It was dusk at Ashburnham Place. The cold and dewy evening air had already enveloped the race course so much that I had to hide my hands in the pockets of my hoodie.
It had been a long day, for the staff and volunteers like me, but also for all of the racers who had run out of the start line full of enthusiasm. Today’s race had been super challenging, with two back-to-back swims and a new bucket brigade-style obstacle in knee-deep mud, alongside the usual obstacles. At close to 16k, the course was also significantly longer than any Super held in the UK this year so far.
As a volunteer course marshall at one of the last obstacles I had spent the day cheering on many tired faces, some of whom had been challenged beyond what they might have expected. Having been there myself, I know the amazing pride they will have felt once they’d crossed the finish line.
The reason I started this post with the end of the day is because it was an amazing culmination to what had been a great day out. I’d never stayed at a race long enough to see its end and if you hadn’t either, you might be tempted to think it’s a rather sad affair with staff putting things away and a strong feeling of ‘let’s just wrap this up’ in the air. Wrong. We’ve written about the Spartan camaraderie many times on Grit Camp, but I have never been as amazed by it as I was this night at Ashburnham Place.
The last four or five people were running the course with the support of the course sweeper and the always-friendly UK Spartan Race Ambassador Rich. When one of those people’s leg got stuck in the scaffolding at the top of the slippery wall, Rich very patiently helped free that person’s leg. Even though it was late and dark and that hour when your body’s calling for a hot snoozy drink, there was no hurry and no pressure on the racers to just ‘wrap this up already’.
As they passed my obstacle, I joined the rest of the crew at the finish line. The music was still pumping loud and strong and, even though it had been a long day, there was still excitement for those last people nearing the finish line. One end of the infamous fire jump had been fed into a tall fire, one only the crazy would dare to jump over, to help everyone keep warm. The MC was still going strong with his supportive chat and the lovely guy with a hot drinks stand was also still here, making hot teas for the last few of us. (Thank you so much!)
As cold and tired as I was, I loved being part of this special moment. Even though it was dark and the festival village was empty, the race ended as it had begun – with great enthusiasm and many shouts of encouragement.
I was glad I had stayed as late and to have seen that the end of a Spartan Race is anything but a dreary, sad affair I had imagined it to be.
A volunteer’s day at a glance
V and I rolled in just before 8am as he was running the elite wave and I had to be there for the volunteer briefing. At the sign-in ahead of the briefing we were given our awesome yellow ‘Crew’ (no longer the less snazzy ‘Volunteer’) T-shirts, a handy drawstring bag with the Spartan Race logo, a branded water bottle and lastly, our packed lunches.
The packed lunches were the only drawback to the day as they were high in carb. I ended up having to break my fat-adapted, keto diet as I was too hungry to resist the food. I understand that sandwiches are super convenient and so can’t blame the organisers, however I do wish there had been a heads up regarding the contents. That said, the lunch pack was generous including a bottle of water, a sandwich, an apple and a massive oat bar.
After the volunteer briefing we were able to choose which zone we wanted to marshall in and once we approached the zone leader we were also able to choose our obstacle. I went for the fire jump initially, but I moved around between that one and two other obstacles – a tunnel and the slippery wall.
Although the day was super stressful for the zone leaders, especially in the afternoon when some of the volunteers leave their post to race in the last heat, they regularly checked in on our posts to see if we were okay or needed anything.
As they’re always short on volunteers, V also stepped in to help. After finishing the tough course in 2 hours and 40 minutes, he went on to marshall the 8-foot wall, where he spent the rest of the day helping people get over this last obstacle before the fire jump. It was a shoulder-crushing experience and hard work, but in V’s words, “totally worth the experience and lots of people were appreciative of the help which was nice”.
One thing is certain – we both had a great time helping out. Although volunteers are only really asked to stay till 6ish, with a hot tea in the hand, we didn’t mind staying on longer once it became obvious the race would take longer to finish.
We will volunteer again. Today we’re closing out the UK season by racing in the Beast, but next year promises to be exciting with more than 10 potential races. We hope to see you too at one of these! Whether you’re wearing a ‘Crew’ or a ‘Finisher’ T-shirt, do come and say hi!