping out at the Quad Rock 50 Mile in Fort Collins that he organizes with fellow ultrarunner Pete Stevenson. He gladly accepted the help, telling me I would be his right-hand man and be in charge of social media for the day, essentially a 24-hour exercise in becoming Bryon Powell.

I head out from Gold Hill the afternoon before the race to help Clarkie mark a 10-mile section of the course. When I arrive, Nick looks remarkably relaxed 12 hours before an event with 400 runners. He is putting Quad Rock stickers on cow bells to give out to participants. His dirty blond, shaggy, long hair blends with his scraggly beard, speckled with white streaks of experience. Clarkie is a runner’s runner, a no-frills, get-it-done kind of a guy, in running and in life. I have not run much around these parts, so I am curious about what to expect for the race. Clarkie’s formula is pretty simple: design a tough course, mark it well, have well-stocked aid stations and beer and music at the finish. The rest takes care of itself.

Once Nick is done with the bells, we set out to mark a 10-mile section in Horsetooth Mountain Open Space. We carry a couple rolls of orange ribbon each. Nick brings a handful of flags to mark intersections. As we start up the trail, Nick settles into his trademark uphill shuffle, shoulders hunched, right arm swinging rhythmically to each step, flags in his hand, a trade from the usual handheld bottle. I cannot help but think of the many times I have raced Nick where he has pulled away from me in this signature style on a lightly graded uphill road. We finish the evening chatting over beers and a breakfast for dinner of eggs and bacon. Dana, Nick’s wife, tells me that when she first met him she remembers asking her mom, “How much beer is too much beer for a man to drink and still be reasonable to marry?” in reference to Nick’s penchant for post-Rugby trips to the pub. I quickly find my limit for how much is too much to stay awake and pass out at 11 p.m. on the couch.

Three short hours later, the lights are on and I am greeted by Nick’s, “Alright mate, let’s do this!” We are off to the start/finish area to set up tables and welcome runners signing in pre-race. Now, I am already falling behind in my 24-hour mission of being Bryon Powell. After beers, Bryon would have transitioned seamlessly to whiskey, posted seven interviews, a couple articles on iRunFar, and had the coffee and phone ready for a day’s work. Sleeping is cheating.

My one and only task before race coverage begins is to prepare coffee for runners arriving at check-in. Being an aficionado of a good brew, I am excited to get a large, brand-new percolator to perform the job. The water pump at the start/finish does not work, so Clarkie and I make a run to the Lory State Park entrance to fill a 10-gallon jug. The instructions on the box are pretty straightforward, percolation should begin within eight minutes of turning it on, and rapidly I have 60 cups on the way. While the preparation process is quick, the actual brewing is not so much. It takes over an hour to get coffee in cups and shortly thereafter runners are lining up to start the race. I have only been volunteering for a couple of hours and I have already messed up half the field’s pre-race ritual. Great.

I get to the first aid station at mile 10 and catch 30 or so runners coming through. I snap a couple of photos on my iPhone, hashtag, tweet, done. Reception is pretty bad around the reservoir, so I am constantly charging my phone on the generator. I feel and look like a jerk. Everyone is out here enjoying being outdoors and then there this guy in the corner always on his phone. Last year, when I got to sweep Jemez 50, I thought I got the easy job, basically just getting to run around all day. Sixteen hours later, exhausted and sunburned, I was not quite as convinced. This year, when Clarkie told me to tweet the race, I definitely thought I had it easy again. The day come and gone, having finished most of the coffee in the percolator myself, the only thing I am sure about is that volunteering or any kind of race involvement regardless of the job is never that easy. In times like these, you realize just how much tireless work goes into making a seemingly simple grassroots event tick. I love to race, but am equally appreciative to get the opportunity to be on the other side and help shape people’s experiences out on the trail.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you volunteered at a race yet this year? Where did you volunteer and what did you do?
  • Okay, let’s hear it, in your opinion, what is harder, racing or volunteering at an ultramarathon?

Early morning at Arthur’s aid station. All photos: Joe Grant


Jonathan Garcia leading the 25-mile race at mile 10.

