Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You thought running an ultra was hard! Volunteering at Gorge Waterfalls 50K

Terry Sentinella enjoys a wet bridge crossing at Elowah Falls
 I have a lot of respect for good race directors. First of all, imagine the challenge of finding a trail worthy of an ultra, one that people would travel across the US to run, for example.  Then mapping it and coordinating all the logistics of parking, aid stations, start/finish, etc.  Also, consider what often goes into putting on an ultra marathon the week before the event:

lack of sleep for multiple days before race
lists to remind you to make lists
running most of the course with course marking supplies
meal planning, shopping, and organizing for post race
hiking in aid station supplies (James alone carried 6 gallons in one trip a mile to the last aid station)
driving on sketchy roads to get to where you hike in the aid station supplies
coordinating a multitude of volunteers
clean up after the race, including getting all aid station trash, tents, and supplies off the trails
sending out final emails to racers, respond to emails/calls from racers
getting race results up in a timely manner

There is so much more, this is just a handful of things a race director does in the few days before the race and after.  Some jobs associated with directing take weeks or months, and some can only be done a day or two before a race.  Directing a race is harder than running it, guaranteed.  I traveled to the gorge in Oregon near Cascade Locks to help James with the first annual Gorge Waterfalls 50K.  My duty? Do whatever he needed from Thursday through Sunday.  The race took place on Saturday.
James works on race stuff on Friday
We marked about 8-9 miles of the course on Friday morning and met with a park ranger to discuss the race and pick up keys for the park gates.  What's more, there were a few more requests from the rangers: put up more signs to warn hikers about the race.  Friday also included shopping, setting up aid stations, computer work, volunteer coordinating, and hiking trails at night to show volunteer coordinator William how some of the volunteers would be stationed and to lug water to the last aid station. 
Course marking: running with rebar spears (and a sledge hammer), watch out for the rocks and roots!
Me, one of three photographers for the race
 The Race
Saturday's race was a big success, runners absolutely loved the waterfalls, the mossy forests, and the single track trails.  Overall, racers reported that the race was both harder than they expected with a lot of smallish rocks in the trail, and more beautiful than expected.  I was stationed at two points on the course to take pictures and video of the race.  It rained the whole time I was on the course, from 7:30am to noon, but it was a little drizzle most of the time, making it bearable.
Moss, rocks, giant sized landscape.  You end up feeling like you are in a giant's garden.
 My favorite section was photographing and recording Elowah Falls.  The waterfall was so strong, plummeting water into a shallow pool, that it relentlessly sent thick mists of water over the trail and bridge as far as 300 feet from its source.  I stationed myself on a car sized boulder and captured runners as they passed over the bridge and past the falls.  The spray from the falls was so intense that I had to clean my lens between runners, sometimes multiple times.  Some of the photos turned out a little blurry due to the spray, but there was no avoiding it, especially when a gust would fling a wave of mist my way.  After 45 minutes of this, I was ready put on some dry clothes. 
Here is my favorite video I took at Elowah, it gives you an idea of the power of the falls:

More pictures from Elowah Falls:

Pictures from 2.5 miles into the course, not sure of the name of the falls:
Jace, overall winner with a time of 4:25
William Emmerson, 2nd place 4:49

Shawna Tompkins (2nd woman) and Alvin Crain (11th man)
Pam Smith, first woman and 3rd overall with a time of 4:49


  1. Thats why directing is a labor of love! One that I thoroughly enjoy, volunteering that is since i haven't RD anything major yet. The reward isn't handed out in money or a parade but the pure unadulterated satisfaction and gratification of the smiles of so many happy people that just finished something you created. Great story Candice and see you Saturday, and James too.

  2. Thanks for coming out to volunteer for the race. Was my first 50k, and though it was hard and too me forever to finish - I absolutely loved it. You all did such a wonderful job. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  3. I always appreciate the hard work the R.D. and volunteers do...Thank You!

  4. Hi Candice -

    Happened upon your blog by surfing around the web this morning. Great video and story! Would have been fun to run through all those waterfalls - next year!

    Jenn Hughes
    Run Pretty Far


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