In Ultra and Trail running runners are guided through the trail course through a mixture of signs and hanging flags. For long races this leaves an usightly mess of hanging remnants at the end of the race. In ultra running parlance, a ‘sweeper’ is basically a runner that follows at the back of the race and removes the flags and cleans any accidental trash left behind (trail and ultra runners tend to pick up and carry their trash but occasionally small things get dropped). Sweepers have other roles as well though and each race defines the sweeper role based on what is needed. Additionally the mileage covered by a sweeper is determined by the race director and sometimes might include running the entire course or a small fraction of the course, with the duties divided by numerous sweepers.
This last weekend I volunteered to sweep the inaugural Cloudland Canyon State Park 50 mile race. This was a last minute engagement as the initial sweepers for the first 24 miles had engagement issues. I was told I would have a bunk for Friday and Saturday nights and I needed 24 miles for Saturday so I agreed. All sweeping postions are different and this one required a bit more of a watchfull eye. The first 14 miles of the course would be reran and thus I was not required to pull flags for this section, instead me and my sweeping partner were asked to run this section and ensure no runners were injured or needing asistance as the temperatures during the race were supposed to be below freezing. As I said, a sweepers duties are varied and for the first half of the course we would work as sentries.
Me and my sweeping partner would be running the back of the first 24/25 of the course so we were required to leave around the time the racers started running at 5 A.M. As we got started a bit after 5 AM the temperatures were around thirteen to fifteen degrees out and the sun would not be up til 7:55 AM. We knew it was going to be a dark and cold run to start the day. Those first three miles were freezing and cold and ran by headlamp. My beard grew icy and our water bottles and mouth pieces froze. I fought to keep water moving through my water bladder and found I was getting a bit overhydrated, but it was better than not having water. We kept pushing forward looking for distressed runners and enjoying running in the freezing darkness, our goal was to keep moving and thus keeping our limbs and bodies warm.
Eventually the sun came up and after fourteen miles we made our way to the aid station marking the point where we needed to pull flags. As I was running with antother person I found he pushed me a bit harder than I usually push myself. I wolfed down some brownies, potatoes and other food.. the hunger of trail running had begun. We continued on pulling flags and enjoying the trails. At on point the bag we were putting flags into snagged spewing flags all over the ground behind us. Time to go to plan B and we started to put the flags into our hydration packs. The weather did not get better but after several hours we finished our sweeping duties and headed back to the start for food and beer. The rest of the day would involve drinking and hanging out, our duties were done.
After a long nigt of hanging out with friends, new and old, I got up on Sunday knowing I wanted to run the second part of the course. I had ten miles on my schedule for the day and I had broken down the remaining course to match. This section of the trail had quite a bit of climbing but the frozen waterfalls were amazing and well worth the run. My legs were a bit tight but I still felt pretty good. After five minutes of my run I hit a boulder funny and went down hard on my right hip, garnering a large bruise on my hip that made running labored the rest of the day. In the end I spent allot of time admiring frozen waterfalls, running around the rim of the canyon and going deep into the canyon. I spent so much time takinig picutres that my muscles hated the extreme stop and start nature of my run.
After ten miles on Sunday and twenty four on Monday with 9500 feet of climbing my long weekend was completed and it was time to head home. With half a month done I am now up to 89 miles for the month and the weight is dropping. I am starting to feel stronger and feel my running legs are coming back from my injury. Til next time.