Volunteering at a race can be just as much fun as running it!
by Gruby Barrett
In early 2019 my husband, Mark, was volunteering for Repair Café Wales. Chatting to the organiser, Cerys, he discovered that she was married to a man called Rhys who was running 26 marathons in 26 days and keen for company. Mark joined Rhys for some loops around Bute Park and learned that he directed an ultramarathon company, Pegasus Ultra Running. Before we knew it we were both signed up to volunteer at one of their races, the VOGUM (the Vale of Glamorgan Ultra Marathon)! It runs for 40 miles along the coastal footpath from Porthcawl to Penarth. At the time we had little idea what an ultramarathon or a checkpoint was, but Cerys and Rhys can be pretty persuasive.
So in May 2019, having carefully read our emailed instructions, we set off early to pick up a boot load of food, drinks and equipment and set up a checkpoint in Porthkerry Park. We were honestly both hooked from the start. The first runner came in and chatted as we filled his water bottle, and off he went. For 8 hours we stood in the sunshine, providing food, drink and where needed TLC and encouragement to runners and they passed through. Every runner greeted us with a huge smile, largely I suspect of relief as they had covered the distance and reached the next checkpoint. That year Pegasus had organised 3 ultras, and I volunteered for all 3 while Mark ran 1 and volunteered for 2. Then Covid hit, and in 2020, sadly, no organised runs went ahead.
In Summer 2021, after several false starts, ultramarathons started again with the HOWUM (the Heartlands of Wales Ultra Marathon in mid-Wales) followed by the Eddum, a brutal 50-mile loop on the Epynt way, near Sennybridge. The day of the EDDUM was hard for us with high winds and heavy rain, I hate to think of how it was for the runners. Despite guy ropes the gazebo kept blowing up into the air and we had to catch it several times until we came up with the bright idea of tethering it to our car on one side and our co-volunteers’ van on the other. Unfortunately, the van had to head off, and as soon as we untied the gazebo it took off! Luckily two runners who were sitting in camping chairs underneath it caught it by the legs. Our checkpoint sadly became some carefully laid out food and drink in the boot of our car and we jumped out in full waterproofs to assist each passing runner. A few changed into dry clothes at our checkpoint only to be caught by the next deluge 5 minutes later. All the runners are inspirational, particularly in those conditions; from the fastest who ran over hilly, difficult terrain completing 50 miles in 9 hours, to the last finisher who was out in all weathers for 20 hours.
When Mark announced that he was going to run the VOGUM on 27th August 2021 I was fairly confident that I could recruit a couple of volunteers to run a checkpoint with me from the fabulous She Runs: Cardiff community. Within 24 hours of putting a message on Facebook I was thrilled that 12 volunteers had put themselves forward, which threw up the problem that the checkpoint might get too crowded. The solution was to have two shifts so everyone could try the experience. Planning the shifts the nerves kicked in, as the responsibility of coordinating the people, food, drink equipment, and manpower for a checkpoint for Pegasus’ biggest event ever (with 180 sign ups) hit me. Really, I needn’t have worried, with just a 5 minute briefing the SR:C ladies came up trumps and managed all the inevitable minor problems as they happened with ease. The early crew were having such a great time they didn’t want to leave at the allotted time but again, I need not have worried. They worked so well as a team that at no point did the checkpoint seem crowded. As runners came through, they were greeted with cheers, enthusiasm, cake and fruit. It was lovely when runners from the SR:C group arrived, creating a fabulous party atmosphere. Once the checkpoint had been packed up and delivered to the finish, I grinned as I overheard two finishers contemplating running back for more cake.
And so the Pegasus SR:C checkpoint was born! There was no difficulty recruiting volunteers to help at the RIDUM (30 miles along the Rhymney Ridgeway walk) or the South CANUM (40 miles along the Monmouthshire canal from Newport to Brecon). The runners were informed of the quality of food at the SR:C checkpoint at the briefing and for each race the response at the checkpoint and afterwards on social media was fabulous. Quite a few runners were running several of the Pegasus events, and I had queries about where the SR:C checkpoint would be and whether there would be the usual favourite food.
The dates for 2022 are already in my diary, and I’m looking forward to helping at checkpoints again. You never know, one day I might even run one.
Finally a huge thank you to everyone from SR:C who gave up a day (in some cases two!) to join me in helping out, and respect to the inspirational ladies who ran.