XNRG's Head Coach Andy Mouncey on one of his most memorable experiences as a race volunteer...
You can anticipate most of what is likely to happen when you volunteer as checkpoint crew and the core duties are pretty simple. And then there’s the stuff that the Race Director can never brief you on.
A few years back I pulled an all-nighter in charge of a checkpoint on the Ultimate Trails 100km race in the Lake District. Now for those of you who have never entered this world, let me colour it in. Activity starts with a trickle, then becomes a flood as the bulk of the runners arrive, then ends with another trickle. Our job is to welcome, feed, smile, hug, repair, direct, and convince without lapsing into innane cheerleading like ‘Great job!’ or blatant lies such as ‘Looking good!’ So it gets pretty full-on, but among the frenzied activity there are always moments that stand out. Here’s mine from that night:
'Has mummy arrived yet?'
A little voice from about waist level cuts through the noise of the checkpoint. She's about Joe's age (our youngest) which is probably why my parent radar locks right in despite the activity around me. Two large eyes are looking up: So this is what it's like to be caught in a tractor beam then… Her brother is with her and he is also of an age with our eldest. Time stops and they have my undivided attention. I go to eye level and ask the obvious stupid question:
'Is she running then?'
The little face nods seriously as realisation dawns on me that this is going to be tricky. Runners are dibbing their electronic timing chip but we're not recording names and numbers for a separate record here. Activity information from around the course is being relayed through our radio comms. Frantic thinking ensues.
'What color is she wearing?'
'Black.' The little face screws up in concentration. 'With pink.'
More frantic thinking: It's getting on towards teatime - Marcus (Scotney, race leader) came through before 4 but the early trickle of runners has yet to become a flood as the main field comes through. The ladies are conspicuous 'cos there are relatively few, which means I'm pretty certain we've not seen black and pink.
But I really really don't want to get this wrong. Deep breath and pray I'm right:
'I'm sorry, Mummy's not come through yet.'
Heartbeat pause, then a happy shrug: 'OK!'
If I had time I'd marvel once again at the complete and utter trust our little ones have that everything a grown up says is totally and absolutely right. If I had time I'd also pray that I'm not the one to shake that today.
We're now getting busy and after being broken in by the leaders, Gabby and I have a welcome and despatch routine nailed down. The sun is still shining, a band's playing, there's been sheepdog trials outside and the pub is packed. To add to the excitement we also have a local committee meeting taking place and blunt opinions are being aired as only blunt countryfolk can air them. A veritable melting pot, then.
I spot brother and sister periodically as they mingle with runners and non-runners alike. Three more times over the next few hours the little voice interrupts me, and three more times I check the identifying features of our missing mummy:
'Can you tell me what she's wearing again?'
'Black. With pink.'
'Is she running the big race or the little race?'
No - that clearly doesn't make sense, but then:
'She has black hair.'
OK. That's new…
'And what's her name?'
By the third time I'm a mess. It seems like ages, we're very busy and I really have no way of being certain that mummy has been through or not. I try a side-step:
'Are you here with your daddy?'
'No.' Big smiley face. 'We're here with our other mummy.'
I desperately give my traditional Methodist upbringing a crash course on twenty-first century relationships, paddling frantically under the water as I try to do utterly unfazed above. Comprehension crashes in.
'You have two mummys?'
Huge smiley nods.
And then the universe smiles benignly. I look up and coming into the checkpoint is a lady with short dark hair wearing a black top with pink and the beginnings of a huge smile as she takes in the scene in front as the kids rush in.
I can breathe again.
'Hello Heidi - welcome to our office. We've all been waiting for you!'
Andy Mouncey is XNRG's Head Coach and one of the leading thinkers on high performance.
Want to experience volunteering for yourself? Become a member of the XNRG crew and for every day volunteered you'll earn a free race day at one of our events.