Twelve months ago, I was a runner (of sorts) in the Wuu2k Marathon. This year I decided to volunteer. Why not run again you may ask? A couple of reasons. Firstly, having failed to make it to the start line of the Shotover Moonlight Marathon due to injury, I had decided to give myself a year off official events until my second attempt at the Shotover next year.
Secondly, I had such an awesome time running Wuu2k last year that I wanted to give something back and help out the amazing organisers of this event. I had never volunteered at an event before so thought it was time I give it a go.
Finally, after I completed my marathon last year, I had a couple of hours to kill waiting for my husband to finish his 60km ultra. I joined the herd of “cows” on Mount Vic cheering runners up the final hill. I was keen this year to be an official cow – something I’m told I’m very good at at times!!!
Prior to race day there were a number of emails and messages flicking back and forth, but really, that was the extent of my involvement prior to the race itself. Nice and easy. I expect it wasn’t the same for the organisers!!!
The week before race day saw some of the most atrocious weather I have seen in my three years in Wellington and I can’t imagine the thoughts that must have been going around Gareth’s head that week. In my usual blunt way, I put it out there that there was no point us worrying about what the weather would be like at the weekend. The runners would run and the volunteers would volunteer whatever the weather. We just had to wear the right clothes!!!
Fortunately, race day itself turned out to be a stunner of a day. Apart from a few light showers early on the day was sunny with very little wind. Ideal conditions for spending the day outdoors as a volunteer. Particularly when you have a cow onesie to keep you warm!
It was an early start for us, team “Moo-kara” Saddle aid station. It is the first aid station on the course, only some 10-12kms in. The ultra runners were starting at 6.30 am from Mount Kaukau (cow-cow?!) so we were expecting the likes of Sam McCutcheon and Tim Sutton to be with us not long after 7am. We were on location by 6am, setting up in the dark, trying to find the best way to set up without everything sliding off the table – turns out there is no even ground up there! Much like the course itself!!
Set up went really smoothly and we were ready in good time for the first runners. Jobs were allocated and we only had a short wait before the leaders came through. I offered to be in charge of communications. The Facebook group for volunteers was invaluable to allow us to track the runners’ progress and it was great fun getting updates and reporting back to my fellow cows.
After the first group of runners came through it was not long before the trickle became a flood and we were inundated by 60km runners wanting bottles refilled, food, headtorches dropped off and help with gear. It was a busy time and great fun. It felt so rewarding to help these runners in any small way we could and engage in some banter with folks, including many of the runners who we knew. As we were quite early on in the race, most folks were quite chipper and in good spirits despite many being already covered in mud from the slippery terrain on the Skyline.
The 60km runners flew through and it was not long before the Tail End Charlie and the last runner were through. Everyone was killing it! After a brief lull where we managed to get a bit of hydration ourselves the first of the 42km runners were coming through. Again it was great fun helping them out, participating in some banter and again it all seemed to pass very quickly before we saw the Tail End Charlies for the marathon with the epic Henrik Brandt from Denmark bringing up the rear of the race. With almost perfect timing, Marathon Man by Eric Carmen came onto our speakers; fitting for a man who has run marathons on every continent!
All too soon our stint at the aid station was over and we were packing up. But the fun for the day was not over……
After a brief rest it was time to head to the finish line and reprise the role of finish line cheerleaders/harassers of tired runners. We made it to the finish in time to see Sam McCutcheon win the 60km ultra and Andrew Thompson win the marathon. Epic work guys. It would be a little while before Jean Beaumont and Letha Whitham would take first place women respectively and they would get the “honour” of running with a herd of cows!
Gareth had pointed out to us where the runners would pop out onto the main final stretch (due to course changes this year, there would be no final hill of death) and we headed down to the junction. It was then that fellow cow and leader of the herd Brenda suggested that we hide in the ditch by the junction and jump out on runners as they arrived. Genius! Aside from the fact that we risked causing someone a heart attack, adding a surprise element to the cheerleading would make it different from last year!
So we began. Our chief spotter Landon would spot for runners, ring his cow bell and then we would all hide behind the signs we had made. As runners came up past the junction, often in their own world, knowing (hoping?) they were near the end of their race we would jump out on them, cow bells a-ringing, telling them to “mooooove those hooves” and “move it, move it”. We accompanied as many runners as we could part way down the finishing stretch but stopped short of the finish line to give them the glory of their finish (plus, no doubt, chance to stop their ears hurting from the sound of the cow bells!). Then it was back to our “ditch” to repeat the sequence over again. I have never had so much fun spending almost 6 ½ hours hiding in a ditch!
Photo credit: Dominic Strogen
The reactions of the runners was one of the highlights of the day! I like to think that the majority appreciated our support and highlights came from Jean Beaumont yelling “I need you guys” to which we accompanied her almost to the finish, Vicki Woolley’s face when we ambushed her after she had been told there would be no cows at the finish line this year, and Jan Ducnuigeen’s reaction to our planned “diss” of “oh it’s only Jan” before irritating the hell out of Mark Greig by accompanying him and Jan to the finish line ringing the bell right in his ear!
After the marathon Tail End Charlies came through and at the end of a long day (almost 12 hours) it was time to call it quits; it was almost dark and the cows were beat. I’m only sorry we weren’t able to cheer in the final few 60km ultra runners, they probably deserved it more than anyone.
Time then, for a quick shower and to head to prizegiving. I’m not sure many people recognised us out of our cow onesies!!!
Looking back on the day, my first experience as a race volunteer was a great deal of fun and almost as tiring as running the race!! I feel I’m able to say that having done both! It was an awesome day and I have never had so much fun being a cow in my entire life!
Personally I would like to thank Brenda and Landon for being awesome fellow cows, and Andrew who joined the herd a little later on. Also big thanks to Val and Mary, fellow Moo-kara road volunteers and to my husband Dave who put a onesie on for the first and probably last time in his life before having to head to work in the afternoon.
I’d also like to thank Gareth, Brent, Stu and Rhys and all my fellow volunteers for making the volunteer crew a joy to be a part of and especially to Brent for being volunteer lead and doing such an awesome job.
And finally, to the runners. It was an absolute pleasure and joy to be part of your race, to support and help you out and to cheer (and maybe slightly scare and harass) you on at the end. To see you finish the race and reach your goal was an experience I will never forget.
And so to next year. I think I’ll be back running the event again. But if anyone is thinking of volunteering for this (or any other) event, I would highly recommend it. And, probably like many runners at next year’s event, I will be on the look out for that herd of cows……..
Photo credit for lead photo: Brenda Gonzalez