An Afternoon in the Life of a B.A.A. Volunteer

Those of you who follow me on Instagram – or anyone who read this post – know that yesterday I got to volunteer at the Boston Marathon Expo. It was an awesome, weird, and exhausting experience, and I thought the best way to share that experience would be to take you through what my afternoon was like. So without further ado (and from the very beginning so you can get a feel for my absolutely mental journey into the city):

11:00am: Meet at Shammies HQ to organize carpool into the Expo, where we’re expected to arrive by 12:30.

11:05am: Watch forlornly as most Shammies drive off together, leaving me and G to wait for K, who was running late. I was tempted to carpool off without her, but had promised I would wait, and so alas. This meant I had to drive, which I had been hoping to avoid.

11:10am: K, G, and I climb into my car and head to Cambridge, where I knew I could park for free near the T. Due to construction on the Longfellow Bridge and my discomfort at navigating other exits from the highway, I opt to take back roads.

11:50am: After hitting what felt like every red light and sitting in traffic thanks to EVERYONE being out enjoying the nice weather (plus, you know, a few extra people in town due to the Marathon), we finally make it to the parking lot in Cambridge. Except it’s jam-packed due to a book sale in said parking lot that I didn’t remember was happening until too late. Oops. I park illegally and cross my fingers, and we sprint for the Red Line.

12:00 noon: Red Line finally arrives after “minor delays.”

12:10ish pm: Arrive at Park Street, sprint like mad up the stairs to the Green Line, force ourselves onto a pretty packed train. Fidget nervously as the train crawls toward Hynes.

More accurate? The Green Line simply does not move. (source)

More accurate? The Green Line simply does not move. (source)

12:20pm: Train finally arrives at Hynes. Push our way out the doors, sprint up the stairs, down Mass Ave, and down Boylston St, fighting our way through the hoards of people along the way. Reach Hynes Convention Center, have to wade through what feels like millions of runners (who were all moving sooooooooo slow), and get caught a few times going the wrong way to the escalators. Things are blocked off with rope and surly security guards for seemingly no reason. This makes things difficult.

12:30pm on the dot: Arrive at volunteer check-in, out of breath. Get our lanyards and jackets (woo hoo!). Sit down in the training room with the other Shammies, who whisper that we’re in the wrong room (they were being trained for distributing bibs, whereas we were on shirt duty).

12:35pm: Hurry out into the hallway where an intense-looking man is giving us instructions (remember him… he’ll pop up later). Because we’re in a hallway that is near all the millions of people picking up their bibs, and because this intense-looking man is speaking very softly, I hear approximately .01% of what he is saying. All I manage to catch is that we are expected to resist all temptation to visit the Expo, as it’s “too easy to get lost in there for hours.” We’re then led away by another intense-looking man, through some back hallways.

12:45ish pm: The second intense-looking man has started giving us additional instructions in a back hallway, even though 60% of the volunteers are still snaking their way back to where he is. I miss approximately 90% of what he says. Then all of a sudden a lady appears and starts taking people away in groups of 3, through a back door into the t-shirt pickup room.

12:55pm: G, K, and I are herded through the door and are led to our assignment: Women Small. The people we are relieving give us quick instructions before leaving us to it. We have an ever-so-quick moment to breathe… and take excited selfies…

photo(10)…and then the deluge starts.

1:00pm: Our shift officially begins. There are 3 Women’s Small stations, each with 3 people – one person to work the ipad (which scans runners’ bibs… the runner then has to confirm that the information on the ipad is correct), a second person to mark the runner’s bib (which is protected in a plastic sleeve!) with a big, red X so that they won’t be able to get another shirt, and a third person to fetch the swag bag from the back table and hand it to the runner.

Swag bags

Swag bags

The bags were SO heavy, and 7 out of every 10 runners commented on the heaviness when we handed it to them. They contained their shirt, a bottle of water, a plastic pint glass, some magazines, a mixture of Clif gels/shotbloks, and the clear gear back to bring to the starting line.

photo(6)~1:30pm: An official-looking volunteer stops by our station to reprimand me for piling swag bags on the front table, which is one of the tips the volunteer I relieved gave me (lines formed fast, so it was much easier to have several bags in arm’s reach rather than moving to the back table to grab a new one every few seconds). I believe what he said was “The B.A.A. want to tell you to stop putting bags on the front table. We have an image to uphold. *brief pause as he shrugged* Don’t shoot the messenger!” No idea what that was about, and it made it sound like the B.A.A. had a camera on us, or spies milling around, and it was a little weird. Whatever, the back table wasn’t too far, and it made me get more steps in, right?

