2002 was a good year for the Duffau family volunteering at local races - though, admittedly, it was only at Ultras. That year is one of my favorites in running - though I only did a little bit of racing myself. San Diego has an active ultrarunning group and. in 2002, they put on five events ranging from a 50K to a 24 hour track run. I didn't run a single one though I did run a 12 hour race (more like 9 due to a stress fracture in my right foot) in San Mateo at the Jim Skophammer race that the Bay Area Ultrarunners used to put on. I did volunteer at every event.

The first of the year, the Cuyamaca 50K, all I did was help out at the finish. I wasn't instrumental to any particular degree but I was there handing out water and food as the runners finished.

The next race was the Smuggler 50 Miler (I think it's extinct now) and my first time sweeping a trail. For those that haven't been to a trail ultra, we always mark the course as well as possible. We also clean up behind ourselves. It is a point of pride in the ultra community that we don't leave trash on the ground like you will see at a typical marathon.

My job as sweep was to make sure that the last runner made it in successfully and, as I followed behind him, pick up all the course markers and any trash we left behind. So, for my first night-time trail run, I was carrying a cardboard box for twelve miles, adding stuff as I went.

It was also the first time that I had talked to a Badwater finisher, one who ran it before it went corporate and 'organized'. I caught Dale about four miles from the finisher and we chatted into the finish until he kicked away at the end. I think there were fifty people still there cheering him in to the line.

The next one was run by a friend, Maureen Moran, who we met after I started running ultras even though she literally lived around the corner. The race was the PCT50 and was run in July. In southern California. In the desert.

It was a mite hot. As in 105 degrees in the shade. The runners didn't get much shade.

The Duffau Family, all five of us, showed up at the first aid station at 5AM and got everything set up. We would see the runners twice, first at the 5 mile mark and again at 45 miles. The PCT50 is an out-and-back course, 25 miles uphill into the Cuyamaca Mountains before turning around. Except that year, some joker moved the turnaround sign. Bonus miles for the runners but it was dangerous since it took them miles out from the aid stations in brutal heat.

The girls left at noon with grandma and Donna and I and the volunteer radio operator (ALWAYS thank the ham radio operators - cellphones don't work out there and they worked long days) spent the afternoon sweating and trying to get runners rehydrated. The aid station at the ten mile mark was doing the same. A couple of them were in bad shape but I don't think we had to pull a single runner.

The extra miles also meant that the slower runners, instead of finishing at dusk, were finishing in the dark. Maureen sprinted up from the finish to bring us a load of flashlights for them. We packed up after the last runner, getting back to the finish in time to watch the bobbing lights descending to the finish.

Want to be a hero? Show up at 2AM at the San Diego 1 Day track run and cook grilled cheese sandwiches and warm soup for the athletes. They will be unbelievably thankful that you're there. I was gimpy from setting a new PR in the 25K earlier in the day but I didn't have to move much. My daughter Katie helped too, keeping the food flowing as she cheered the runners circling the track.

We've moved from SoCal and don't help with ultras any more, obviously, but I love the fact that the local cross country coaches ask their teams to volunteer at the local races. Tim Gundy, coach at Asotin High School and all-round neat guy, has encouraged volunteering in his kids. The kids have responded by showing up with great attitudes and

Mike Collins, coach at Lewis Clark State College, does the same with his runners.

Brian Denton at Clarkston does too.

They don't just encourage it in the kids - they all walk the walk - you'll catch them at races helping, organizing, doing the little things that need to be done.

I watch races begging for volunteers and some, like the Spokane to Sandpoint relay, charge a few to hire 'volunteers'. I don't have a problem with the fee - I appreciate the help when I run.

But we could use more people volunteering. Just one race a year would be a huge help and it's a nice way to give back to your sport.

Copyright © 2013 Paul Duffau