Day480 WEU

TL;DR – weekend trip to a running event

There’s a saying you can’t step into the same river twice. This becomes more likely as I repeat many of my past races or events. My weekend at the Worlds End Ultra (WEU) was my attempt this year to step into the same river twice (2021) and ended mildly disappointed. Disappointed might be a bit harsh but being unexpectedly disatisfied is more like it when compared to last year. What did they say about jealousy? Comparison is the thief of joy?

Why did I go in the first place? It was a race I wanted to do myself. It’s a very hard race and with a lot of friendly people. It has beautiful views. I only knew about it last year when a friend promoted volunteering for it on his social media. I joined him there. To me it was like a retreat and a runner paradise. I never run in the official Worlds End Ultra but being a volunteer there was like brush with celebrities.

Like in Psalm, the psalmist wrote a day in your court (temple) is better than a thousand elsewhere.

Going to a race is like going on a pilgrimage for me.

I signed up to volunteer maybe back in January. I booked my camp in March. As the race day approached, I was a bit concern after not receiving any confirmation/instructional email of what I will be doing and who’s my boss. Maybe I did receive but I couldn’t find it or maybe the email might have gone into the spam folder.

So I went and signed up again. I signed up to help clean up on Sunday too. This time I received an email both from the signup site and from the volunteer director. I got things settled. Basically, I was asked if proofing the course would be fine with me. I’d rather to do sweeping as I have done that last year, but if that is not available, proofing would be fine too. Best of all, I could run on the official course before anyone.

So I prepared for the weekend. Here I have a bit of complaint. Mostly it was my fault too of not asking for the pertinent info: who, what, when, where, and how. I had only the location and what I would be doing. I was not told where to meet and when to meet or more details on what I will be doing. I guess most volunteers would get there on Friday night and received their briefing. I live about 5 hours drive away and though I wanted to be there as early as I can, but realistically I could not arrive until Saturday.

The coordinator understood this and assigned me a post where I don’t have to start until noon.

Like last year, I plan on driving to PA on Saturday morning instead of Friday due to work. It is a 5 hour drive for me (4:30 according to Google map) but Google Map assumed I will be driving 55 mph or more on mountain roads where sometimes they posted a very high limit higher than what I am comfortable driving and driving it in the dark. Their time estimation is usually wrong for me. Never trust google when going to a remote place.

After thinking a bit I’d rather drive there late at night than early in the morning since I rarely was able to sleep early enough to wake up before the crack of dawn unless it is for my own race. This race starts at 5 AM, so if I want to make it to the start I would have to leave my house at the latest by midnight, meaning I have to be in bed by 6 pm. I do plan to depart way before then. I hate late night driving too, but I felt I could at least make some miles before I was tired.

What I wanted to do rarely goes according to plan. I had a dental appointment that afternoon. It was partly unexpected, and forgotten. When I thought I went in for a filling, I came out with a deep below the gum cleaning. My mouth was bleeding during it because they had to cut into my gum. It was not painful but it was uncomfortable. I compared that to running with blisters on my foot, which I had done quite a few times in my ultra marathon runs. I could stand the pain and the uncomfortableness and the bleeding. I was advised to rinse my mouth with salt water but I told my dentist I was going camping immediately that night. Salt would be hard to come by. There wouldn’t be salt etc out in the woods. I would deal with the pain was what I told myself. It couldn’t get it infected over the weekend. F*

The Friday afternoon traffic was as bad as usual and by the time I got home it was 6 pm. I wanted to eat and pack — it was my fault for not packing the night before. I got those taking care of by 7 ish. Then I still had some work left from my day job to be taken care of. Theoretically, I could do them on Monday but I try never move things planned for that day to the next day. My home computer acted up and needed an update. I couldn’t get to my work without the update since it fixes the two factor authentication that I needed for the company login. Long story short, I spent another hour getting the computer ready for work and by the time I finished everything it was 9 o clock, much later than I wanted, but at least now I could get on the road. The pressure I was put under to try get as much done as possible and also my own internal deadline dealing with the trip, because my mind kept saying, I got to leave now every five minutes.