~2:00pm: We inadvertently distract one of the runners with chat and she leaves her bib on the table. Our first instinct is to hang on to it for when she comes back, but when she doesn’t return within 5 minutes, I decide to flag down the original intense-looking man from the earlier training as he walked by to ask what we should do. He glares at me, snatches the bib out of my hand, and storms off (okay….) only to stop about 20 feet later, turn around and say “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. It was wrong of me to not explain correct procedure. I’m bringing it to the Situation Room. Tell her to go there if she comes back” and then storms off again, as intense-looking man #2 from earlier stares me down before walking off to join him. What the hell did I do wrong?! Was he pissy because he covered this procedure during the training no one could hear?

~2:30pm: Or whatever time. It was all a blur! There are a few very short breaks in the thronging mass of humanity, during which time we take some silly pictures:

photo(8)A volunteer with a basket of chips runs past at one point and I manage to snag one bag for our station. (Luckily we had found a stash of water bottles on the floor behind the table, otherwise the saltiness sans water would have been rough.)

3:00pm: Oe of the Shammies on bib duty comes by on a bathroom break to see how we are doing. She tells us to take a break and go down to the Expo. We respond that we had been told not to. She makes a face and waves her hand dismissively, saying “Whatever! You’ll never get another chance. Go!”

3:20pm: The bib Shammie walks by again, sees us still standing there handing out shirts, and yells “GO!!” at us. I stick my head through the curtain behind us and ask some of the girls who were stocking tables if they could cover for us for a little while. G holds down the fort as K and I ran off to find the Expo.

3:25pm: We get serious attitude from another intense-looking man, who basically tells us that we’re going to the Expo at our own risk and he won’t let us back in the way we were leaving… we’d have to find our own way back to our post. Yet again, okay….

3:30pm: Expo time! We squeeze our way into what we thought was the main Expo Hall – turns out it was the smaller of the two rooms. I knew Nuun had a booth and wanted to stop by – partly to say hi and partly to get a sample because I was starting to flag after 2.5 hours on t-shirt duty – but don’t see them in the hall we were in. K buys a Boston Strong headband and we snag a few Clif samples to tide us over (we weren’t allowed to bring bags and had also been told that we *might* be fed, so apart from a  granola bar and a bag of Honey Stingers between us, we had no food for the 5-hour shift).

3:45pm: We discover the other section of the Expo, which is even huger and more crowded than the first. K stops a few times to grab samples of yogurt and iced tea, but I am feeling bad about how long we’d already been away and am making a beeline for the Nuun booth. I know I’ve found them when I see a lady dressed as a giant tube of grape Nuun, who gives me a sticker and poses for a fun picture:

Our stickers say "I hydrated today."

Our stickers say “I hydrated today.”

photo(11)We go over to the table with all the coolers of the different Nuun flavors and I notice a tube I hadn’t seen before – Nuun Plus. I ask one of the guys working what it was and turns out it’s a new product with carbs added for longer workouts (read about it here!) that is tasteless and meant to be mixed with other Nuun tabs. K and I both try some, and K gets wicked excited… she had never had Nuun before and says she’s won over. We both buy some tubes to get one of the sweet Boston bottles, then speed-walk through the rest of the Expo to find our way back to our t-shirt station.

~4:00pm: Back at our station and back to work. We work pretty solidly through until 5:30, when it starts to slow down a bit as people wander off to get dinner. We are still the busiest Women’s Small station though… I think because we’re the first one people see when they walk through the doors.

~5:45pm: A woman walks up to our station and holds out her bib, which we all immediately notice doesn’t have a number… it has a name. Now, the Marathon bibs are color-coded depending on which wave people are in (red for first wave, white for two, blue for three, and yellow for charity runners) and you can tell generally how fast someone is based on their bib color and their number – the lower the number, the faster they are. We got slightly awe-struck whenever someone with a red bib with 3 or 4 digits on it came by (super fast people!), but a name bib?? That’s an elite!! For most of the elites, their bibs and packets and everything are brought to them special, so we were NOT expecting to see any elites at t-shirt pickup! Luckily by that time there weren’t a lot of people so we’re able to chat with her a bit, and she’s so nice. You can bet I’ll be looking for her tomorrow (Dorota Gruca of Poland) and cheering her on!

6:10pm: Runners are still trickling in to get their shirts, even though pickup was supposed to end at 6. We have no idea what to do, until our Shammies leader wanders through and shoos us away. After a quick loo stop and a bit of wandering around as we try to figure out how to get out of there, we’re finally free. We join the throngs on Boylston St to look at the finish line, where K wants to take a picture:

photo(12)We then wait for what seems like an eternity at Copley T station to fit on a Green Line train (dear God, Boston could never handle the Olympics… it can barely handle the influx of runners on Marathon weekend!), and eventually get back to Cambridge, where I do a little jig of joy when I see that my illegally parked car is still there and has neither boot nor ticket – huzzah!

