A few weekends ago, I had the honor of aiding runners completing the The Great New York 100 mile Running Expedition. “The Great New York 100 Mile/100KM Running Exposition is an informal, small, low-key event that nevertheless promises to be an unforgettable running experience. It is an urban adventure, a running tour of New York City, beginning and ending in Times Square.” The 100 miles takes runners from Times Square to the Bronx over to Queens down to Coney Island back up through Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge back into Manhattan to finish where they started in Times Square. It is supported by volunteers every 5-10 miles and by the entire city as runners have access to many restaurants, retail stores, and bodegas along the way.
Back in January, I proposed to our local officers group for my trail running club, Trail WhippAss, that we sponsor one of the stations. The later stations tend to be harder to staff so we agreed to take mile 80 which wasn’t being staffed by it’s typical crew because one of them was running the race. I was super excited to contribute, but having never organized an aid station and never having run or even witnessed a 100 miler I was also little nervous. By the week of the race things started to fall into place and by Saturday I was confident that we were going to have the best aid station ever!
Mile 80 Stock List
Boiled potatoes with salt
Basic first aid supplies
Music (until 9:30pm)
The morning started out a little bumpy as my Zipcar was defective and most of the cars close to me weren’t available for the time I needed. It took almost 2 hours to get it sorted and skipping my run, but eventually I found a car and made my way to it then out to Kmart in Queens to pick up some supplies. Then it was down to Sheepshead Bay in crazy NYC traffic. Our station was to start at 4:20 and I got down there around 3:30, but didn’t find parking until just after 4pm. My two teammates that were meeting me had similar issues so I hung out on the sidewalk while they unloaded their cars then went off to park. We were soon joined by Mariele, Michael Wardian’s sister, who was going to be pacing him for the last 20 miles.
Wardian was blowing through the course at lightning speed and we were a little concerned about getting setup before he got to us. We also weren’t exactly sure where the RD wanted us to setup and I had been told he had a specific spot that he wanted us. As time ticked on, we got more and more nervous that we wouldn’t be ready. I sent a photo of the area to the RD and by 5pm we had received word on the spot and started to setup. The RD stopped by with water and gatorade and we fully were setup by 5:30pm with the help of Mariele. Around that time, some fellow teammates who were crewing Wardian showed up and gave us some information on how he and our other teammate, Otto, who was pacing him were doing. Soon after we saw them crossing the footbridge and heading right for us. Wardian was in and out pretty quickly about 10 minutes to 6pm.
After the excitement of Wardian, we settled in for a bit. We were expecting to see other runners soon, but as it turns out we had a couple hours to wait before that would happen. We enjoyed the sunset, took turns walking across the footbridge to Macy’s to use the ladies room, snacked, and talked about running. Around 7:45pm we were joined by some family/crew of the next runner who was in second place. He was through and out by 8:38 and right after we got our third place runner, the first female, who was out by 8:46. Another runner came through at 8:58. He was a little disoriented in regards to directions on his turnsheet and we were a little concerned with him finding his way to the next aid station. I was in contact with the aid station after us and let them know to look out for him. As the hour hit 9pm, our only known bathroom closed and it was starting to get dark. The area was still pretty populated by pedestrians, though.
As we went into the night hours, we were supposed to have a male join us at the aid station for us safety reasons. There was only one dude that volunteered and I had let him know that we needed him overnight. As we got close to end of shift, I let our other female teammate, Helen, know it was fine for her to go. I was confident that our teammate wouldn’t let us down. If he was running late, it was probably because he was looking for parking is what we figured. She headed off and it was just me and Anna left.
It was about an hour (10:15pm) before we got another runner and I still hadn’t heard from our missing teammate. I sent several messages and reached out to another officer who knows him and he messaged him, too. Nothing. The area was still pretty populated so we felt okay, but knew it would die down at some point and we were on the opposite side of the inlet from a nightlife area by a residential area so we knew we get some drunken partiers heading by is in the wee hours. I tried reaching out to other male teammates, but no one could join us. I didn’t want to bother the RD and volunteer coordinator unless I absolutely had to and since the area was still pretty busy I felt we had a little time. Around 11pm a guy showed up that was hoping to bump into some friends that were running. He had swung by this aid station last year and was familiar with the race. By 11:45pm when his friend came through, he had offered to stay with us as our overnight guy. Relieved, we got ready for the overnight hours which promised to be busy.
