MS Ride 2018 – A Better Marshaling Experience

In 2017, I had fun Marshalling the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society’s Leduc to Camrose ride.  I enjoyed it because I was able to help the participants better understand both cycling and MS.  I was not the only marshal, there were about ~17 others.  These folks rode the entire way clocking about 150km to do so.

Riding 150km over two days is one thing, fixing flats, coaching riders, reminding participants to ride single file or not use head phones makes the ride even longer.  As a result, the 17 individuals who did the ride deserve special commendation as volunteers, cyclists and contributors to the event.

150KM Is a Long Way to Fix Flat Tires

The Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (club) had 17 marshals.  Many have ridden for years and probably about half are retired.  Finding individuals who can ride 150km, have the mechanical skills and patience to work with participants can be difficult.

Interestingly the likelihood of having to help someone decreases as the ride progresses. In 2017, one marshal fixed 15 flats before lunch but none after lunch.  However, the number of riders needing motorized assistance (e.g. fatigue) increases after lunch.  On the second day, the pattern repeats itself.  Numerous break downs before the lunch break and some nasty hills that require lots of coaching, coaxing and the occasional leap-frog (e.g. lift) after lunch.

As a result, how do you manage an asymmetrical need throughout the ride and do you really need to ride the full distance to contribute as a marshal?

Full, Demi, Quatro, Ambassadors and Motorize Marshals?

One possible way to better deploy the marshals is to have more than one variety:

  • Full Marshal:
    • Rides the full distance over two days.
    • Estimated number needed, 4-8.
    • Cost: these marshals require overnight accommodation, full meals and the standard volunteer package (e.g. shirt, water bottle, etc.).
    • Skills needed: ability to ride and to help with the entire ride.
  • Demi Marshal:
    • Rides the full distance but only on one day.
    • Receives a car shuttle at the beginning or the end of the day.
    • Estimated number needed, 2-4 per day.
    • Cost: consumes snacks and lunch throughout the day, invited to the evening meal and presentation if riding the first day.  Invited to the wrap up BBQ if riding the second day.  Standard volunteer package.
    • Skills needed: ability to ride ~75-85km and help over this distance.
    • Additional costs: first day demi-marshals are shuttled back after supper.  Second day demi-marshals are shuttled from Leduc to Camrose on the first day.
  • Quatro Marshal:
    • Rides only to lunch on one day, generally the first day.
    • Estimated number needed, 6-12 on the first day and 2-4 on the second.
    • Costs: ibid to demi-marshal except no end of day meal.
    • No additional costs:
  • EBTC Ambassador
    • Non-riding members (1-2) would work check points, talk to the cyclists, welcome them, give them some positive feed back tips on riding and direct as necessary to the United Cycle folks.
    • Identify participants by having stickers to put on the Pinnie’s saying something like, ‘EBTC-We Talked’.  In this way, future ambassadors would be able to reinforce messaging.
    • This would improve the experience of the less-experienced riders while improving the ‘EBTC-brand’.
    • This will change the conversation from WHAT to DO to HOW to DO it.
    • Estimated number needed, two teams of 2-3 marshals.  The teams would leap frog each other particularly on the first day.  One the second day, one team is sufficient.
    • Costs: nominal
  • Motorized Marshal:
    • Drives the course and takes over from mounted marshals. This way the mounted marshal can be on their way.
    • Close the rest stops and sweep the challenge loops.
    • Leap frog marshals who have fallen behind and rest marshals.
    • Close the day by ‘tail-gating the last riders in’ (see my previous blog on this).
    • Estimated number needed, 1-3 on the first day and 1-2 on the second.
    • Costs: ibid to full marshal.
    • Additional costs: rental of a vehicle and gas costs (see an upcoming blog on how to cover this cost).