I loaded up everything and went to a gas station to get myself a tall cup coffee. I needed it and I knew it would be a long night. I’m not a coffee drinker but I found it helps for long trips. I could run while being half awake but driving in that condition is not something I want to stake my life or any other people’s life. It’s dangerous. I can tell first hand, having been through an accident due to lack of sleep.

The drive that evening was peaceful because it was past rush hour. It was finally a release from all the stresses I faced that day/week. I used a local road to get to PA (hwy 15) instead of the Interstates. Once in PA, I went passed Gettysburg and passed a lot of familar places where I raced before. I continued on to Harrisburg. The drive brought back memories of various trips I took the past few years. I usually use the same roads. From there, I headed toward Williamsport, the nearest city near the race site. I booked hotel there and I knew I probably be tired by then. Midnight came. Then 1 AM, I was started to get drowsy, but luckily I got to the hotel just as it started becoming hard to stay awake.

The hotel staff was cheerful and checked me in. They had expected me and left the light on in my room and also cooled my room. Probably I was the last guest to show up that night. This was a low end inn but I was greeted by name. The place was a bit dated but room was good and comfortable. I only planned to stay for a couple hours to get rested enough to drive again, for I still planned to get to race by 4 ish in the morning. I have an hour more to go. It means I would have an hour and at max two hours of sleep. By now I was no longer sleepy but I knew I was also in no condition to drive. I was still full of adrenaline (probably from the coffee), like I was in a race, but I knew I must sleep. I set my alarm for 4 am as a compromise, but waking up at 3 AM was originally the plan. Now it was near 2 AM. I did not have a lot of time left. I didn’t even change my clothes but laid across the bed. Alarm went off not long after as if I didn’t sleep. Still I did not feel ready to drive. Since I promised to arrive before noon, I decided to at least sleep at least till 7:00 before continuing the trip. The sun came up at 5, and with the curtains opened and I couldn’t sleep any longer so I decided to check out and be on my way. I felt much refresh by now. Initially, I planned to sleep by the side of the road to save money, but having a hotel room was a wise decision.

They had breakfast at the hotel so I made myself a waffle and grabbed an apple and some cake. I went then to a nearby gas station to refill my car. I was too early that the pumps there did not work yet. Small town gas stations do not operate 24 hours. The staff was there but they had to set up their registers and computers first, which also control the pump. I think they did not close the book the previous night, so they had to print their sale records first before the pump could be operated. The clerk was having trouble doing that. Another person was there training the person. So I waited, and one of the staff smoked by the door. When everything was ready, they apologized to me for the wait. I got my tank filled and drove out of the town. The sun has fully risen by then.

Anyway, I arrived at the race site exactly 7:00 as the 50K runners went out. I saw them took off up the road as I walked up to the start. It has been 10 hours since I first left the house for this trip. Finally I arrived.

For the next couple hours I had nothing to do but walking around. I couldn’t find my contact person or any of race staff at the start. Again that was on my part of not communicate better beforehand. I thought I was going surprise them by arriving earlier than my scheduled time. There were other volunteers there cleaning up the breakfast table but they had their jobs and from experience I know the one in charge was probably busy since the race had just started and I didn’t mind waiting around a bit. I thought soon someone would be back at the start since that was the traditional headquarter for the race. No one came. A few other volunteers showed up too looking for the same person I was looking for, so it was good, at least I had someone to talk to and follow. Someone directed us to look for the Aid Station 4 across the street, likely the coordinator would be there. They were short on staff, it seemed.