7:15pm: Finally home, where I collapse into a chair and don’t want to move for a very long time.


So, there was my “afternoon in the life”! When it was all said and done, I had some pros and cons (well, let’s call them “Needs Improvement” since “cons” is a little harsh) about it all:


  • Excellent bonding time with my Shammies
  • Got to experience the Marathon Expo, even though technically I wasn’t supposed to
  • Free jacket!
  • Got to meet tons of runners from all over the world and wish them luck. People were either vibrating with excitement or a little serious/in the zone, but it was awesome to interact with them and to see such a global representation. We had runners from Mexico, Canada, France, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, Peru, Poland, Australia, South Africa… it was incredible. One woman was crying as we gave her her shirt… she kept saying “I can’t believe I’m finally here!” and it actually made me tear up a little to see her emotion at it all.
  • I got to volunteer for the Boston Marathon… that’s just cool!

Needs Improvement:

  • The training. I know many of the volunteers had been there before (most volunteers are repeats year after year) so it’s all old hat for them, but for us newbies, we had no idea what our directions were due to quiet speakers, loud rooms, and impatient speakers who didn’t even see that more than half their volunteers weren’t even present yet. The bib people had their own room for training, so maybe it went better for them, but t-shirt pickup training was pretty much pointless.
  • The lack of food. We heard that in years past, volunteers were given breaks in waves and fed sandwiches in the back room. This year, a lady with a basket of chips ran by twice (she didn’t literally run, but she moved quickly and didn’t really announce her presence… I only saw her because I was turning around to grab a swag bag). Since we weren’t allowed to bring bags, many people didn’t bring food with them, and 5 1/2 hours is a long time to be working without food. Plus, it looked like the morning shift people got coffee and bagels/pastries, and they only worked for 4 hours (I think). If it weren’t for the protein bar and Honey Stinger packet I shoved in my pockets, I might have fainted. (To be fair, some people probably ate lunch beforehand… since we left HQ at 11, it was a little too early for many of us to eat lunch.)
  • The slightly creepy feel of the B.A.A. overseers. I know the Marathon is a huge event with a huge amount of things to organize. I get that. I know there are added security concerns because of the 2013 bombing. I get that, too. But would it be so hard to treat your volunteers kindly when they ask you questions? Do you have to be so glarey and snippy and refer to yourselves in the third person as you reprimand people for random things? It’s the Marathon – people are excited and happy! You’re bringing us all down, man!
  • The volunteer jackets only come in men’s sizes, so the small I got is a little giant. I can’t really fault anyone for this – I mean, hey, it was free and is actually a very nice Adidas climacool jacket! – but I have to admit I was a little disappointed… I had in mind the nicely cut women’s Marathon jackets, not a big, boxy man-sized tent. But, like I said, it was free!

Truth be told, I’m not 100% sure I’d volunteer at the Expo again in the future. The attitude of the officials, and the fact that my legs are shaky today after standing all day yesterday (not to mention how heavy they felt when I tried to run this morning… one of my worst runs ever!) make me less excited about it all than I was leading up to yesterday. Don’t get me wrong – it was an amazing experience and I’m really glad I did it! I’m just not sure I’d jump at the chance to do it again. Then again, that’s what I said after I finished my first half marathon and now I’m signed up for another one, so don’t quote me! 😉

Have you ever volunteered for the B.A.A.? How did it go?

Good luck to everyone running the Marathon tomorrow! Run hahhd and run strong!


9 thoughts on “An Afternoon in the Life of a B.A.A. Volunteer

  1. What a bummer that something that could have been an amazing experience was clouded by disorganization. Then again, I can’t even imagine trying to manage that many people and ensure a great experience all around.

    • Yeah… I felt a little disenchanted by the whole thing, but like you said, what a crazy huge thing to organize. It went pretty darn well considering all that! And I’m still glad I did it 🙂

    • Maybe I just caught them at really bad moments… I like to think that, anyway. Or maybe it was just a little power trip. Either way, despite putting a slight damper on things, I’m still glad I did it!

  2. This sounds both awesome and kind of crappy. Yay for a free jacket, but boo for people being mean and snippy! Also, the food thing would have been a big deal for me.

    • Haha, that sums it up pretty well, actually – awesome and kind of crappy 🙂 I’ve been rocking my jacket proudly, but yeah… snippiness deserves a boo for real! And it would have been nice to have word beforehand about food either way… I would have stuffed my pockets even more with granola bars and things!

    • I pretty much feel ^&$(#*%^#% to the Green Line any time I take it, but especially if it made me miss my friend’s finish!! Sorry that happened 😦 Like you said, at least you got to see her a few times during!

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