Having reviewed a few races from a runner’s perspective I thought I’d pen down one from a volunteer’s point of view. The Meteor Mile is the last of the races that Almost Athletes hosts (along with the Linda Franks 5-mile race and the Bugatti 10k) and takes place on a Saturday evening, using a lit airport runway against the setting sun.
Pre-event preparation involves liaising with the venue hosts (easy in this instance, what with club members Darren and Kim being in charge of Gloucestershire airport), organising volunteers (again, easy – we had more volunteers than were needed, another kudos to this club), laying out the course (Darren again), taking care of race entries (Wendy and Alison have this all to a tee), prizes (Alison and June), timing (Wendy and Alison again!) and other items (water – Ian and Glenda, PA and ferrying the runners – Graham, risk assessment / race manual – finally, I have a bona-fide job to do!).
Unlike the other races, this is not on public roads, so race licencing, liaising with the highways agency, police, etc, is not necessary. Hiring a medical outfit was not required either, Kim thoughtfully providing an onsite, medically trained, fireman for that duty should it be required. Claire was already starting to feel a little dizzy!
On the day, we set up the club flags at the terminal building entrance, manned the car park, registration desk and had a couple of volunteers to meet-and-greet. Whilst Darren, with my help, set up the course and finish area, Nick (again with my help) sorted out the water table.
Whilst we were setting up I commented to Darren about a Spitfire that was parked in the airfield. It was due to take off shortly, for a flight to Scotland. We decided to suspend registration for five minutes and treat those there to the sight (and sound) of this classic ‘plane fire up and take off into the evening sky. A great, if unplanned, form of pre-race entertainment.
Another bonus was the weather. Whilst the cloud did obscure the setting sun, it was a very pleasant (and quite warm) evening, a stark contrast to what we had endured the previous year in the form of heavy rain and wind. Possibly as a result of this, entries were well up on last year.
Having had the marshals briefed on positions and responsibilities, we shepherded the runners outside for the pre-race briefing and a group photo before they were led off to the start, at the far end of the airfield, by Graham – with the stopwatch! – in the airport courtesy car.
With runners on their way to the start, we moved the flags to the finish line and set up the finish team: laptop with finish timing software, volunteers with clipboards, both for finish positions / bib numbers and manual / backup finish times, video camera as another form of backup, medals (kindly provided by Dale, and engraved with the #BeMoreDoug slogan on the rear face; thanks also to Nick for helping get these completed) laid out ready to handed to finishers.
We waited. The calm before the storm. I was not able to see to the far end where the start was, or hear the klaxon that would signal the start itself. Keeping the nerves at bay, I squinted in the direction of the runway waiting for some sign of movement. Eventually I could make out the lights of the car and, using this, saw the runners.
The car quickly drove back to us and Graham approached with stopwatch. Operating the timing software I asked him for a time to count down to (the software works by entering a ‘start’ time – e.g. 3 minutes 30 seconds – clicking the OK icon when the stopwatch reaches that time and simply clicking Enter every time a runner crosses the finish line… simple) and prepared to start the clock.
This is the point where it almost unravelled for me! I pressed Enter as the stopwatch was counted to the time I’d entered – nothing. I asked for another time entered it, counted down – same result. Against the near-panic, as the anticipated time for the first finisher was fast approaching, I recalled that I needed to click the OK icon, not press Enter at this point. Finally I had the timer running, though I was now out of sync with the stopwatch thanks to my own panic.
The first runner came in and I pressed Enter. Result! – at least that went according to plan. Using that against the time that Graham called out I made a note of the offset so I could correct it later. As others crossed the line, I continued to log the finish times against the backdrop of Graham calling the times, finish team penning down figures and supporters cheering in the runners. Back on track – or so it seemed.
We had a few blanket finishes, but the timing appeared to cope with rapid key presses well. What I did not notice was that the runners, having finished and funnelled into single file for recording bib numbers in order, were starting to bottleneck on being given their medals. As more people finished, they started to back up along the funnel towards the finish line itself.
There were a couple of occasions were finishing runners were almost having to queue to cross the line itself! With people both backing up and spreading across the width of the finish I almost lost count of those passing – and did manage to enter more times than there were people at one point. Fortunately these bottlenecks were relatively brief and, as the light began to fade, the finish team and I were able to relax enough to look up and cheer home the final few runners.
With all the runners home (swept by Scooby Doo – aka Rob Wood – on a scooter!), the volunteers started the process of clearing up the finish area whilst I joined Alison to process the results and determine the prize winners. Despite the offset I had in both times and positions from the software we were able to organise the results against the written sheets and list the winners appropriately.
Presentations duly taken care of (congratulations to Simon and Stacey, first Almost male and female finishers respectively), we packed up the remaining items, allowing Darren to finally close the airport. Time for a well-deserved drink at the Aviator, opposite. At least until, some twenty minutes later, Darren realised that he had left the runway lights on!
Despite the odd hiccup, it was a successful evening. All that remained was to compete the results processing and issue a provisional list – little did I know what fun that would be. Tallying up the positions and times, along with the finish-line video footage, and thanks to some timely photos taken by on-the-evening race snapper Rob, a sensible-looking list was finalised (not helped by having a duplicate number that turned out to be somebody’s bib put on upside-down!).
Being part of a race team is much like running: pre-race preparation, logistics etc on the day, nervous anticipation before the off, feelings swinging between it’s-going-well and it’s-going awfully, relief when it is finally all over, congratulating yourself with a drink afterwards…