Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Behind the Scenes at Cholsey Chase

Ever wondered just what goes on behind the scenes on race day? As a participant you'll likely have arrived to see the start and finish areas set up, water stations in place, timing boards and photographers ready to go and the registration area buzzing. If you've ever given up some of your time to be a marshal at an event you might have helped to set up aid stations, put out signs and helped to set up the registration area. But even then there's so much else that has to happen to make races the success that they are.

This year I'm helping out behind the scenes at all but one of the Barnes Fitness events and gaining a huge amount of insight into and appreciation for just how many things have to come together in the lead up to the day and indeed on the day itself. The first event of the season was Cholsey Chase, a 9 mile event that is mostly off road, with some stunning views at the top of some tough climbs.

The race was due to start at 10:30am, but by the time I arrived at 8am it was clear that Ellie and a handful of others had already been on site for a while, marking out the course and setting up the registration area inside the sports pavilion. I set about helping to inflate the finishing arch, mark the parking areas, fill water containers, collect bananas and set up the finish area.
By 9am we had a full compliment of marshals including some familiar faces from Woodley parkrun who were not only manning registration desks but running as well... dedication! There was some mild concern that the timing chips hadn't arrived but just before the runners started to turn up they appeared. I just had time to avail myself of possibly the largest piece of bakewell slice I've ever seen from the cafe before helping out with registration. At just £1 a piece I'm amazed that they make any money but the cafe was buzzing all morning with runners, spectators and marshals, hardly surprising with such a wonderful array of cakes, rolls, pancakes and pizza slices.
I was surprised by the amount of on the day entries we had but this is part of the joy of these smaller, more local races... you can look out of the window in the morning before deciding. By all accounts it was extremely wet and muddy last year, so much so that the lead bike had to stop after a mile! It was clear from the finishing times that the conditions made a difference. Three minutes were knocked off of the course record with the first man finishing in a time of just 53:02... that's speed I just can't quite comprehend!
Shortly after 10am Ellie gave the race briefing and at 10:30 on the dot the airhorn sounded and they were off! Race HQ may not have been playing host to runners any more but there were still things to do. Getting a head start on clearing away registration, setting up the trophy table, locating the finishing tape and ensuring goody bags and a box for the timing chips to be put into were near the finish funnel. There was time to enjoy a cup of tea and some chat before readying ourselves for the runners return.
Awaiting the race briefing
The distance between the course entrance onto the field and the finishing line gave us plenty of time to get into position and ready our cheering voices. I also learnt about the magic that is the commentator mat, which uses the timing chip technology to let you know who's approaching the finish line so you can name check them. I've always loved getting a name check at events, it makes you feel quite special! It's definitely a skill to judge the mood of an incoming runner, who needs some time before having a goody bag foisted upon them and who's happy to have their timing tag whipped off right away and learning the best places to stand so as not to get in their or the photographer's way.

Once everyone was over the line, trophies handed out and people had started to dissipate it was time for operation clear up. Tape, stakes, signs, banners and flags all had to be collected up and stowed away. Taking down the gazebo was a 4 person job. The highlight of the clear up has to be Ellie's dad rolling up and sprawling on the finishing arch in a bid to deflate it more quickly. And "suddenly" it was all over and I was heading home with a large piece of brownie and a couple of bunches of left over bananas. In reality it'd been 5 hours but the time just flew by. In a couple of weeks time I'll get to see how preparation for and running of a duathlon differs. It's the day the clocks spring forwards... I wonder how many people will be caught out!

It takes a lot of hard work and good will to put on a race and it can't happen without help. There's always a minimum number of people needed to marshal the course, man water stations and the finish line. Local and small events depend on volunteers and tend to look after them well so if you can't participate or your have a friend or loved one running in a race, consider offering to help out. Your help will always be appreciated and you can still support your runner.

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