You can support a team or support a checkpoint!
Carrying on from my previous post “What is the Oxfam Trailwalker?” which covers participating as a walker(or runner), people can alternatively participate in support roles as follows:
- Support a Team
- Checkpoint support volunteer
Both require the majority of support on and around the day of the Oxfam Trailwalker Event although supporting a team might include supporting the team while they are training during the months leading up to the event.
Disclaimer: This is not the official Oxfam Trailwalker website – this is my own personal website and this post was created to share my experience of the Oxfam Trailwalker Event with visitors who are looking for a participants point of view. I share some tips that may help another team or walker. I have participated over 10years as a walker, support crew and checkpoint support. My teams’ goals were to participate with the intention of finishing within the allocated time safely. I have never participated in a racing team for this event.
A recap on the previous post:
The Oxfam Trailwalker is an event managed by Oxfam to raise funds for their charity. It is an ultramarathon which takes place in a number of different countries. It is a 100km trailwalk which must be completed in 48hrs.
Teams consist of 4 people and the objective is to start and finish together. The number of teams participating is limited and teams must register with Oxfam and pay a fee to enter, plus they must fundraise a minimum amount per team.
It is a phenomenal event and an absolute privilege to participate in, maybe due to the sheer number of people involved, maybe because it’s so well organised or maybe it is the spirit of the event!
~ end of recap ~
Further helpful information follows in the topics below.
Support a Team
Support is required during the event and training walks. This topic is more focussed on the event support at which time the support crew must adhere to the rules and guidelines of The Oxfam Trailwalker Organisation during the event.
Who are the support crew?
The Support Crew are the people, or person, recruited by a walking/running team. As you read more, you will realise they are ‘Trailwalker Angels’. This crew to a team is like a mother is to a baby – they feed, clothe, bathe and provide emotional support for the team!
What do the support crew do?
- cook meals and transport all utensils and cooking apparatus
- carry spare clothing, socks, shoes, jackets etc.
- carry dirty laundry when the team change clothes
- carry spare batteries for phones, torches, cameras
- carry personal, medical and health supplies
- carry bedding, chairs & tables for meals
- carry a tent for shelter if requested
- some groups hire a camper van for meals, rest stops and beds for sleeping
- bathe and massage tired aching fee
- they will take a team member home if they pull out of the event
- they will drive to the shops to get special requests like Krispy Kreme Doughnuts or batteries
- provide music at the checkpoints and lift team spirits with words of encouragement
- discuss team tracking time and check how each team member is coping
- sometimes they are ex-trailwalkers who can give vital input about team performance
- provide emotional support and voice of reason when tired minds turn to mush
- coordinate with the other members of the support crew during the event (more on other crew members below)
- support the team during training walks
- communicate with the team between checkpoints to see how far away they are
- become a secondary point of contact for the event Checkpoint operators when the team is out of range, and they cannot contact them for a welfare check
- they are the teams biggest fans and the welcoming face that is waiting at the end of that difficult section
- they are so much more than I have listed here
Angels, am I right?
Where are the support crew located?
Support crews meet their teams at any of the planned checkpoints where support access is available.
There are limited parking and facilities at some locations to support additional people, other than walkers and Oxfam officials. Imagine Sydney has 700 teams with four people per team entering the event and many of those will utilise a support crew.
The other way Oxfam regulates the influx of people on the trail and at checkpoints is by staggering the start times for the teams, e.g. 7 am, 8 am, 9 am, 10 am – Oxfam allocates the team start times based on several factors.
Vehicle Access Pass
Oxfam permits one vehicle access pass per team. This pass usually arrives in the registration pack for the team and is sent to the nominated Team Leader who then passes it over to the support crew on the first shift.
Further information is available at the trailwalker website about the checkpoints and whether or not support crews have access – also some restrictions for tents and possibly larger vehicles such as campervans.
