Monday, July 12, 2010

"Runner's Education"

For those of you who aren't from around North Vancouver you wouldn't know the Knee Knacker was this last weekend. You might event wonder what that is. It's not the guy who Tanya Harding hired to bash up Nancy Kerrigan. It's a 30 mile trail run over some of the most technical and steep trails North Vancouver has to offer. It's super fun and incredibly well organized. I think they say there are two volunteers for every racer.
Like many ultras these days, there's a lottery to get in. My name wasn't pulled from the proverbial hat this year, but I really enjoyed the race in another way. First of all, I volunteered to mark the first quarter of the course during pre-race week. I just wanted to part of it. On race day however, I saw a side of the Knacker I'd never seen. Bouncing from aid station to aid station I was out to crew for Captain Duncan Coo - The Lazy Blogger, or the Lazy Trail Runner.

It was a blast. Watching the racers come through each aid station, the diverse interactions each had with volunteers, the emotions some carried, and the cheers of other spectators. People are so nice to each other. It takes an incredible kindness to sit in the forest all day so that runners can eat, drink, and feel supported while they run. What a commitment? Not all racers recognized it either. To be quite frank, some runners were right out rude. They didn't say thank you, give a quick nod, or even make eye contact to imply some silent gratitude.

One runner that exemplifies respect for the volunteer and the heaps of work that goes into races is Gary Robbins. He approached each station with a huge smile and so much genuine gratitude. This guy runs happy. Very happy. And I mean the whole way. Every time I saw him he was smiling and he took the time to interact with the people around him Maybe it's because he has helped organize races and understands the behind the scenes? Maybe it's because he's becoming an icon in the community and being a jerk is a bad idea? I believe it's the former in addition to the fact that he's a genuinely nice guy.

On that, maybe everyone should have to experience the bigger picture behind racing. How it is organized? Who gets it done? Perhaps working at an aid station would change the perspectives of those less grateful runners? It's a huge project behind the scenes. While racers tie up their shoes and run, others are stuffing bags, marking courses, buying aid station food, registering, getting prizes, seeking out sponsorship, securing permits, organizing timing, organizing volunteers, putting together an amazing banquet, and...well the list is huge.
Let's call it "Runners Education", the idea that runners should partake in more than just being a participant in a race. It's not just understanding ones own gate, stride length, splits, shoe choice, nutrition, etc. To be fully "Runner Educated"one must view running/racing in a more holistic way. The educated runner would recognize the vast amount of planning and community participation behind running by being involved in alternative areas. This recognition would come from volunteering at races, and/or supporting a friend or stranger who runs.

My thinking is that runners who take the time to be "Runner Educated" may view volunteers and race planning in an entirely different way the next time they race. Let's face it, a quick smile and a thank you to those around you never ruined anyone's race. Try it.


  1. Fun , not so after looking at the first 10 runners! But wow quite impressed by committment of organizers and support people and the racers themselves. The last descent, technical and the runners were killing the slopes

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  3. Mr. Craik! I really wasn't expecting to see my name in this posting and I thank you for your kind words.

    I had an interesting experience at BC Bike Race in 2008. On day five I found that I was no longer able to continue due to injury. I was forced to drop out 3/4 of the way through the day, and was stuck at an aid station for the better part of three hours.

    I spent a lot of time there self loathing and even shedding a tear or two, the entire time sitting in a truck facing the aid station itself.

    I noticed that the further back in the pack a racer is, the more genuine their thanks seemed to be.

    The lead pack of racers rarely said a word.

    The secondary pack at least said thanks but they couldn't identify a single person at the aid station post race if their life depended on it.

    The next grouping would interact with the volunteers and thank them for their time.

    Finally, the last racers in the field would practically hug everyone they could find, thank them profusely for being there, and eventually be kindly escorted out and reminded that they were still in a race with cut off times!

    I think if the volunteers had only dealt with the fastest people they'd probably never come back again. By the end of the day they were revered as the saints they truly were for sacrificing their own time to ensure the successes of people they'd never met before.

    I know I've always been thankful to volunteers while racing, and have always attempted to communicate that to them while suffering away during an event. After BCBR though I told myself I'd ensure they knew how much I appreciated their support forever more.

    RACES DO NOT HAPPEN WITHOUT VOLUNTEERS, PERIOD! You do not get to tramp through 50km of mountain terrain with fully stocked aid stations without their help!

    It amazes me how many people complain about having to perform 4hr of volly work for their KK application or equivalent race. You'd think this would teach them something but some people just don't 'get it'. Hopefully a few of those will happen across your blog posting and take a few seconds to think about whether or not people KNEW that they were thankful to have them there on Saturday?

    Thanks for posting Tom, it needed to be said!!


  4. Sorry, I had posted the same thing twice as it did't seem to take the first time...

  5. A great read and too true! Thanks for the cheers and to the volunteers...

  6. Great response, Gary. Just a perfect illustration of what I was saying. I love the bit about the racers toward the back of the pack hugging people and needing to be escorted onward. Hilarious, but shows such huge amounts gratitude. Thank you.

    Adam, again, amazing race. You are the human rocket and you raced smart letting the others push each other over their limits. Great to watch you race.