On July Fourth this year, I did something completely new to me – I volunteered at a road race. In honor of the fact that declaring independence was a new experience for our founding fathers (too much of a stretch?) I thought I’d talk a little about this new-to-me experience today.
I “ran” this same race on the Fourth last year (read all about my struggles and how I came in last here) and wasn’t entirely looking forward to running it again… especially since the race is traditionally extremely hot and run at noon. The one thing I loved about the race last year was how many people who lived along the course set up unofficial cooling stations with garden hoses, since it was in the upper 90s and sunny and terrible. They, along with the volunteers who kept motivating me as I rode the struggle bus past them, were what kept me from quitting halfway through and I decided this year that I wanted to pay it forward. So I signed up to volunteer, putting my name down as a course marshal and as part of the clean-up crew.
I showed up a little more than an hour before the start of the race, grabbed a neon volunteer t-shirt, and was quickly assigned the role of “runner,” since I was superfluous until the race started and I could begin my course marshal duties. As runner, I lurked behind the registration table until I was handed a stack of day-of registration forms, which I then had to run over to the race timers so they could enter the runners’ info into their system. I ran the length of the parking lot several times (well, mostly I walked it quickly) and was glad to have something to do; before one of the coordinators told me to be runner I was just standing awkwardly behind everyone, trying to look helpful without getting in the way.
Being a course marshal was the most fun part of the morning. I was stationed around the 2.5-mile mark, at a place on the course where runners had to turn left instead of continuing straight down the road.
After a few minutes of standing there feeling a little awkward (no other volunteers were near me and I was just standing on the corner of a pretty busy road), I was amazed to see the eventual-winner come tearing down the street toward me. I got to step out into the road with a hand up to stop the on-coming traffic and pointed the guy in the right direction with what I imagined to be an authoritative-yet-encouraging gesture, all the while yelling to him that he was flying and doing amazing. He ended up finishing in 15:01 (!!). The next half-hour or so was spent pointing, clapping, yelling out things like “Only half a mile to go!” “It’s all downhill from here!” (which was true) and “Looking awesome!” and traffic wrangling until a bicycle cop joined me and took over that duty.
As I’m usually the one struggling past race volunteers and croaking out a “thank you” in their general direction, it was fun to be on the other side of that for once. Some people were completely in the zone – including fellow Shammies that I cheered on by name and they later said they never saw me along the course – some were clearly struggling and making me a little nervous that they were about to keel over, and others, especially kids or grownups running with young kids, were looking like they were having the time of their lives.
Once the other bike cops rode down to tell us there were no more runners, I made my way back to the start/finish line to help with cleanup. I figured I’d be sent out to a water stop to pick up cups or something, but apparently the water stop volunteers took care of all that. I ended up just hanging around during the post-race festivities, chatting with run clubbers and sneaking an ice cream bar since all the pizza was long gone by the time I got there. There were a few kegs of beer, but they only had Bud Light which I’m not a fan of… though that didn’t stop multiple people scolding me for not drinking. Despite the rain that moved in, people just didn’t want to leave the fun and that made it a little difficult to clean. I picked up where I could, but was eventually sent home well after everyone was supposed to clear out. Shammies clearly like to party!
It was a nice change of pace to be on the other side of a road race for once, and I’d definitely volunteer again. I loved being able to yell out motivation as people ran by me along the course! There were also a bunch of other roles I’d like to try in the future, like packet pickup or helping with the kids’ fun run. It’ll just be tough choosing between helping out and actually running… at least now I know a way to stay involved if I’m out injured again!
Have you ever volunteered at a race? If so, what’s your favorite volunteer role?
Have volunteers ever helped you through a particularly tough race?