The information is provided months in advance of the event, and if circumstances change, Oxfam always updates their website and inform registered teams via email. Following is the type of information available, using Sydney Trailwalker as an example. https://trailwalker.oxfam.org.au/sydney/trail/on-the-day/
Movements of the support crew.
This trailwalk spans 100km(62miles); some support crew members live near the beginning of the trail while others live further along the trail. Therefore it is ideal for them to provide support nearer their home location.
The support crew moves across checkpoints while the team is walking. After the support crew has provided the team with their requirements at a checkpoint, the team Checks Out from this checkpoint and enters the next section of the trail.
At this point, the support crew gathers up the supplies, washing up dishes, repacking the gear into their vehicle and departing for the next checkpoint at which they have agreed to provide support.
It is at this point that a support crew could be handing over to the next support crew shift. The outgoing crew will transfer all of the gear and supplies into the incoming crew’s vehicle and most importantly handover the Vehicle Pass as there is only one issued.
Timing of the Support Crew
The teams do not always require the support crew to be at every available checkpoint. Running teams do not stop in time to utilise a support crew and walking teams can survive with the facilities and provisions made available by some of the Oxfam Checkpoints.
Check the event countries checkpoint provisions to see if teams have access to water, toilets, first aid and possibly massage, podiatry and physio. Some checkpoints provide food although not to be relied upon in case there is none left.
When the team fine tunes their timing plan for the day of the event, they can determine at which point they will need to meet up with a support crew. The checkpoint stop-overs are carefully factored in and time is allocated as part of the walk plan and communicated to the support crew.
The team may agree to stop for two long meal breaks, e.g. dinner, breakfast at one hour each, one med break for lunch at 30mins and the rest will be short toilet breaks at 10mins – there are three hours of time added on to the walking plan.
The support crew may meet up with their team initially at the end of the first day to provide a hearty meal – the team is hungry after the first 8hrs of solid walking, often in very challenging terrain and the body is screaming for sustenance regardless that they may use hydration supplements in their drinking water.
End of day is also a good time to change into night walking gear for lower temperatures and head-lamps.
The support crew will cook the meal and have it ready along with all of the team members gear. The support crew must ensure meals and gear are ready as soon as the team walk into the checkpoint so as not to cause any delay – the walking plan includes the time allocated for meal and rest stops.
The next time a team agrees to meet with the support crew may be at breakfast time. It is advisable to have a support crew on call in case the team require anything of importance such as change of clothes in very wet weather, additional jacket in freezing temperatures, a member may leave the team and need transporting home.
Remember, even if they are only on call, they must hold the vehicle access pass.
Consideration for the support crew
It is not practical to expect one person to support a team for an entire event over too many checkpoints – there is not enough time for them to get sleep themselves, and they are one person supporting a team of four.
Setting up for four people at a checkpoint is a busy task. Finding a space can be a challenge and then unpacking the car. Everyone’s gear plus gas cooking oven and a whole lot of cooking and catering gear such as food, chairs, tables and blankets need carrying from the car to the checkpoint which can be a great distance away.
If the team is walking 100km (62miles), then support is driving just as far if the team takes 48hrs, then so does support. Ideally, you have a support crew that can do shifts, e.g. 4 – 8hrs or a day crew and night crew; they can potentially continue to alternate shifts if you go for two days, two nights — two people per shift, preferably. Oxfam has limitations on the size of the support crew, usually due to lack of space at the checkpoints.
If you only have a one member support crew – plan it, so they get an 8-hour sleep break at night near to one of the two checkpoints they are moving between.
What are Checkpoints?
The Oxfam Trailwalker has several checkpoints where walking/running teams must check-in and check-out before they make their way towards the next checkpoint.
The first checkpoint is the Start, where registered teams check-in and await their start time. There are several different start times. The earliest is for the runners. The next start time is for teams that have set a standard in previous years such as good finish times, great fundraising efforts and several other factors. The remaining start times are for everyone else.