Between 11:45pm and 3:30pm we saw runners every 10-20 minutes in varying degrees of exhaustion and pain. Another teammate, Jürgen, came through around midnight and was happy to see we had stocked the beer he had asked for. He was looking strong and it felt great to be able to help a fellow WhippAss. As we got to the later hours runners were more deteriorated and our chairs started getting more use. The 3 of us turned into a sort of pit crew attending to runners in various regards. I was responsible for tracking and time and was also communicating with the aid stations before and after us. Additionally, I played the role of nurse/caretaker–offering recovery tools, salt, aquaphor, wet wipes, etc. Anna was our resident nutritionist and perfected the art of squishing and salting potatoes. She was also very good at talking the runners into eating. The three of us all chipped in on filling water bottles, serving soda and gatorade, and helping with runner morale. The road next to us had some pretty crazy drivers so we also took turns guiding the runners across the street. For the almost 4 hours in the overnight hours, we never really stopped moving because the runners were coming in so regularly. Between runners we restocked, tidied the area, and prepared for the next round. It was chilly and Anna and I had to pee for several hours. I eventually I ended up wandering off into the neighborhood to find a bush.
Around 2:30am we had a runner come in who none of us realized was a runner. He looked as though he was wearing street clothes and had no pack or bottles. He sat down and gave me his number and told us he was going to take a nap. We all laughed and thought he was joking, but it was no joke. He instructed us to wake him up at 3:30am, but our station was scheduled to close at 3am so we compromised. Anna happened to have a pillow which she gave him (it was cold and she had pulled some pillows and blankets from her truck earlier while we were waiting for runners) and he wandered over to a bench to sleep. At 3am, we delivered his wake up call and it was timely as our last group of runners, a fairly large group, had just arrived. They were all quite delighted to see him and they all took off together.
The sweeper was running a little behind and let us know that there were still 2 guys out on the course. We started to clean and pack up anything superfluous. The next to last runner arrived as we were starting to clean up and looked a little rough. We attended to him as we loaded our cars and the sweep arrived. Next thing I know, the poor guy was emptying his stomach all over the ground. He was so apologetic and I felt so badly for him. We poured extra soda and water for him and the sweep grabbed the quarter of watermelon that was left and tried to get him to eat. The sweep had let us know that the last runner was still quite a ways back and that we should go. He was going to be circling back to him with supplies as long as he stayed on course so he wouldn’t need our aid. As our last runner (next to last on course) headed off, the sweep walked with him. He wandered off with that entire quarter watermelon–a piece as big as his head–into the night. I was very excited to check the results on Monday and see that he made it to the finish. At 3:30am we signed off our aid station.
Exhausted from almost 12 hours of volunteering, I hopped in my rental for the 30 minute drive home. I had my rental until 10am so I decided that in honor of these amazing runners, I would test my own abilities in the morning. I’m not adapted to functioning on little sleep and will typically put off a run if I haven’t gotten enough. But the next morning, on 4.5 hours of sleep, I returned my rental car and ran 6 miles in warmer weather than I typical venture out in (mid-80s). It was nothing compared to what the runners I had seen the night before had done, but it was my own little tribute to them. (And a good confidence builder for Hood to Coast.)
Later that afternoon as I rested, I reflected on the night before and how much the experience changed me. I felt sad that I would have to wait another year to do it all again. If you ever get the chance to work a late aid station for a long race, I highly recommend it. It’s such a rewarding experience. I’ve already spoken to the volunteer coordinator about coming back next year and he is happy to have us back at mile 80 again. Though, I may have to find a few more races to volunteer at in the meantime because a year is just too far away!