Ham radio support for B2V 2009 Baker to Vegas marathon

March 19th, 2009 Paul & I helped support the Baker to Vegas marathon with radio communications (official race site). We drove 8 hours from LA through Baker, to Las Vegas to arrive at our station 17 by 6pm. Our duty is scheduled for 11pm to 7am. That’s when the runners are expected to pass our station. Paul & I worked the “Early Warning 1 mile out” station. Our job is to give the station advance notice of which runners are approaching so the next runner on that team can be in position, ready to grab the baton & get running down the road. Neither of us had done anything like this before.

We found our Station 17, actually they call it a “stage” but whatever. And set up camp next to the highway.

I had been told that we would need to be right on the edge of the highway so we could see the runners. Our job is to write down the runner’s number on the clipboard with the time they passed by. Then radio that info to the radio operator at the stage, where they announce it over a loudspeaker so the next runner for each team can get ready to grab the baton and go.

At first I was using my handheld ham radio, but due to a slight hill between our One Mile Out stage and the stage, the little radio was not doing as well as you might hope. Sure 5 watts can easily go 1 mile, or even 90 miles, but the earth itself was in the way and the signal was not making it very well. So Paul grabbed his uninstalled mobile radio, a Yaesu 8800r and connected it to power in the TearDrop trailer galley, and to his mobile antenna on the Jeep. It’s funny, Paul & I are both so new at this ham thing, that neither of us have mobile radios actually installed in our vehicles, but we both have gotten as far as mounting an antenna. Anyway, the bigger antenna did the trick, and now we were not in any danger of using up the battery in the little Kenwood TH-F6A.

So eventually 11pm rolled around and so did the runners. There was something like 240 teams of runners with like 20 or more people per team. Plus at least 2 support cars for each. A car will creep along to follow each runner for the entire race. Anyway I was told that this race brings somewhere between 30,000 and 65,000 people to this desert area. That’s including all the support people, runners, ham radio operators, spectators, officials, and all that.

It was easy at first because the early runner were spaced out with 10 or 20 minutes between them. But soon enough the runners were coming in clusters of several and only a minute or 3 between them. That reminds me of the guy who said his new work hours are half as many. Yeah, he gets every other minute off. :-) It was like that! We had to really hustle to log all the runners, and also transmit all the info to the stage operator. Paul stayed right on the edge of the road so he could get a good look at the runner numbers. Due in part to the car headlights, we soon discovered that it is a lot easier to see the number on the back of the runners than their front, and also noticed that each chase car has the number displayed on all 4 sides. Even easier to see.

It did get pretty cold, and we had to stay outdoors to do our jobs. I wore my Mad Bomber hat, which is the warmest hat I have ever owned. Highly recommended! A blanket on the camp chair helped keep it a little bit warmer for those few minutes I got to actually sit down. I taped a battery powered LED gooseneck lamp to a spring clip clipped to my clipboard. That was a good idea & I’d do that again, It is SO much easier when you can see what you are writing!

Some of the chase cars showed a really huge amount of support, with encouraging things being hollered out, and upbeat music blasting. Every runner going by wanted to know how much farther they had to run. All seemed relieved that it was only 1 more mile. We talked to almost every runner & almost every chase car, so figure about 480 quick chats that night!

The Stage 17 ham operator was Frank Shannon KR6AL, who is so professional, pleasant, and good humored that I really enjoyed the assignment.

He was great about gently helping me to be a better radio operator in a super nice way. Like just repeating back to me what I said, but saying it correctly. I got the idea right away. Simple stuff, like using 24 hour time, and saying the other guy’s call sign first, then mine. We worked the radio back and forth every few minutes all night. We had fun with it, I would say I had a little story to tell about runner number 387 who passed by the 1 mile out post at 02:35 am. Anyway, it was more fun than it could have been if we were totally serious.

When we turned in our paperwork to  stage 17 HQ a few minutes after 7am, Matthew told me that people were really impressed with the professionalism of our radio communications. At first I thought he was kidding, because I am so new at ham radio, and we were kidding around on the radio a lot. But, no, he was not kidding, it turns out that we were doing such a good job that someone amplified our radio traffic so they could hear it all over stage 17. That was helpful to all involved. And we did get several compliments from people who worked various jobs at the stage. That was great to hear positive feedback about my volunteer work, because otherwise I would not have known. Unfortunately our stage leader was having a tantrum over who knows what, and apparently he did not have anything nice to say to anybody. But I was told by a few people there that I was lucky to be a mile away. Everybody else was very pleasant and nice to work with the entire time.

After our duties were complete about 7:45am, we “camped” at the trail head parking lot across from our post. The lot was empty when we got there, but almost full when we woke up 4 hours later for the long drive home!

Overall working the B2V Baker to Vegas Marathon was fun. Check out the photos.

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