If you have ever run a Go Beyond trail race, chances are you’ve seen Karen “KP” Peterson manning an aid station somewhere on the course.
“Karen Peterson is an amazing volunteer and friend,” says Go Beyond Race Director Renee Janssen. “She has helped at many of our races, since our inception. She is a critical and integral part of the Clackamas Ranger aid station at our Mountain Lakes 100 race. She captains that one, and the FR58 aid station at Mt Hood 50.”
Karen started out as a race director for a kid’s triathlon in Arcata, CA. Her kids competed in the triathlon run by Mike Pigg, a word class Ironman triathlete. When the organization needed some revamping, Karen and a friend took over the race. During that time, Karen also started trail running. There were no races in Humboldt County, so Karen would drive 8 hours to races in Oregon and Northern California.
Karen saw the need to volunteer at some of these races, so she started getting involved at Waldo, Hagg Lake, and Western States. Soon she was doing trail work and running aid stations.
“There is a joy of seeing other people accomplish their goals,” Karen says. “I was raised by a mother who was very much into donating her time. She gave me the ethic that what you get out of the community is what you put into the community. “
Karen encourages others to get involved through volunteering and trail work. “The reward of what you are doing is so great, it’s nothing you can buy. You are truly helping someone accomplish a goal, whether it’s their first time running a race or their hundredth time. It fills the heart and it fills the soul,”
Karen knows that volunteering is more fun than work. Karen is known for her animal heads at aid stations. The second year she hosted the Maiden Lake Aid Station, the last aid station at Waldo 100k, a runner came in late in the afternoon. He was taking things off the table and Karen had a horse head on and she was acting like she was a horse. She was bobbing her head on the table, acting like she was eating, and prancing around, digging her foot into the ground. The runner had a confused look on his face and finally asked another volunteer if he was hallucinating.
For her day job, Karen is the practice administrator for three physicians that specialize in orthopedic surgeries which involves managing an office of 12 employees. Prior to that, she ran an ambulatory surgery center which had a staff of 33. Her professional experience is also valuable to running an aid station.
Things can also go bad, like the first year of Mountain Lakes 100. “That year the weather took a serious turn for the worse and so many people with hypothermia came into the aid station.” Luckily with Karen’s medical background, she had some knowledge of how to handle people in that condition. She and the other volunteers that day were able to triage and get everyone into a good spot.
Karen has run races where she received help at aid stations. She would come up to Hagg Lake Mud Runs every year from Arcata before she moved to Portland. “Liz (Kellog) and Kamm (Prongay) were always so great at their aid station through the years.”
She’s also seen what can happen at a badly run aid station. Outside of Shasta is the very hard Whiskeytown 50k. Karen was racing and having a very bad experience. “I had two rattlesnakes that tried to bite me. I had to fjord up a river for a mile. I’m a back of the pack runner and I came across the finish line in a little over 8 hours. When I finished, the best that they could give me was a bag of Costco rolls because they had packed everything up and wanted to go home. In every aid station, I want to make sure it’s exactly the same for the first runner or the last runner because the last person deserves it just as much as anyone else.”
Being in the medical field, Karen is big on being prepared. When disaster strikes in the wilderness, the only form of communication is likely ham radio. So Karen organized a ham radio class for trail runners where 18 participated and 15 got their radio certification. This not only helped the trail running community but the ham community as well. Those who are certified can help out not only as a volunteer but at any disaster time. Now through this connection, there are other ham clubs that are working out at trail races that weren’t doing it before.
When Karen moved from Arcata to Portland, she still had the itch to be a race director. She knew that Hagg Lake race director Todd Janssen was getting stretched thin now that he co-founded Go Beyond Racing. So she reached out to Todd and mentioned that if he ever wanted to give it up, she would be happy to take over. Eventually, Todd handed over this volunteer position for the Oregon Road Runners Club. In 2016, Karen did the race alone. “That was pretty tough,” explained Karen. “Thankfully Teri (Smith) and Laurie (Westerberg) stepped up and volunteered. It’s a great race and a fun weekend.”
When Travis Liles, Scott Loughney, and Yassine Diboun set the FKT for the Oregon section of the PCT, Karen met them at Crater Lake and stayed with them until Willamette Pass. That year was a terrible blowdown year, so the downed trees had really slowed them down. “So the schedule got messed up and made a different and difficult experience,” says Karen. “Every time we would see the runners, they were decomposing more and more. Volunteering for ultras always involves a little sleep deprivation, but that was over five days. That was really hard.”
“It doesn’t hurt to bone up on basic first aid. You never know if you’re going to have to clean up someone’s wound,” adds Karen. “What if someone wants to drop, but you feel they can go on? Look and analyze every person. Ask the right questions. What’s your pee rate? Have you been drinking well? Are you light-headed? Just take a good look at them because the mind controls what the body does and the body can do amazing things if the mind just shuts off.”
“I had a friend at Highway 49 Aid Station of Western States who was with his crew and he was going to drop eight miles before the finish. He could have crawled with the amount of time he had left to the finish line. It was his mind that didn’t want him to go, but his body still could and sometimes you just have to play tough love.”
“I’ve been at Maiden Lakes Aid Station for Waldo and runners have wanted to drop. I let them know that its four o’clock in the afternoon and you’ll have to be here until midnight and you’re going to have to hike 2.5 miles out of here. This will sometimes reset the person mind and gets them down the trail. On the other hand, if someone is complaining about nausea and they are light-headed; haven’t been able to keep anything down for the last 10 miles, try to get some food into them and see if they can turn it around. If they can’t and they drop, they are going to drop. At the end of the day, their health is more important than finishing a race.”
Karen is famous for her pierogis, a type of stuffed dumpling. She’ll cook them in bacon or non-bacon grease (for vegans). She calls them her “pockets of love.” “When someone is done with the sweets, there really isn’t much on the table of substance that will fill their stomach that is plain but not too plain. They are so easy to carry or throw in a zip locked bag and keep going.”
When someone comes into the aid station and wants to sit in the chair, Karen will stare that runner down and say, “beware of the chair.” “I tell them I’m setting a timer and you have five minutes to get out of that chair. As a volunteer, that’s something to keep in mind is that you’ve got to keep them going. That chair can ruin your race. I know too many runners that lost their race due to cut-offs because they lounged around at the aid stations.”
When it comes to cut-offs, Karen is very strict. It’s not fair to the sweepers, volunteers, and race directors to allow someone to go through that can’t make the cut-offs. Plus, most races only have permits for certain time on the course. “I don’t want to take that dream (of finishing the race) away from someone, so if they get in the aid station during cut-off, I’ll tell them the need to get out.”
Don’t let the strictness of the cut-offs fool you. Karen is always looking out for runners. “Karen helps at Volcanic 50, doing the gear check during bib pick up,” says Janssen. “At this year’s race, there were two runners who didn’t have the required jackets. Karen lent two of her personal coats out so these guys could race. One was returned and the other was not. She’s one of those selfless people who’d literally give you the coat off her back.”
Karen hasn’t just worked aid stations, she’s also done timing at Cascade Crest 100 with Dave Combs. Karen has also managed the Rucky Chucky river crossing at Western States Endurance Runs for the last four or five years which is all about getting the runner safely to the other side. “Rucky Chucky can be difficult with the people with the press passes, crew members, pacers, etc. because they can think they can go where ever they want and I have to play the bad guy (to keep the runners safe.)”