Every year, come rain or shine (and it’s frequently rain), fifteen or so dedicated individuals mount their bikes to lead and sweep the RunFest races. Preparation for these positions begins weeks beforehand. Each rider attends an orientation meeting to familiarize themselves with the course for which they will be responsible. Leaders need to know all turns and the turnaround points. They also are schooled in what to do in an emergency situation, how to make emergency contacts, and where to find medical support. Infrequent but dangerous situations, such as what to do if a stubborn moose or bear blocks the course, are always reviewed. The group will bike portions of the course to further familiarize them with their responsibilities.
Generally three bikers are assigned to each of the longer races: one to clear the way for the leading male runner, one announcing the leading female runner, and a third to "float" between the other two in case relief is needed.
The unsung heroes of the biking crew are the six sweepers. Sweepers follow behind the last runners making sure they are safe throughout the course. This can be an extensive shift. However to help reduce the time spent on the trails by the sweepers, they are split into two groups: one sweeps the coastal trail (49K and marathon runners); and the other sweeps the Chester Creek Trail (49K, marathon, and half marathon runners). This means no sweeper has to bike for the entire 49K which last year’s final finisher completed in just under seven and a half hours. Still, the bike sweepers have a long shift and it can feel even longer when the weather turns poor.
What type of volunteers do the sweep? Patience is a virtue well aligned to this job. Confidence on the bike, a pleasant demeanor, and tact also come in handy. It can be frustrating to clear the trail when runners with ear buds don’t hear the approaching bikers. We have found bells and whistles help. Frequently our bikers are individuals who have previously raced the 49K, marathon, or half marathon. Their familiarity with the course is an asset. Others are seasoned individuals who come back year after year to be part of the bike crew.
A different set of bikers lead the Kids’ 2K on Saturday. The lead biker frequently has balloons, ribbons, or flags attached to the bike or helmet so that all spectators can tell the front of the running pack from the middle of the Park Strip. The same method holds true for the multiple heats of the Anchorage Mile which runs one and a half times around a Park Strip block.
Anchorage RunFest is indebted to its biking corps. We couldn’t hold the race without them. We hope our runners appreciate them as much as we do.
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