Just over a year ago, Jason and I crossed the finish line at the Centurion South Downs Way 100 in Eastbourne. Completely exhausted we all settled inside the sports centre building with a few other runners who were resting or tending to blisters and various things. During that time after the race, a Centurion Running volunteer by the name of Ian took such great care of us. He kept coming over and getting cups of tea and coffee and food. Not once, but many times. He was like an angel. He was super friendly and very attentive. I’ve crossed many finish lines in my time and never been treated as well as this. For those of you out there who have run Centurion races before will be familiar with this level of care. I swore after that weekend and writing my report that I’d do the same one day soon. So, this year I found myself on the volunteering list for the 2019 South Downs Way 50. I had no idea what to expect or what to do, but I had a good idea in my mind about how to treat the runners. All Centurion races I’ve done have been amazing in that respect and all of the volunteers are incredible. You’ll find the most supportive marshals at the aid stations who are full of life and energy and who all want to see you reach the finish.
I originally requested to help volunteer at Saddlescombe Farm for the SDW50 this year, but was assigned to Botolphs, which is the first aid station on route. Happy with that. For that reason I also requested to be volunteering at the finish area in Eastbourne too. Nici from Centurion was kind enough to let me do both. I wanted to make a whole day of it and give back as much time as I could. What a day it was! I started early. I woke up at 6am and got a bit of food inside me. I’d run 45 miles the day before and was limping with some foot pain. I didn’t eat much the day before after the long run, and had woken up numerous times that night not only panicking about not making the start, and also by my stomach rumbling. I was out the door just after 7am and on the road. An easy drive it was. I arrived with plenty of time to spare and parked up in Botolphs in a small roundabout just down the road from the aid station. I could see a van unloading and headed down. I met a couple of guys wearing red Centurion Crew hoodies. I’m crap at remembering names but we all introduced ourselves and I got stuck in helping out. Soon a few other volunteers arrived including a Hideo who I remember because he had to pronounce his name to so many people that day (like Video – but Hideo). We chatted a bit about races and it turns out he’s run both Hardrock and Western States, which is one of my dream races. Damn I thought – I’m with my tribe today! As always with runners, they were all lovely people and we formed a good team preparing all the tables with food and drink. Our station manager was Jamie who was a good leader that day. Nice and calm and knew what he was doing. I needed that for sure because I’m one of those people that require a bit of direction to get me going. Once I’m going though, there’s no stopping me. Next time I’ll be so much better informed and experienced.
I was on sandwich duty. I had no idea how many to make. I was armed with peanut butter, jam, ham and cheese. There was bread and pita. A couple of us got going with those and we ended up cutting the sarnies into shapes to recognise the filling in case runners asked. The sandwich shape wasn’t my idea, but was brilliant! Bam – the tables were soon full and I had a bad case of immediate wrist pain from cutting cheese and spreading fillings. Before long the first runner came through. It was Ben Parkes. I’d watched many of his videos on YouTube and have followed his progress and training over the year. He recently ran a 2:25(?) Valencia marathon and had managed a 52 minute Great South Run. The dudes a good fast runner. I’d recommend checking out some of his videos for some training tips. Anyhow, back to sandwiches. After the first few runners came through we were expecting the masses to start trickling through and boy did that happen. I definitely would have made a load more if I had known how popular they were going to be. I did think to myself that it was only mile 11.2 and so not many would be eating at this point. I was frantically making food pretty much for an hour or so non stop. I’ve mastered the art of the three second jam sandwich, which evidently were ok for runners. The volunteers assigned to drinks were also really busy – filling and refilling bottle after bottle. It was a military operation for a while. I must admit, there was relief at the end, but also a lot of pleasure that everyone had got through the station bar just one runner who had to pull out there. He was ok.
