Running Talk with Dave Morrow: Water Station Coordinator

Every year, over 1200 water station volunteers make sure that the runners at the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend have the hydration, fuel and encouragement to make it to the finish line. Coordinating that momentous effort, including managing the ordering and distributing of almost 16,000 litres of Gatorade (not to mention water, gels and sponges) is Dave Morrow, Water Station Coordinator.

This month, we spoke to Dave about why he started volunteering with Run Ottawa and we learned some valuable info in the process, like why Gatorade always comes before water.

RO: Can you give us a brief run down of your role?

Dave: Apart from ordering the materials, like Gatorade and Powerbar gels, I deal with making sure that all the supplies necessary for the water stations and sponge stations are available and delivered to the stations for set up. We have five trucks, one for the Saturday and four for Sunday, to get those supplies delivered on course.

Other than that, I make sure that we have all the groups ready to coordinate each of the individual stations. We have 3 stations on Saturday and 21 stations on the Sunday morning.

RO: How did you come to this role? Were you a runner to start out with?

Dave: I’d started running 10Ks and had got up to the marathon distance. I always appreciated that people took time to come out, not only to cheer, but to help out making these events a success. After running Ottawa a couple of times, I had started going to other locations to get my marathon experience, and I thought, “Now, I want to give back.” So I called the race office and said, “I’d like to help out. What can I do?” and they assigned me to Joe Du Vall. After doing it for a year and a bit, Joe said, “You can run with this now.”

RO: With the race growing every year, how do you know how much stuff to order?

Dave: We always know how many runners we have in advance, and we plug those numbers into our formula and figure out what we need. We tend to estimate on the high side, but we also refine the process every year as demand varies from water station to station.

When I first started, we took the total amount of water and Gatorade and just divided it by the number of water stations. When we started bringing back lots of unused product, we realized we didn’t need as much at the early stations as the later stations.

RO: And what kinds of numbers are we looking at?

Dave: In total, we order about 220 cases of Gatorade. Each case contains 8 cans and you need 2 cans to make an 18L container. So that’s a couple of skids of Gatorade and a couple of skids of Powerbar gels.

RO: And where do you get the water?

Dave: I’ve been really fortunate that we’ve been able to get water from houses along the course. I walk up to people’s doors and explain who I am, and I think in all the years I’ve only ever had one house turn us down. Usually the people appreciate the effort we put in and the enthusiasm of the volunteers, and we get a lot of them who even offer to come down and help at the station.

For places on course where we can’t get a secure water source, we’ll get Labrador to come and supply bottled water.

We want our runners to know that their health is being looked after, from gloves for volunteers to clean hoses for water. I’ve gotten some pretty strange looks going through Costco with 80 hoses and 100 boxes of blue gloves.

RO: Can runners expect anything new on the course this year?

Dave: We’re working on serving up some food on the marathon and half-marathon course, probably some cut oranges and bananas. They’ll be one station at the Half and two stations for the Marathon, and they’ll be located before the water stations so runners can consume their food or gel and then come into the water station to pick up Gatorade; or a lot of times they’ll pick up water just so they can wash it down or get some cleansing [laughs].

RO: Cleansing?

Dave: You know, the marathon is such a mental game for the last 10 or 15 kms, little things can be bothersome. It’s like that stone in your shoe. Sticky fingers or something that’s not quite right, you can start to focus on that and it can drive you nuts. So that’s one of the reasons Gatorade precedes water; it allows you to rinse off if you spill.

Gatorade before water also means you can always dilute the mix, or if you don’t like the taste of a particular flavor, you can get rid of it and rinse with water. It doesn’t work in the reverse. It’s just one of the little things we do to try and provide consistency and the best experience for the runner.

RO: Any other tips or information for runners seeking the best water station experience?

Dave: Well, I’ve been guilty of this as well, but runners can get into a bit of follow the leader. The runner ahead of you will go to the first table, so you figure that’s the table that I should go too. Sometimes it takes a while to realize that there are volunteers on both sides going down 50 or 60 metres. So, looking up and seeing that there are lots of places to get your drink can make for a smoother experience.

Another thing runners should know is that the first four tables on either side at every station is Gatorade, while the last eight tables are water. We tell volunteers to call out what they’re offering: water or Gatorade. If you’re wearing ear buds, turning down the volume a bit will let you get more information, as well as some of that vocal encouragement our water station teams bring to the event.

RO: Speaking of your great volunteers, what time do they get started on the Sunday morning of the marathon?

Dave: Our truck drivers get out there at 3:30 a.m., while our water station teams are out there between 5:30 a.m. and 6:15 a.m.

RO: That’s an early morning! Why do you do it year after year?

Dave: As I said, I started this by wanting to give back. But you know, there’s a real energy to the whole thing, from runners and spectators and from the volunteers who want to be part of what we’re putting on. I’ve been blessed to always have people willing to help.

It’s that energy that I keep wanting to be a part of. Even the cleanup isn’t that big a deal, because there’s a sense of accomplishment. You’ve been out on the course and seen that you’ve made a difference. Everyone’s had a great experience. And you think, “That was fun. Let’s do it again.”

Thanks to Dave for taking the time to chat and for everything he does every year for our runners!