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Cathi Cannon, Rock/Creek Race Team member, on racing (and volunteering) at the River Gorge

The following article is by Rock/Creek Race Team member Cathi Cannon. Thanks, Cathi!

A lot of hands and a lot of time goes into making each race in the Rock/Creek Trail Series a success. First there’s the behind the scenes work: permitting, registration, sponsors, shirts, race bags, trail work, and more. Then comes race weekend, which begins early Friday with set-up, course marking, and registration. Saturday morning, volunteers are at the race site when runners are still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.

It is these volunteers that forgo sleeping in to stand in the elements, getting sticky from mixing buckets of Heed and Powerade, pointing delirious runners in the right direction, sweeping the course following the last runner (including picking up all flagging and trash), then taking down everything that was set up in the last 2 days. Phew! Sometimes I wonder who has it harder, the volunteers or the racers?

On days like this past Saturday, the answer is clear: the volunteers, hands down.

I awoke Saturday in the role of racer, to bright flashes of lightning and roars of thunder, rain soaking the ground. I wanted to press snooze and cuddle up some more; there’ll always be another race, on a sunnier day. But the old adventure-racer part of me sort of likes those inclement days, where perseverance plays just as much of a role as speed. Well, I could do without the lightning. At the starting line in Prentice Cooper WMA, racers were trying to find dry space under pop-up tents, while volunteers registered, double-checked timing systems, and made piping hot coffee (big thanks to Blue Smoke Coffee)!

Just prior to the start of the 6.5 mile race, I peeled off my rain gear and sucked it up for a quick warmup (I use that term loosely, as I was anything but warm). Then, we were off! Inside I was thinking, I can handle anything for an hour… just deal with it. I found a comfortable, fast(ish) pace and stuck with it through the first few miles of singletrack. While I saw the bright rain shell of our eventual winner (teammate Sarah Woerner) disappear into turns far ahead, the last thing I wanted to do was push it a bit too much, slip on a rock, and take myself out. So, steady as she goes was my mantra.

Snooper’s Rock marked the halfway point of the race (a fantastic aid station with smiling, soaked volunteers), and the start of a fire road section that seemingly turned into a slip-&-slide with the mud. Unfortunately for us, we were going uphill the whole time (7 of them actually), so there were no time gains to be had. Just when you’re mentally beaten up and ready to throw in the towel, back to trail we go, except this time, it’s perhaps the toughest section: a steep spur that led us from the top of the road back to the main trail at the bottom by the creek. With all the storms and water runoff lately, this was not an easy task, as I was rudely reminded when I lost my footing and slid down a muddy spot onto my rear.

Once at the bottom, we retraced the trail back to the start, seemingly all uphill again. Even though I was running just over an hour (1:06 to be exact, good enough for 3rd overall female), the finish line was a welcome sight. Time for dry clothes! Also, time to transition to my next role: volunteer.

Due to the nasty weather (made all the more chilling after last weekend’s sun-fest), it wasn’t our typical post-race celebration. After quickly recapping the race experience with friends and comparing battle wounds, most people traded their soaked, muddy singlets for cozy dry fleeces and warm cars. As soon as our fantastic sweeps of the 10 mile course finished (it’s one thing to do this in sunshine, but on a day like this they deserved a medal!) and the last racer departed in search of a hot shower, the rest of us started the cleanup: packing up shirts, emptying drink containers, consolidating food, popping down tents, and loading up the U-haul. I am thankful that so many people stuck around to help things move quickly; although I had dry clothes, I apparently didn’t bring enough and was shaking, fingers frozen.

A huge thank you goes out to all of the race volunteers! Without you, these events simply wouldn’t happen. If you haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer at a race yet (whether it’s a Rock/Creek Trail Series event or another one near you), please do. Even if you can’t bear to miss running in the event, there are always plenty of pre- & post-race duties where you could lend a hand.

Race day gear:

      Vasque Mindbender trail running shoes
      Smartwool socks
      Patagonia Capilene silkweight short sleeve shirt
      Patagonia Nine Trails Vest
      Mountain Hardwear power stretch gloves
      Ultimate Directions Fast Draw Plus
      Nuun active hydration tablets

…and I can’t leave off The North Face rain gear that kept me dry at the end!

More thanks to the race sponsors, including Greenlife & Blue Smoke Coffee for food & fuel, The North Face and Montrail for prizes, Lucas George Photography, and Rock/Creek for race organization.

Another big thanks to Rock/Creek for their continued support throughout the year. Check out the next event (register before it sells out, like River Gorge did!) on May 21: the Scenic City Trail Marathon & Half Marathon.