We packed up quickly and cleared the road side. Before long you could walk by and not even know that hundreds of hungry, thirsty and tired runners had gone through. Botolphs dream team were done and dusted. Quick goodbyes and it was off to Eastbourne. Hideo was heading there too after lunch, however he made it there before me. Must be my terrible slow driving and reliance on satellite navigation. I did end up in a Sainsbury’s car park instead of the finish area first, so took the opportunity to grab a sandwich, monster munch and a drink. Hoofed it down once I got to the finish area because things were already in motion preparing for the finish. It was so awesome being part of the set up and helping get everything ready. What’s weird is the idea when you are there that the race has already started and runners are reaching half way or further and you are still setting up the finish area – hold on a sec though, this is a 50 miler, not a 10k. Runners are out there for about 6 hours plus! We have plenty of time. It was great to meet Ian again and meet his other half Claire who was volunteering that day too. As mentioned above, Ian was the main reason I had come to try my hand at the volunteering thing.
I was assigned the role of handing out finishers medals to the runners with another lady by the name of Laura. What was incredible was that it turned out Laura is also due to run the Grand Union Canal Race in May ! What were the chances of that? On top of that, we were volunteering with a load of other lively and enthusiastic runners at the finish line, one lady in particular Michelle, who had already run the GUCR too! We were both able to pick her brains with various questions. On top of that as well, I met a guy again who we shared a taxi with to the start line at last years SDW100, Matt, who was due to run GUCR this year but had to pull out due to injury. Incredible coincidence right there and very cool. We will all keep in touch and I look forward to see Laura on the start line of the race. So much nicer when you have people you recognise. I also know a few other people who are running GUCR from Portsmouth so I’m hoping to have a social start and potential race or at least a few miles of it.
Back to the volunteering though. The finish line area was really good fun. It was great to see the first finishers come through. I’ve never really seen it all from that close up as usually I’m working my way through the races when this happens. Good to see that the top spot runners do actually get tired too, but still surprising just how fresh they look after a few minutes rest. Medals were being put around peoples necks and it was real good to just congratulate all them at the same time. These runners all put their heart and soul into their race. It truly is inspirational to see. There were happy looking finishers, sad looking finishers and finishers that just wanted to go home and others that balled their eyes out with relief and satisfaction. Some finished their final loop of the sports track with their children, including my friend and ultra wing man Jason. It was fantastic seeing him, although there wasn’t any real time to spend chatting. Finishers were coming through the whole day and so we just kept a good rhythm and pattern going for the whole time. The winner of the men’s race was Ben Parkes who I had been following on YouTube as I do a lot of training video watching. He’s had some great results recently and just keeps improving all the time. The female winner and now course record holder was Julia Davis who ran an amazing time and coming in under the 7 hour mark for the first time ever for a female runner on that 50 mile course. Just remarkable!
We finished at 21:15, after seeing an amazing last few finishers come through. One lady who finished had attempted to complete a Centurion running event almost thirty times before, unsuccessfully, but this time with the help of a coach who had been training her for a few months, she managed to finish! That was a real special one and the talk of the race at the end. Just amazing determination shown. I spent about twenty minutes after the finisher were done helping take down tents and various things before I packed up and headed home. It was a relief to get into the car and be warm too as I didn’t quite realise how cold I had been standing outside all day. It took me a while to warm up. I got home at about midnight and cooked up a bowl of chips and cheese, and watched the finale of The Umbrella Academy season 1 on Netflix. Great way to finish a hard day on foot. I also counted the day as training, because the day was spent on my feet and the day before I had run around Portsmouth three times in a row to finish a 45 mile training run. Epic weekend! I highly recommend the volunteering thing. It’s such a good idea and a brilliant day out spending time with others who love to run. I’ve met some lovely new friends too and people I plan on running with in the future too. Spot on!
Definitely worth trying this for a day out and to get to see the other side of the aid station and organisation. It’s also so brilliant to see the effort put in by the runners and Centurion to make this event happen. Not everything went to plan on the day, especially with the finish area surprises this year where it seemed the centre had been double booked to a boxing event! All handled professionally by James, Nici and team. Well done Centurion! It’s eye opening to see the amount of work that goes into organising these events. Oh, and also – who does the washing up ???
Happy miles everyone!!! xxx