Paul Hamilton in the early miles of the race.

Paul Hamilton in the early miles of the race.


Jason Koop running a steady race took sixth overall in the 50 mile.


Kerrie Bruxvoort refuels at the Horsetooth aid station.


Josh Vaughn focused through Arthur’s aid station.

Darcy Africa lead most of the race, but was bested by Becky Wheeler in the last 10 miles.

Darcy Africa lead most of the race, but was bested by Becky Wheeler in the last 10 miles.


Jim Rebenack lead the entire field (both races) through mile 25 and then won the 50 mile convincingly.


RD Nick Clark with 25 mile female winner Sarah Hansen.


Eighteen-year-old Jared Hazen leading at mile 32 before dropping out due to stomach issues.

Zeke Tiernan rehydrating at Arthur's aid station.

Zeke Tiernan rehydrating at Arthur’s aid station.


Photographer Matt Trappe had to drop from the race due to a nasty ankle sprain.

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 15 comments

  1. Emir

    Haha…good stuff Joe. Bryon needs to hold a workshop on Race day coverage. For now stick to writing (just kidding)…
    Volunteering certainly is a challenge. Being a runner, and knowing what those people are going through, definitely gives you a better perspective on what to do when volunteering and how to best assist the others running the race.
    I did it earlier this year, and can't wait to do it again.

  2. ClownRunner

    Volunteering is always infinitely more difficult than it should be. But you can always fall back on the excuse that you are not getting paid. I do that as my son's T-Ball Coach all the time when I make Rookie mistakes out there with our nation's future. The mandatory volunteering should be replaced with mandatory racing (would solve the obesity problem?)….

  3. Steve Pero

    Volunteering for sure is more difficult!
    After this past weekend of carrying 50 gallons of water on Friday into the Rendija Aid station (AKA The Last Chance Saloon) at the JMTR Trail races, then carrying in all the food, etc at 7am, then standing all day as captain of the aid station, then carrying out all the perishable on Sat evening (8PM), returning with wife Deb (who ran the 50K) to carry out the rest on Sunday morning…my body is more tired and my legs are more sore than after Hardrock last year! I still have no desire to run! (but might try today) ;-)
    I'll add to that that I find it much more rewarding to help 100's of runners get to the finish, than to run the race myself.

  4. Mike_Place

    "After beers, Bryon would have transitioned seamlessly to whiskey, posted seven interviews, a couple articles on iRunFar, and had the coffee and phone ready for a day’s work. Sleeping is cheating."

    Truer words never spoken.

  5. @UltraMorgan

    "and then there's this guy in the corner always on his phone."__Know the feeling Joe. That's what happens when you try to impersonate Bryon Powell.__Shades of the Trient aid station at UTMB 2013 after being up all night at Les Chapieux and Courmayeur.__I remember you looked way too chipper; must have been the coffee!

  6. TropicalJohn

    So, it's not a volunteer requirement, it's a service requirement. The price of admission is $200 and 8 hours of your time. You're paying it forward. . . and saving a ton of dough. Were all those race volunteers paid even the minimum wage, rest assured the entry fee would be a whole lot more.

    1. JoeWGrant

      TropicalJohn – performing 8 hours of service work that is unpaid is volunteer work. I'm not in any way suggesting that this work should be paid quite the contrary actually, I'm just merely pointing out the contraction in terminology of making volunteer work mandatory (semantics). In my article, I commend the HR board for having a system that requires people to give back to the community as I don't think this is something everyone would just do yet as I highlight it's a very rewarding process. I also praise volunteers as whole since ultras wouldn't happen without them.

  7. mtnrunner2

    Fun write up, although this puts your personal identity of "runner" and "photographer" at risk to "humorist".

  8. 7seastrees

    Great read. Indeed, I've volunteered at races and aside from volunteering at races, actual trail-work volunteerism is something all we trail players should partake in on a regular basis. If you haven't already, I pleasantly encourage you to do so. It will give you a whole new appreciation for the trails you play on;-)

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