As Stromlo Running Festival 2022 enters the periphery, plenty of people will have their eyes trained on the finish line – but Shannon Schuster’s attention will be on the “back of the pack”.
That’s because the avid runner has once again volunteered as a “sweeper”, as she has for the past three events.
She and her fellow sweepers pair up and start the race well after the official kick off and are tasked with rounding up and motivating the stragglers using every tool in their arsenal.
Being accomplished runners in their own right, Shannon says the sweepers generally catch up with them about halfway, strap on their booster packs of positivity and let ‘er rip.
“Often by the time we catch up, they’re deep in the hurt locker and questioning why they ever signed up for this race,” she says.
“We take their minds off how their bodies are feeling. We use costumes, music and endless chatter that will motivate people to run – probably to get away.
“Mostly we want to send a clear message – ‘you’re not alone’.”
According to Shannon, while for some people the appeal of trail running is in the solitude, for many others the loneliness of long distance running is a legitimate hurdle.
“When you’re walking by yourself up hills and on trails, it leaves you a lot of time with your own thoughts and sometimes those thoughts turn to ‘why am I doing this?’,” Shannon says.
“Being able to chat to someone, giving them something to listen to other than their thoughts – I have seen it make people really determined to finish.
“If we can offer a bit of distraction, perhaps even a bit of entertainment, I have seen it lift spirits – and that’s very rewarding.”
But there is a serious side to sweeping, a part of the role Shannon takes very seriously – ensuring the safety of all on the trail.
“I remember one runner in particular – they were really struggling. They didn’t have enough sun protection, had not trained much and were quite dehydrated when we came across them,” she recalls.
“We called the ambos and got the medics onto them. That very, very rarely happens, but as always with the festival safety of all participants is paramount.”
Shannon believes the event offers options for all levels of fitness – but everyone has to start somewhere. She recalls vividly what it was like to be at the starting line of a long fitness journey.
Hers began shortly after her now 13-year-old son was just born and she had joined a boot camp. One component called a “fitness test” got her good.
“It was a one-mile time trial. I couldn’t go 400 metres without stopping,” she says.
“I wanted to get better. Fortunately, I met other like-minded people at boot camp and the next thing you know, I’m a runner.”
Of course, somewhere between “before you know it” and “I’m a runner” was commitment and consistency, starting small with 5 km runs and working up to ultra-marathons. But for Shannon, there’s nothing quite like Stromlo.
“I have always loved the trails at Stromlo, the views are amazing and you see so much of it in one day,” she says.
“The event has the most amazing atmosphere of any of the trails I have run both overseas and in Australia. There is such community, so many people cheering you on.
“As for trail running in general – I love that the only person you’re running against is yourself – and your mind rather than your body when it comes to long distances.
“I also love that it’s technically an individual sport but somehow feels like a team sport.”
This November Shannon will return to sweep the main event on the Saturday, backing it up on the Sunday with her kids for the 10 km and 2.5 km runs. Her youngest is six.
“They’ll do some jogging and some walking and quite possibly some whinging but when they get over the finish line, I think they’ll definitely get the bug,” she says.
Stromlo Running Festival is open to all ages and fitness levels and will include 2.5, 10, 30 and 50 km events from 19 to 20 November. Click here to register.