A little while later a runner got lost and came back to the starting line. I think he was one of the 50K runners. He said he has run this race 7 times and had usually gotten lost in the same place. Another volunteer offered to lead the runner back onto the trail saying she knew the way, and so I later decided followed them. I wanted to explore the course. We came to one of the stations (picnic shelter) where the RD (race director) was. By the way, the runner should have been DQ or pulled from the race since it was impossible for the runner to make the next cut off, but we didn’t know. It was not our fault there was no race marshall at the start. The race director told us that the sweeper already went out and so the runner would likely be behind the sweeper if he got back on the trail. We did not know that and we shouldn’t have guided the runner back onto the trail. Oops, but what done was done. The RD was not happy of what we told him of what we just did since now he would have to contact subsequent aid stations to keep a lookout for this particular runner and we had no idea of what the runner’s bib was. I offered to chase down the runner, but the race director did not want that, because it would have ended up with two unknown runners now they have to track. Also we were not a race official that has the power to pull a runner from the race.

I asked about my volunteering. Fortunately the person I needed to talk to was also there. I did not recognize him at all but he recognized me from last year. He was the volunteer coordinator and he gave me my briefing and basically said I could start my shift any time. He had to bring water to another station so he could not drop me at where I needed to be.

I was given a race phone and the RD gave me the direction to the part of the course I had to proof. The phone was important because it was specifically set up for our location and would allow me to be in contact with the race management team. I believed AT&T set up a special cell network wih a temporary mobile cell tower(s) for the race and the phone only worked on this network. We each have a preset phone list of various volunteers (such as head of each aid stations/radio operators/my team/etc). They also had traditional ham radio at each station and they used it to track runners and report them back to headquarter because cellular signal is not always the best.

Proofing in traditional sense is to make sure the course is set up correctly. However, I had no clue how my section of the course is supposed to be like, so no way to confirm if the course was according to the intended course. It is my first time running on it. My section was from Brunnerdale to the Finish, about 14 miles. I drove to Brunnerdale, which I believe was the farest point on the course (took about 30 minutes drive). Finding the trail was easy. The runner handbook had everything I needed, plus I had the verbal directions from the RD. I had the gps offline map on my phone, but I didn’t get lost and didn’t have to use it. I got there before the Aid Station was even set up.

I enjoyed my run. Basically I was the course’s test bunny. I won’t go into details. 100K course is much harder than the 50K, especially near the finishing. We had maybe 2000 ft climb. The section was muddy. My duty was to add markings to the course if I think they were needed. If I was confused about some part of the course so would the runners. My job was to make those confusing parts clearer. I was given a roll of ribbons to mark the course if needed. I could hang as much tape as I wanted to direct runners to the right way. This was not the first time the race was held, and the course was marked by one of the race directors or his friends so it was well marked and guaranteed to be correct. My only confusion was when I came to a tall maybe 8 ft fence across the trail. The fence extends in both direction indefinitely and it seems we either climb across or go around. I tried going around first but had to back track when the trail disappeared. I was not sure if I was to climb the fence. I haven’t been to any races where we had to trespass into private property. Luckily later, I found a “hole” / a window gate to climb through. The window is normally locked but was unlocked for us on race weekend. After getting through it was obvious that was the way. As for the rest of the trail, I only had minimal work to do, basically, just run it was what I needed. My coordinator was surprised how little tape I used when I got back. Was I supposed to use all of it?

I thought also I had whole day to run it since I started a little after 9:30 and I had only 14 miles to cover. I should be back by 12:30, well before 100k runners get there. For the 100K runners, there race didn’t end until midnight. Unexpected to me, the course final couple miles were shared with the 50k people. It always has been for this race but it slipped my mind. The first 50k already finished by noon. So I was really racing against time when it dawned on me to try to beat the 50K people and I ran against the faster runners from the 50k event. It was kind of embarrassing as I came into the Coal Mine Aid Station (last aid station for the 50K) and they asked me what was I doing there. Noted, it was my fault too to come into the station from the wrong way where they didn’t expect. I was not aware I had gotten off course at the time because I missed an earlier turn near the station. Looking back, I failed my proofing duty there, because if I missed a directional sign or ribbon, it means others might miss it too, and I should have gone back to mark it. I said I am a volunteer, proofing the course. They didn’t laugh at me, but they kind of took a double-take because, since both the first 50k and 100k people already passed by and were on their way out (to High Knob), there was nothing left of the course to be proofed. They told me the 100k proofer already came through too earlier as if they didn’t believe my story. I did not argue with them, since that section was done by two 100k proofers, one to proof the way going out from Coal Mine to Brunnerdale passing through High Knob and mine was from Brunnerdale coming back to Coal Mine and to the Finish on a different trail. It was a small loop. I know I did my part but it got on my nerve when people didn’t believe me. It was not particularly from staffers I was being irritated at, but because of the situation I was put in. All this spoke of the lack of foresight in arranging the proofers in proofing the course. I know, I just need to do my part.

