What does Course Help truly mean?

Some of our volunteer areas need very specialized skills and the Manitoba Marathon team counts on a select group of dedicated volunteers to provide them. Our Course Help team is exactly that: led by Grant Ubell, this group of veteran motorcyclists provides us with support and the ability to work with the Communications Centre to respond on the fly to a variety of needs along the course. Grant is the definition of reliable, both during the planning process and on race day – he is there when he says he will be and he and his team is always ready and willing to help. A big thank you to Grant and his Course Help team: you make us look good and make race day run like a well-oiled machine.

When did you first start volunteering with Manitoba Marathon and what initially got you involved?

Back in 2001 I became Chapter Director of the motorcycle group known as The Goldwing Road Riders Association (GWRRA), which is an International Group of Honda Goldwing Motorcycle Owners.  I had heard from the long term members that we used to help the Manitoba Marathon out in the years past and they didn’t do it anymore, so I approached Shirley Lumb and asked if we could help out again. That first year we had seven motorcycles participate. Two years later we teamed up with another motorcycle group Touring Motorcycle Association of Manitoba (TMA) as well as the CB Radio Club of Winnipeg. That year we had 27 motorcycles and 20 CB cars scattered around the whole course: we had one bike for each of the lead athletes in the full and the half. At every mile marker the rider would call in the place position to the Communications Centre through the CB team. In recent years we have cut back to five or six motorcycles needed on course.

What job do you do on race day? What do you particularly enjoy about that position?

The day before race day, I go to race headquarters and pick up “Special Fluids”: bottles of custom electrolyte drinks for elite runners. They drop them off at the expo with their bib number and the hospitality stations that they want the bottles left at. I organize them into bags for each hospitality station.

On race day, we start early in the morning, around 3:00 AM to patrol the course, looking for downed signs or vandalized portable toilets. We coordinate with the lead of the signage crew, Janet Hewitt and her signage crew if we see any sign or marker discrepancies.

We also have a close working relationship with the Winnipeg Police Service. We tracked some vandals that were purposely overturning a number of Marathon safety cone markers across a bridge.  We also came upon a car break-in in progress at around 4:00 AM in St. Vital. Some of us are equipped with Bluetooth devices in our helmets so we can call the Police or Communications Centre on our cell phones.

Once our sweep is over, some of our team members deliver the elite fluids to the hospitality stations. In 2017 we dispensed 24 bottles to 13 Hospitality stations for three elite runners. Throughout the race we can be dispatched to move a race official or to deliver an extra set of keys to a locked out driver of a rental truck.  We never know what we’ll be doing until we are called upon.

Our team also meets the Course Closing vehicle at Pembina and Jubilee at around 8:15 to assist with closing this section of the race, as the van can’t go across the BDI Bridge.  This motorcycle is the Official Half Marathon Course Closing Vehicle until they meet up again at Kingston Row.

What motivates you to stay involved?

I am motivated to stay involved by the other volunteers that I get to work with year in and out. I work with Janet Hewitt on Course preparation, for a whole pile of years it was Lorne at the Help Desk and Kevin heading up the City of Winnipeg Police Service. I know that I can rely on these volunteers and they can rely on me and my team. There is comfort in the continuity of seeing the same faces year after year. It is also nice to see new faces and introduce them to the rest of the group.

What gives us the most joy? The politically correct answer is that we are happy to help but we probably have the most fun by running red lights and sometimes riding on sidewalks to get the job done because we are designated Official Marathon Vehicles. We are safety conscience: since the Marathon is run under a parade permit, legally we don’t have to wear a helmet, but not one of us would contemplate riding without all of our safety gear (including helmet, gloves, safety vest, armored jacket and boots).

What are some of your other interests? What do you do professionally?

My other interest besides motorcycles is aviation. I’m an Airline Transport Rated Pilot with single and multi-engined land and sea ratings.  In my other life, I’m a Computer Consultant for Inventory Control in Distribution and Manufacturing environments.


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