Between Start and Finish
The checkpoints in between are busy with hundreds of teams passing through, checking in and checking out. At these checkpoints there are several provisions often in separate tents if at a park, rooms if at a school, or partitions if at a hall – refer once again to checkpoint provisions for Sydney
Some facilities are mandatory, such as check-in/check-out, First Aid, water and toilets. Other checkpoints may include massage tent, podiatry, camping(for teams that plan to rest) and support crew access.
When a team plans their event walk, they decide which checkpoints they will have stops for meals and rest and which checkpoints they will check-in/check-out without stopping(except maybe for a toilet break).
Teams need to be strategic in this plan as it all depends on the availability of the support crew at each checkpoint. Some checkpoints are sponsored by Partners who may provide a BBQ at dinner time or fruit at lunchtime. At certain checkpoints, there may be tea & coffee and food. However, teams should never rely on any provisions and always be self-sufficient in everything they need, as supplies become depleted very quickly.
Teams can check-in, hang around for an hour having a main meal or a couple of hours if the team is taking a big rest and then when the team is ready to carry on, check-out. Some teams plan to stay overnight in motels or tents. They simply check-in with Oxfam, let them know the plan, go to their motel, come back after a nights rest, check-out and carry on.
When teams plan to leave the track for rest, they are advised to discuss with Oxfam before the event to ensure the team is within the guidelines and not going to get themselves disqualified. Oxfam will send a search and rescue party if you haven’t checked-in to a checkpoint by a designated time. Make sure you all know the rules and guidelines.
The last checkpoint is the finish. This checkpoint is officially set up for the duration of the event. If it is a 48hr event, that is how long Oxfam support the Finish Line. After this time, they pack up, and the only remaining people at this checkpoint are the staunch supporters and support crews waiting for their teams to come through eventually.
At the checkpoints, there are several volunteer roles available which include: check-in and check-out of the walkers, directing traffic in carparks, keeping the checkpoints tidy, welcome walkers in and out, trail marshalls, trail markers, trail sweep.
The volunteer roles are sometimes rotated to give volunteers varying experience – training is required and provided. Some roles are not suitable for rotation as are one-offs for each checkpoint such as the Trail Marking and Trail Sweeping.
Trail markers are placed every 60-100mtrs (65-110yards), providing a reference point if reporting an incident or requiring assistance. They are also a great indicator for the team showing they are on track in case they become confused along the way or are not familiar with some parts of the track.
The Trail Sweeping role requires a team of two or more to follow the last team to the next checkpoint and pick up markers and litter along the way which is also Oxfam’s way of cleaning up the trail when the event is over.
Just do the maths – imagine hundreds of walkers passing through 10 checkpoints(i.e. Start, Finish and 8 checkpoints in between), over the course of 48hrs. The Start and first 4 checkpoints are packing up after the first 24hrs and the remaining checkpoints will be catering for people passing through on the second day.
That equates to quite a lot of coverage and is the reason why so many volunteers are required. Oxfam allocates roles and shifts based on individual volunteers availability.
You will likely be allocated a shift anywhere up to 8hrs at one of the checkpoints.
It is likely to differ across countries so check the official Oxfam website or get in touch with them to make further inquiries.
A link explaining some of the volunteer roles: https://trailwalker.oxfam.org.au/about/volunteer-roles/
Links to the volunteer registration area for Sydney, Australia and the UK:
https://trailwalker.oxfam.org.au/volunteer/register-sydney/ and https://www.oxfam.org.uk/event-volunteering/trailwalker-2019
Participating in this amazing event as a walker or support is a rewarding and life-changing experience.
Utilise the wealth of information on the Official Oxfam Trailwalker Websites by following the link below and selecting the nearest country in the left column.
If you have any questions or comments, be sure to leave them in the comments area – I will respond as soon as I can.
If ever there was a way to Lighten The Hike – this is it!