Manning the water station in Cambridge

On Sunday morning, my alarm was set for 5.20am- ouch! The reason? Our running club were heading to Cambridge- some were running the half marathon, and the rest of us were manning a water station. The coach was leaving the station at 6am.

There was a bit of a mix up at the start- our leader (is she our manager? I don’t know- the head of our club anyway) had organised it, and we had a parking permit for the coach, but when we arrived (well before the 7.30am cut off) we were sent away again- I did feel sorry for our driver as he had already done some spectacular moves to inch the coach past metal barriers and down a right angled turn to get to the car park. Anyway, the volunteers headed off and left the runners on the coach- at least they had somewhere dry to wait as they had two hours before the race began.

We walked to our spot- we were at a water station by a bridge- it would be just after 2 miles and then at 10.8 miles as the runners headed back in the opposite direction. When we arrived they were not ready for us, as the water was just arriving by van, so the guy sent us off to get coffee (for him and us)- we wandered for ages as none of the cafes we passed were open that early on a Sunday. Eventually we found a Caffe Nero but being the only one open was very busy. By the time we walked back (maybe 20 minutes later) other people had arrived and it turned out, taken our jackets (we had to request the right sized crew jacket, and our labelled OH Lady box (with the number of each sizes on it)- was empty)- we were all given XL (unisex) which caused some hilarity- one of our runners who is very tiny looked like an American football player when she filled the space full of air.

We busied ourselves moving the wheelie bins up the street, setting out the water tables and gel tables, and popping the lids off the bottles. They had big yellow signs saying “Water” and “High 5” which I thought for a second meant a sort of cheering high five station, but then realised it was the type of gel…

We had tables on either side of the road, with water, gels and then more water.

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Ready to go (in our gigantic jackets)! We were then told that somehow a guy had found some medium ones so we swapped them over- it still fit easily over my coat which was lucky as it was very cold and raining quite hard.

We even got “training” (we got shown how to hold the water bottles properly) and then were given those blue disposable gloves which turned out to be a brilliant idea. I was feeling very sorry for the runners as it was cold and raining- it’s never good to start running in the rain.

As the water station was fairly early on, for the people going through at the start we didn’t get that many people having water, or gels, although it surprised me the number of people who did have the gels. That’s a debate for another day but I am not a fan of gels at all, and I can’t see why you would need one after running for 2 miles. But anyway…

The rain eased off, and we spotted a lot of our OH ladies coming through- it was hard to spot everyone as we were constantly turning back to the table to get more water. The squeezy bottles were not that great for us because as the runners took them, they would squeeze them and squirt a load of water all over the next person- you were constantly getting splashed in the face from the person in front. There was a drumming band set up on the bridge so we sort of jiggled in time to keep a bit warm- my toes and fingers were going numb after a few minutes.

It didn’t seem like long before the back runners had gone through, but we only had about 5 minutes before the front runners were due to come back in the other direction, so we quickly re-stocked the tables and then turned to face the other way. The drumming band stopped during this bit which was a bit of a shame! Our voices had a bit of a rest as we were constantly shouting “well done runners/ great job guys” etc.

Then the runners were heading back. This time a bit more spread out, but around the 2 hour pacers there was a huge crowd. People would run past and when trying to take a water bottle, would swipe it out of your hand. We then had to try and kick the bottles under the table so no-one would slip on them. The head guy told us to start emptying the tables, so when the front table was empty we moved back, gradually condensing the water to a smaller amount of tables. We saw lots of our OH runners head through, and it was even better as we had an idea of how well they were all doing as we were just over 2 miles from the finish.

Once most of the runners had passed, we helped with some litter picking (although some volunteers had been filling the bins during the race- I think a lot of runners had aimed for the giant wheelie bins but of course accuracy with aiming is not great when running along), and then we had a bit of a lull, so after being given our lunch (I had a hummus roll) I popped into a cafe to use their toilets (I really would only use a port-a-loo in an emergency) and then bought a very expensive and tiny (£2.90…..!!!) cup of tea to warm up as I was shivering and freezing. We saw the final runner head through and gave her a big cheer, before heading back to the coach to find our runners.

I really enjoyed it! So many of the runners said “thanks” on their way past, and time really flew by- we were at the station for about 4 and a half hours but it didn’t feel anywhere near that.

We had a slight hitch when we got back to the coach- the driver had been told to park along the finish straight (by the 13 mile marker) and had been penned in with the metal fences. We were told we would not be allowed to move until 4pm (and this was around 1) but as the final runner headed past, one of the runner’s husbands did some sensible talking to one of the marshals who let us move the  fences and let the coach go. The coach even drove under the inflatable finish arch which was quite funny- the driver really did deserve a medal as he had some very tough maneuvering to do.

By the time I got home I was really tired (not as tired as last Sunday though)- I changed into lounge pants and thermal socks, and had a cup of tea, and it was a good hour before my fingers properly started to warm up again. But it was great- our runners did so well- one of them knocked 20 minutes off her pb, another one paced someone to her first half bringing her in perfectly just under 2hr30, a couple of them had run it last year and both beat their times by quite a few minutes, so it was a great club success.

I did hear somewhere that volunteers get automatic entry into the race next year, so I may see it from the other side in 2018! The medal was pretty nice too.

Does your running club have outings like this? We did pass a spa and wondered about a non-running day trip for next time!  Do you drink or take gels during races? 

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