Later I found that front runners of the 100k actually over took some of proofers in the earlier sections. Luckily I had the last stretch and the 100k guy did not catch up to me. I was like still a couple hours ahead of him. However, I felt I failed them by not proofing the last couple miles of the course before the 50k runners got there. Not sure if the 50k proofer covered the last section to the Finish or whether they relied on me since both trails are joined there. I found it was generally well marked, so I was not worried or blaming myself for not covering the last couple miles. If I had known, I would have started out a bit earlier to avoid such incident.

One critique on my section where most runners would reach it at nightfall is we should also proof it by running it at night to be in similar condition as the runners. There was only little value for me to proof that section in the daytime, except for me not to get lost. The reason being is it was so much easier during the day to find my way and what might have seemed fine to me in daytime might not be when the course is completely dark. So even though the markings might be adequate during the day time, it might not be at night. Hopefully not many runners got lost in my section that night.

For the rest of my weekend, it was uneventful. I got back to the Finish around 1 pm. I had food from the finish line and reconnected with my volunteer coordinator and turned in my phone. He drove me to get my car back from Brunnerdale. The Aid Station captain there said the 1st and 2nd place 100k runner already came through. It was around 3 pm and likely the first place would finish by 4 pm. I and the captain talked about last year event. I was there last year with her because I was the sweeper for that section. They were waiting for me that time to come through. She asked if I wanted to hangout there again with them this year. I said I have to figure out my campsite and get some rest to enjoy the late evening hours. I was sleep deprived and I started to feel the effect in the afternoon sun. So next up for me was to set up my camp and have some rest first.

For the rest of the day, I was driving around looking for cell signal because I found out when I got to the campground, I did not know which campsite I made reservation. Due to budget cut, the campground was unstaffed. This year, might be due to privacy reason, the camper names were redacted on their posted master list of who occupying where. So there was no way for me to find out my site number from the list. I needed the cell signal to access my email reservation for my site number. I remembered reading that the highest point on the course, High Knob, has signal, so I drove up to High Knob. I got signal and what I needed from my phone. I stayed longer afterward at High Knob since the aid station there was about to close in an hour, at 5 pm. I actually waited there until 7:30 when everyone left because we were waiting for the sweeper to come through and I was trying to relive my last year experience too as being a sweeper. Last year, I was the sweeper from High Knob to Brunnerdale. Sweeper was supposed to be a designated person on the trail to accompany the last runner. But the sweeper never came through at High Knob or I somehow missed the person. We were all waiting. By 7:30, we all left. I don’t know if they finally figured out where the sweeper was or whether there was even one for that section. I know they tried to call the person on the phone.

View from High Knob

It was evening by the time I descended from High Knob. Having very little sleep and hadn’t eaten much for whole day except some aid station food and candies, I was exhausted. This year, the Aid Station staff only fed me a little (like couple spoonful of mac and cheese). I wasn’t complaining, food was for runners and since I didn’t have a runner bib, they were not supposed to feed me. They had to make sure their food would last for a whole day until midnight.

I headed to my campsite, hoping to cook my dinner, setting up a base before heading to the finish to watch the race. Most 100k people would be coming into the finish around 9 pm to 12 am. I wanted to go watch them. However, after dinner, it got dark and cold fast and only thing I wanted was sleep. We had an unusual cold weekend where temperature was down low 45 F at night where the previous weekend was around 90+. I crawled into my tent and felt asleep not long after. The race could have their own fun for all I care.

