February 4, 2014

Aeries February Freeze

As I sit here after 34 hours without sleep, I’m physically awake, but probably not entirely lucid.  You must wonder why, well for the last 34 hours I have been working as the race director at the Aeries February Freeze Ultra & Trail Run. It is over now, and I am trying to get all my thoughts on paper before my head hits the pillow and I lose some of them. 

The only way to tell this story is to start from the beginning.  My girls and I were ziplining at the Aeries winery and I noticed all the trails on the ground from the aerial view I had on the zipline, so I commented that Aeries should have a trail run there.  Next thing I know I get an invitation to stop by and talk to the owner Jeff Lorton, about a trail run.  I went there thinking I would do a little consulting, and an hour later I walked away the race director.  

 

I quickly enlisted the help of Mike Wever from the MetroTri Club and after consulting with the tri club board we became the race sponsor managing the race. The opportunity for another trail run in the area, especially one on such a beautiful and challenging course was just too good to pass up.  After discussing details we thought about adding an ultra run to the event.  I have never worked as a RD for an ultra event so this would be challenging for me also. There was one other detail that was going to make pulling this race off even harder, we only had 3 months before race day. 

So we were off and running, getting shirt samples, creating a logo, getting a web page started, finding race timing, and hardest of all designing a race course.  Jim the zipline manager was the perfect guy to help us, he can drive all the trails with his eyes closed and he spent many hours driving me and Mike around on the Ranger measuring distances and designing the course for the best flow of traffic.  Jim even cut a new connector trail so that traffic would flow better. (BTW, that connector trail was the big hill just after the creek, so you can blame that one on Jim)  After the design was final, Jim spent days marking it, not only with signs and tape but with fluorescent tacks that can be seen when a head lamp shines on them.  He also pulled out all the stops and helped design the course so that a section would go directly down the middle of a shallow creek.  Without Jim, I don’t think we could have designed a course so quickly nor marked it as well.  So you liked the course, it was all Jim.  

I also held some training runs on the course and got feedback from the runners.  Travis Redden was my Garmin guy measuring the course and giving me feedback from an ultra runner point of view.  Most of the feedback I got was that the course was more than challenging, but that a tough course like this may be what “brands” this race and makes it popular. 

First Training Run

Designing the course from the Ranger
Everything started coming together, and race day was already upon us.  With this being my first time as a RD at an ultra event, it was really nagging at me, I kept thinking I know I have forgotten something. It didn’t matter if I did, it was race day and I would have to adapt.  Mike and I pulled the tri club trailer up to the winery, hoping that the weather man was wrong and that freezing rain would not be coming in and spending the night with us.  We got the trailer parked and headed to the zipline office to get registration setup and transition ready to go.  We found Jim and he drove us around the course to do one last check on things. It was a cold and interesting ride, especially driving over the ice covered creek, but we made it through the course and decided on where live volunteers would be during the race.  

As the day wore on and we got closer to start time racers and spectators started showing up.  Mr & Mrs Korsch showed up with food in tow.  It was their daughter Emily’s birthday event, she was doing 30 hours of activity over the weekend in celebration of her 30th birthday and what better way to do it.  Not only was she running, but she was also collecting donations for Team Noah, an organization that raises money for treatment of children with birth defects.  We were honored that she chose our even to be part of her 30 hour quest. As a bonus we got her parents and they helped out all night long with whatever needed to be done, including throwing salt out on the icy road so that the runners could make it across safely. 

Racers started checking in and we even got a few race day registrations, which was surprising with the weather forecast.  Time flew by and it was time to start the race, with 36 racers prepped and ready to go, racers lined up for the start of the race.  Don, Eric and Zach were in the ranger and ready to lead the racers through the first lap.  

Starting line of the Ultra Race

And they are off
The runners took off and we waited speculating on what time the first runner would finish the 5 mile lap.  At 45 minutes the first runner came in and he was a member of a 3 person team, he ran in tagged his teammate and she took off. At 50 minutes Travis Redden came in and just after he arrived Jeff Sona arrived.  After the first lap it was anyone’s guess as to how the race would finish up.  A wintery mix of snow, rain and sleet had started and it was getting colder outside.  I was spending my time sitting next to Rich Luers who was timing the race watching the lap times and the weather closely.  Cheri B and Jim D were awesome volunteers, making sure every runner got what they needed as soon as they hit the door, they had the food and drinks flowing and did everything they could to get the runners back out the door as quickly as possible.  Many times convincing runners who wanted to quit, to go out just one more time.  A Big Thanks to both of them for staying all night long in awful weather and supporting the runners.  Also a big thanks goes to Jade, Zach, China and Autumn for helping with registration and the start of the race.

By the 4 lap the weather had changed to freezing rain and the concrete just outside the door had become an ice rink, the clock was covered with ice and so were the runners when they came in.

