About 2 weeks prior to the Gold Rush 100k (a Sacramento Running Association event), one of my friends posted on her Facebook page that she was looking for volunteer sweepers for the May 11 event. With seeing, I quickly replied “I’m in”, not knowing exactly what was entailed in the job of a volunteer safety sweep runner.
Over the course of the next week, I was emailed some responsibilities as well as my assignment to run the final leg of the event (about 19+ miles), which started at Hazel and would finish at Sutters Fort (the official finish line of the event). Some of the main responsibilities of safety sweep would include, picking up trail markers (for this race orange ribbons tied to tree branches or plants), grab garbage any runner might have dumped on the ground, assist runners that might need to drop out of the race and picked up, and try to keep runners in front of me moving at a 14:30 per mile pace. My leg of safety sweep would start at 3:30 PM and I would be with a group of 4 other sweepers.
When I arrived to my assigned start area at Hazel around 3:00PM, it was already 93 degrees and the runners coming through looked pretty beat up at this point. Many of the runners had shown signs of physical wear as well as mental exhaustion. Runners at this point were about 43 miles into the race. This is a point where runners and race officials would make a decision if the runner was safe to continue on the course and finish the event. To quote some of the people out at Hazel explaining to others on the phone what it looked like at around 3:20PM … “It looks like total carnage out here.” Honestly, I wouldn’t use the word carnage, but it was pretty bad seeing some runners wobbling through at this point, not having clear thoughts of where they are and others concerned due to the lack of ability use the bathroom when they needed to at this point. I saw a few runners pull out of the race, a few were required to pull out, and others continue towards the finish.
3:30 PM came about and it was officially time to start running the sweep. With “Sweep” bib pinned and garbage bags in hand, it was time to do some slow running towards the finish. Most runners at this point were moving at a hike pace as we started on the route, getting people moving was starting to get difficult at times. In fact within the first 2 miles we saw one runner already pulled over to the side and we knew this was not a good sign, as walking was troublesome for this individual. We helped get the runner to a safe location past the trails and into a boat loading area where her ride could come by and pick her up and get her off the course.
As much as safety sweepers are important and I personally think a great way to give back to the running community by picking up trash and making sure runners are safe, it is an awful feeling having to tell runners they have to pull from the course. Just knowing that these runners put in so much work and it just wasn’t in the cards for them this day to finish the run had me gutted at times during the event.
|an exposed area of the course|
With aid stations about every 4-5 miles apart, we were able to give a check in to see who was in front of us how far, and the physical and mental status of the runners. By the second aid station was had on our leg, I thought it would be better to break up our sweep and I would run to play catch up to see the runners in front of us to see how they were doing. This started to pay off quickly since the runners started creating large gaps between them as the weather continued to get warm and the finish line time limit started to closely approach. In order to get an official finishing time, runners had to cross the finish line at Sutters Fort by 8:00 PM.
|keeping runners moving in front of me|
During this portion where I ended up running mid pack safety runners, I started to come across about 4-5 runners who were separated by various distances, and clearly some needed help, while others looked fairly strong and could finish the the distance. With or without an official time, the runners at this point just wanted to finish line area to come sooner than later. Moving into the 3rd aid station for the leg I was responsible for at the Guy West Bridge, runners needed more assistance, so this is where I decided to start grabbing empty water bottles and running back and forth from aid station to runner refilling their bottles as well as running snacks to various runners that showed they needed it. Being able to do this provided the runners with what they needed as well as gave their support crews an idea of where they were and how soon they would be arriving into the station.
The sun started to drop and there were runners still left on the course at this point between Guy West and the Finish about 5 miles out. The stretch after Guy West was not an ideal place to finish alone in the dark, since there was very little light as well as various routes on the trail that could lead to nowhere. As the only sweeper left on the course at this point, since the Race Director pulled other runners and sweeps, I had to try to find runners and provide them with unfortunate news that their race was over grabbing timing chips escorting them off the road to the nearest safe pick up locations. The hardest part was trying to spot runners since most had already dumped their head lamps early in the race after the sun came up.
Finally around 8:30 PM I was able to find the last runner on the trail and it was a matter of leading him with his pace group to Sutters Landing, which was the final aid station before the finish. At this point the aid station was closed. The darker it got the longer the distance to Sutters Landing seemed to get. Around 9:15 PM a member of the race decided it would be safer to pick us up at Sutters Landing rather than to proceed to finish. At this point the final runner opted to continue his walk towards the finish, but I was instructed to grab his timing chip and officially pull him from the course, though we were already 90 minutes past the official course cut off.
By the time I got to Sutters Fort, no one would have thought that there was a race that day. Everything was picked up and all signs of runners were gone, except for the race organizers who were there and going to provide me with a run home.
This was an interesting day of events, being out on the course for about 6 hours and covering about 20 miles based on my Garmin before the battery died out on me. I think it was an awesome event, but honestly didn’t think that runner safety sweep would be so grueling with all of the events that took place. Had I known that the event would take me past sunlight, I would have been better prepared with my headlamp, but this day I was unprepared for what was to come. Yes, there were some frustrations and inconveniences (especially with having my wife and son wait for me at the finish, only to tell them to head home since I was still on the course), but at the end of the day knowing that each runner was accounted for and no one was left of the course in the dark is what really matters.