Pinellas Trail Challenge Relies On Volunteers For Its Success
By JOHN GREGG, TB Reporter
The real heroes could be the ones handing out water, ice and other aid.
ST. PETERSBURG — One might think that the entry fee to the Pinellas Trail Challenge (PTC), which kicks off this Saturday (Sept. 5) at 6:30 a.m. at Demens Landing, would be exorbitant. After all, there are eight aid stations along the race’s 46-mile route and runners receive many of the amenities one would expect at a larger road race. But the PTC, which is hosted by Michael and Sarah Stork, of Crystal Beach, is completely free, thanks to a slew of volunteers the two have recruited to help run the event.
“Organizing a free event is challenging because there are no funds to buy supplies. But we have very generous volunteers who donate their time and spend their own money in order to set up aid stations and help our runners. I just need to tell them where to be and how long to be there for,” said Michael Stork who serves as the race director for the PTC.
In 2014 there were more than 50 participants and this year that number has more than doubled to more than 130. But even though the event will be much larger in 2015, with many first-time participants, Stork is confident the event will remain well-run. “Last year was harder because I did not know a lot of these volunteers, but this year I know them and I trust them to do an excellent job. We have a lot of new runners this year and there are a lot of questions, but everything seems to be going smoothly.”
Although the event’s website says, “Please do not expect things you get when you pay for a race,” thanks to individuals, running groups and local businesses like St. Pete Running Company and Soirée Wine and Cocktail Jellies, the PTC does not have the feel of a free event.
Oliver Von Tempski, 43, of Palm Harbor, who will be participating in the PTC for a second time, has been dazzled by the race the Storks have put together. “Excellent, very impressive,” said Von Tempski. “Sarah and Michael are very well organized. The website is super. On race day morning in 2014 everything went smoothly. I have run a lot of races, where I had to pay $25 to race for 20 minutes, and organization was less professional than at the free PTC event. The aid stations are well equipped. I could go on and on.”
One of the groups that makes the PTC so successful is Run Tampa, a local running group founded by running coach Debbie Volies. The group ran what was arguably the most popular aid station on the course last year, helped at least in part by its location at the Tarpon Tavern in Tarpon Springs, about 10 miles from the race’s finish, where more than one runner is rumored to have stopped for a little extra “motivation.”
David Yancey, Run Tampa’s event director, served double duty last year, participating in the PTC as a runner and coordinating the group’s aid station efforts. When putting out the call for volunteers, he “was overwhelmed by the number of people willing to help out.”
“We (Run Tampa) know that a significant amount of volunteer hours go into every race and races would not exist without volunteers,” said Yancey. “There are a couple of secrets about runners and volunteering that I think most of our members understand. First, runners are positive, inspiring and fun people. Who wouldn’t want to take the opportunity to spend time with them? Second, volunteering at a race is every bit as fun as running it but you don’t wake up with sore legs the next morning.”
Last year the group brought 15 volunteers to the PTC, but Yancey expects to have twice that many in 2015.
“The extra volunteers help to ensure that each runner gets personal attention. At 36 miles in high heat, there are many things that a runner just can’t do for themselves. Runners tend to lose fine motor skills and simple things like getting an electrolyte capsule out of a bottle or tying a shoe become really difficult. The personal attention also enables our volunteers to make sure that runners are in good shape to continue running before they leave the aid station.”
The group has been preparing for the event for months, and Yancey has put together an aid station guide, that among other things details how volunteers can recognize and treat the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. He has also compiled a list of food, drink and supplies that they plan on providing for the runners, most of which are currently stacked in his living room.
Yancey has the unique opportunity to see the role volunteers play in the event as both an organizer and a runner, and he credits the volunteers in last year’s race for helping him in his quest to get to the finish line.
“I ran last year without a crew and would not have completed the race without the volunteers and the aid I received from the other runner’s crews. Regular access to ice became vital when the actual temperature reached 97 degrees, ” Yancey said.
Stork is quick to credit volunteers with the success of the PTC and is grateful for all of the help that the event receives. He is also ecstatic that the event continues to grow and that past participants have had a positive experience.
“The growth of this race is incredible. The fact that people are returning from previous years makes me happy. It lets me know that people enjoy the course, the volunteers, and the challenge.”
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