Sunday, I volunteered to clean up the course. About 10 of us met back at the volunteer shelter around 8:30. I chose to cover the first 20 miles of pulling the course ribbons and other race markings. Many of them paired up. Mine would be a looped segment and would take me back to the start where left my car, so I didn’t need to arrange for ride.

I did this loop last year too. Last year, I went out just for the fun of it. I wasn’t volunteering then. I was hoping I could make better time this year. I think I ran the course better than last year except I had only a 2L water on me this time. I had a filter but I forgot to bring a pressure bag (for reverse osmosis) to filter the water. So I had to conserve my water on my 20 mile run. As an aside, I could connect the filter to the hose of my pak but it requires some DIY of cutting the tube, and I had been reluctant to cut my pak. Last year, I had to filter water twice during my run, meaning I drank 6L that time. This time I only could take a sip when I was very thirsty. I finished the run by 4 pm still with some water remained. I dropped off the reflective ribbons I took down before heading home. They reuse the ribbons for other races. I was told those ribbons cost over $300, they would avoid spending this much every year.

Actually since the ribbons were bucky to carry when there were a lot, I was advised to hide them halfway during the run and to drive back to pick them up. I did exactly that and hid them at the Iron Bridge and later I went back to pick them up. Note, I was at the Iron Bridge at 1 pm and it took me 3 more hours to get back to the finish. But after I got back, I got into my car and drove back to the Iron Bridge to pick up the ribbons, it only took me 17 minutes to drive. The time and effort to cover the same distance by car always surprised me.

Iron Bridge. Ribbons well hidden in the bushes not shown

Anyway, there was not much happened after. I had my runs. Both runs were fairly long and decent workouts. I enjoyed the challenging course. It has becoming less challenging this year due to my improvement at trail/hill running.

One of my regrets was I wished I had rested well and so would have enjoy the race more on Saturday. I was hoping to hang out and meet runners at the finish and to basically revamp my running passion. I was pretty much beaten down from the MMT race. However, because of the rush to get to the race site on Friday, plus my volunteering duties, I ended up spent little to no time with runners.

Not all was lost, I was able to talk to and listened from other volunteers of their running stories. I learned about one volunteer is going to Laz races, the Barkley Fall Classic and the Last Annual Vol State. Someone was saying their race in France they had helicopters to transport things to the aid stations (I think they were referring to UTMB, a famous race). I think that was so amazing.

I plan to volunteer again and maybe one day soon I will run in this race as well.

In review, I spent 10 hours in the car. 3 hours at a hotel and ran about 8 hours. I had a few hours at an aid station and a few more hours in my own tent. I did not get back home until 10 pm Sunday, with a couple hours for a side trip to Harrisburg. What I used to do in other events is compared how much driving time to my running time, like whether it is worth 10 hour drive for an 8 hour run. If the driving time is longer than the running time, then it is not worth the effort. I know sometimes this is just a tease. I had signed up to run in a 10k where I had to fly across the country before. Just saying.

I don’t mean to rant but only to show logistical part often plays a big role in a race or a trip. It is like 99% of the iceberg. Most people only see the top of the iceberg. I wish I focus more on my two runs I did there that weekend. But this was my second year running them, so there was not much more to say except I enjoyed them tremendously. I actually ran fast enough that I cramped up in the end because I was racing against time, but that also had to do with me not drinking enough water. Who can brag that they almost ran with the front runners at least for couple minutes in the last couple miles in a race? They actually thought I was one of their competitors. Then the passed me and wonder what’s wrong with this guy being so slow.

In conclusion, I came into the event expecting being more involved with it. I did more this year but I was also a lot more detached from the race itself. It was not a bad thing. I felt I could have gone there any weekend to run on my own if running was what I after. Overall, I knew my purpose there was to help make the event successful. My part was small. Though I didn’t see the result directly, I knew a lot of runners enjoyed it. Later, after I reached home, I actually found out one of my friends ran in it. It was a surprise to me. I was there all weekend and did not know. That pretty much sum it all up, I felt I missed a bigger picture. If I was given a chance, I would have spent more time with my friend but then knowing the things I did to help with the race was important too.

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