More Marshals, Less Cost for All

Breaking the marshals out into different categories has a number of benefits.  Firstly the marshal can commit to a short engagement (e.g. a half or full day) rather than to an entire weekend.  The marshal does not need to have the stamina or physical fitness to ride the full weekend.  This model can be used as a ‘pre-sales’ or ‘alumni’ ride model to either attract potential participants or encourage alumni of the ride to continue to contribute albeit at a reduced level.Finally, this is an opportunity for the club to teach and practice basic bike mechanics across a larger group of riders.

The society benefits in that they receive volunteers who are targeted to where the need is the greatest.  This has the potential of reducing the cost of putting on the ride while increasing the safety and improving the ride experience.

Team Marshal As Well?

A final consideration is to create a ‘Team Marshal’ to raise funds for the ride.  Ideally the team will cover the minimum the cost to support the volunteers.  An overall team goal is established (e.g. $2,000 for Team-Marshal) but with suggested individual amounts to be either raised or donated by the participants.  For example, the following could be the MINIMUM donations/fund raising for each type of marshal:

  • $2,000: Team Marshal 2018, over all goal.
  • $100: full-marshal.
  • $50: demi-marshal.
  • $20: quatro-marshal and ambassadors.
  • $250: motorized-marshal.

Mary as the Poster Child for the MS Ride

In 2012 I did my first MS ride and one of my memories was of a lady named Mary. She was a 60’ish lady on a fixed-gear, 30+ year old bike that Mary claimed had two speeds: sitting down and standing up. I stayed with Mary in the last ~15KM, put a bit of lube on her chain and shared a few laughs. To me, Mary is the poster child of the MS ride. Despite a disadvantage of age and physical conditioning (she was petite, slight lady); physical equipment (fixed gear clunker) and the bad weather that affected everyone – SHE FINISHED THE RIDE.

I loaded $3,000 bikes into the back of a reefer trailer handed to me by twenty something individuals who had the physical condition, the equipment and the same weather – AND THEY STOPPED RIDING.

Cycling as a Metaphor for MS

As a result, the MS ride should be a metaphor for the disease. There are good days in which things are not so bad and then there are bad days when things seem to have gone to shit on you. Mary was an example of an individual who persevered. How? She did it through personal stamina, determination and a little help from her friends, strangers and the Society.  EBTC can help draw a closer linkage between cycling and MS as a metaphor, for example, consider the following:

Theme Cycling MS
Daunting 150km is a daunting distance that most people will never complete in their lives; but those who do are stronger because of it. MS is a daunting disease that most people will never get; but those who survive can thrive and be better for it.
Knowledge Riding 15okm requires knowledge of how to deal with the distance, the physical discomfort and how to pace your self. Living with MS requires knowledge of what is the disease, how it will affect you and how to thrive until there is a cure.
Success Successful riders have three things: physical conditioning, good equipment and the right technique both physical and mental.

Riders get to 150km by incrementally training and improving the three things: better fitness, tuning their equipment, learning technique and realizing that they CAN ride 60, 80, 90 or more KM in a day

Those with MS learn to live with the disease by staying fit, having access to the right medication/ equipment when they need it and the right knowledge to deal with the physical and mental impact.

Those will MS get to a productive life by managing their own health, listening to their body and learning techniques to get them through a rough patch.

Support Distance riding means sometimes taking a break, calling upon a support network to rescue you and having knowledgeable people who can help you understand your personal limits: stopping today does not preclude riding further tomorrow.  Living with MS means sometimes taking a rest, having friends and community supports when the disease gets worse.  Having the society to call upon that can help the person suffering know what to expect and when they need to retreat so as to be ready for another day

Lots of Similar Rides – Only One MS-Ride

There are lots of similar charity rides an organization can become involved in.  A simple search yields eight in Alberta and over sixty across Canada.  The above model can be used/modified for any of the above rides.  Nevertheless I would encourage the EBTC to stick with the MS Ride.  It is generally well run, it is mostly organized by volunteers and it follow routes that the club would ride anyway.  Thank you to both the MS Society and the EBTC for a great event for a great cause, see you in 2018!