Monday, September 19, 2011

Napa Ragnar SWAT Volunteer

Whew. I'm home from an awesome weekend of volunteering for Ragnar Relay in Napa, California. Over the weekend I cheered on runners, fought with street cones, called 911 and eaten my fair share off M&M's all on almost no sleep. I've slept so little in the last three days I feel like I have a hangover and I didn't even have a glass of wine while I was out there but I'm certainly having one now.

An odd tree in the middle of vineyards with a flag on it
There are so many things to say about the experience I'm not sure where to start and organize my thoughts. This was my first time being on the traveling SWAT team and course manager and I know I can do better next time. It's not that I necessarily did anything specifically wrong (that I know of) but the perfectionist in me wants to be better.

Next time I SWAT (which is in October at Vegas) I'll take two days off from work. Because of the short notice for work, I asked to work remotely on Thursday to minimize my time off and hopefully keeps me on my boss's good side. What I didn't realize is after Thursday mornings training the team would set up the start line.  So while they drove to the start line in San Francisco, I went back to the hotel room to work. Even though I got a lot done ( maybe even more work than if I were actually in the office) I felt like since Ragnar brought me out there, I should have helped set up the start too.

Being my first time as course manager, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. The "day" started at 10:30pm on Friday night. I showed up early to try and sleep in the van because I couldn't sleep in the hotel.  I followed lead foot Janessa as they started/stopped putting up directional and the favorite "Mile to Go" signs. They really did all the work putting out the cones and signs but I did help put cones together and consistently put the bases on the cones backwards. When I was taking down the course and fighting getting the cones and bases separated I realized the grove on the base center would match up with the cones base.

At 4am I starting meeting up with my volunteers. Volunteers are awesome and I made sure to thank them multiple times.  I had 3 or 4 volunteers per exchange and set them to work.  Two volunteers brought friends and I put them to work too.  I didn't have time to talk with the volunteers until the end when I spent time with them while waiting for the final runners to come through.  At one water station we were waiting for the last runner and when he came in we asked if he wanted us to dump the water on him, which he did.

I had three hours of sleep on my schedule from 10am-1pm but when that time came I was busy at an exchange and not tired so I kept working through it. I needed to drive through my exchanges a second time and pick up trash and talk with the volunteers. Had I taken a break I wouldn't have been at exchange 34 to help out a dehydrated runner.  Being SWAT we have special black shirts and a runner came to me and explained her teammate was throwing up, couldn't keep anything down and wasn't able to finish her last leg.  Luckily during SWAT training dehydration was discussed and he went over the symptoms so when I heard what was going on with the runner I called 911 immediately.  I explained to 911 what was going on and gave her my address, although she already knew where I was at. She asked for the van description and I explained it's a white van but the parking lot is full of white vans. Look for the person with the blue and orange wig I told her.  The firetruck and ambulance arrived promptly and after she threw up on the paramedics shoe, they whisked her away to the hospital where she would be given an IV.

Driving to each of the exchanges I was keeping pace with some of the teams and after 3 exchanges after talking to some of the same people, I asked them to take my picture.  This was the most scenic part of my course and the teams were taking pictures with the vineyards in the background.  It really was pretty out there.

As I mentioned, there are things I would do better next time.  When I was setting up the course I was very aware of how the runner would be coming in.  I wanted to make sure there were no obstacles for the runner coming in and out. One of the placements was great for the runner and looked great until there were people standing around and vans trying to park.  Next time I'll know to incorporate the crowd into the equation.  At another exchange the safety managers came by and put up orange cones with the orange tape and created a barrier.  Next time I'll use that trick to manage the crowd.  The final thing is when I see a runner walking back on the course I'll stop.  I realized hours later that I saw the dehydrated runner walking back towards two female runners on the course and although it was odd, I thought she had dropped something or knew the two runners and was going to run with them. Had I turned around I might have been able to help her sooner but she hadn't told her van mates she didn't feel well until she started throwing up.

After the runners passed through my exchanges I was supposed to pick up the signs and cones. Other Ragnar volunteers started picking up my exchanges and I felt guilty. In the corporate world you get help when you're failing and can't do the task. With Ragnar they were helping to get the task done and I'm truly thankful  for their help.

The last team on the course I pretty much followed for the last 3 exchanges. I would wait for them to get to a sign, hand them water, help them cross the road (dang those were busy roads) with the red flag, send them on their way, take down the sign, drive to the next sign, hand the runner water, get the sign, go to the exchange and cheer them on as they came in.  Rinse and repeat.

We started the task of unloading the vans, sorting all the equipment and loading the big truck. It took hours to get everything put away.  Afterwards we went to IHop for "dinner" and I got back to the hotel at 12:30pm on Sunday in which I promptly crashed after my shower.

While sorting out all the equipment the final team approached the finish line and everyone that was working, everyone that was there went to the finish line to cheer the team on. They probably had a bigger cheering section than the other finishing team. We hooted, hollered, yelled and cheered them on.  We  built a tunnel with our hands for them to run through.  I'm an emotional sap and teared up as the team came through the finish line. This final team represented all the accomplishments each of the 300+ teams did out there on the road starting on Friday morning, running through the day and night and into another day.

Job well done to everyone!

Happy Running!


Lesley said...

Awesome post! Sounds like you had a great experience and learned some things in the process! Ragnar sounds like a lot of fun!

Kudos to you for volunteering!

Black Knight said...

Great post. I like all the pictures, just yesterday I got a shower like that by the volunteers and I ran near the vineyards (of course I received a bottle of wine at the end of the race).
You are very kind to volunteer, a beautiful helpful experience.