See the ice on one runners bib
The clock is covered with ice
It was so cold and miserable outside, I really felt bad for the runners, but nothing stopped them, they kept coming in and going back out, no one was dropping out. 

A runner checking in after a long lap
A happy runner checking in, even if he is covered in ice
Don and Eric, were busy keeping the fire going out at the aid station, even in the rain and sleet. I spent a little time at the aid station taking photos, and without that fire, I would have not made it 5 minutes. Some runners stopped and used the fire to warm up a bit. 

Don tending the fire
Emily as she passes the fire
Jeff as he passes the fire
Unknown runners approaching the fire
Sue spent the evening finding us all things we forgot to bring and finally after many trips to the winery, office and convenience mart we were prepared to work through the night.

Sue and Jim hamming it up
The laps ticked by and Jeff Sona overtook Travis Redden for the first place position, the standings started changing frequently while Cheri and Jim kept the racers going, Jim sometimes almost pushing them pack out the door.

I think Jim pushed these guys back out the door
At about 5 am the lightning and rain started, now the racers were cold and wet, but very few had given up. At 7:30 we started pulling racers from the course if they couldn’t make a full lap by 9 am.  No one complained though, some asked “please forbid me from starting another lap”.  The race ended with Jeff Sona taking the lead from Travis Redded, and Emily Korsch winning the Open Female division.  Lee Doughtery smoked the masters division. Medals where presented and attendance prizes were given out.  Thanks to Salomon, Sunnto for donating great prizes, including a hydration pack that was won by
Travis Redden.

A Happy Travis
Lee looks pretty good after smoking his competition
Emily happy to be done so she can go out and get in the rest of her 30 hours
As Rich finished wrapping up the results, Cheri and I cleaned up and setup for the trail run registration.  Kathy Wever led registration, with help from Bob, Autumn and China.

Volunteers at work
Runners started signing in, even in the heavy freezing rain, we even got 6 race day entries.  I was running around freaking out about volunteers on the course and getting the race off on-time without anyone falling on the ice. I worried for nothing, Jim had the volunteers under control and got them out on the course and in place for the start of the race.  Jeff pulled out the skid steer and ran through the parking lot to break up the ice and it worked pretty well taking off the top layer of ice to keep the runner from falling at the start of the race.  Bob Patterson was in place to run sweep and bring in the last runner.  I made some pre-race comments and Mike started the race.
 
The start of the trail run
I headed down to the trail, hoping I could get there before the runners did, my knee was killing me and sliding around on the ice and mud wasn’t helping, I just knew by the time the race was over, I would be back on my crutches again.  I made it to the trail junction before the racers did and was able to get some awesome photos.  The photos I liked the most though were those of Jim Donahue crossing the creek.  He did a hard face plant into the rock bank, got up and kept running, this after being up all night supporting the ultra runners. Jim you are amazing!

Jim in motion




Rob was at the trail junction in his truck making sure the runners made the turn, so he gave me a ride back up to the finish line.  I don’t think I could have walked it fast enough to see the first place finisher come through, but with the ride I made it. 

Standing at the finish line Mike pointed out the great view from the finish so I started snapping photos of the runners crossing the finishing line to the view.

Keith crossing the finish line to a Beautiful View

Russ running down his competition at the finish line

Dave Otto won the trail run while the first female to cross the line was Michon Coats, great job to both of you. 

Overall I think the race went off pretty well, there were problems, mostly behind the scenes and the runners will never realize them, but still lessons learned that we will fix next year.  I learned a lot of lessons from the ultra event and will do my best to remedy them next year.  


It was the most miserable, cold, wet, horrible weather, but I know it made for some of the best stories of these runners lives. 

So here is my question to you… Was this a good event, will you come back and will you recommend this event to your friends. Oh and did you like the shirts as much as I did, I think they are awesome.  If you have comments or suggestions please post them so we can use them to make this a better event in the future.

I need to say Thanks to all the volunteers and especially to Rich Luers for doing such a great job with the timing and spending the night posting laps online at Final Lap Racing.  To Jen at RunWell for providing all the Hammer products, the runners all appreciated having them. To Salomon/Sunnto for their generous donation of products, the races that won the items are very grateful. To Mike Wever for being my right hand man through all of this. 

Just a few of the prizes from Salomon/Sunnto



Most of all Thanks to Jeff and Sandy Lorton for hosting the event and allowing us to hold training runs on the course.  If you make it up to the winery let them know that you raced there and how much fun you had. 

All thanks to all the runners for enduring the awful weather conditions to compete in this race.  See all the photos I took on my Flickr Page

You can see the Video about the race that Riverbender.com produced here 

You can also read the Article in the Alton Telegraph here

No comments:

Post a Comment