Are you looking for motivation for an upcoming race? Are you looking to give back to the community after completing your big race for the season? Considering volunteering! When you think about everything that has to happen for a race to be successful, it begins with the expos. On the course are water stops, marshals guarding the roads and directing runners the right direction, finish line attendants, medal awarders and so many others. All kinds of people, runner and nonrunner alike, all willing to get up extra early and spend a good portion of their weekend morning to make a race the best runner experience it can be!
Volunteering is really fun! To see a race from the organization side, as opposed to the participant is really interesting. It makes you realize how much work goes into coordinating such an event. I have volunteered at expos where all the excitement and nervous energy fill the room. I have course marshaled a few times to keep runners going the right direction while cheering. Although it may seem insignificant of a position to stand on the road and direct people, it can make the biggest difference to the participants.
When you think about how much has to happen in 26.2 miles for thousands of participants, it is a major impact on a city. This year, I volunteered on the course for the Nationwide Children’s Columbus Marathon. I was positioned at the full/half marathon split about 12.5 miles in. Full marathoners to the right, half marathoners to the left. We had a couple hiccups early in the race, but nothing some quick mindedness couldn’t adjust. First issue: people trying to break through the metal guard gates along the course to cut through to the other side of the road. I was really surprised at how angry a few spectators were when we directed them up the block to the crosswalk stations. We are here for the runners who paid for a clear, supported road, sorry for the inconvenience.
The cones split the street, but runners were not seeing the sign that pointed them to turn or continue straight. We learned this when the lead bikes did not follow the cones and the elite half marathoners were having to jump cones to get back to the correct side of the street to turn towards the finish. The split was worked by my running group so we knew how to correct it. We went and opened the guard rails and sled pushed the giant sign to the middle of the street, then stood there pointing people the right direction. Only a few strays after that, and we opened up the cones so they had a place to get back over. Problem solved.
After those 2 little incidents, it was smooth sailing. We checked bibs as they ran past to keep everyone on the right course, and cheered like crazy! At mile 12.5 of the half marathon course, many people were mouthing thank you and giving hugs all around for giving that last big support to make it the last half(ish) mile. It was also a very important turning point of the race. Starting line temperature was 68 degrees and high humidity around 96%. With a nice cool breeze and overcast skies, we hoped that would help balance out the heat for an easy race. After a little while, it became necessary to start watching the color of the faces of the runners more so than their bib color.
At some point in the race I saw a girl coming up kind of wobbly, eyes not focused. I walked up to her and asked if she was okay, and put my arms out. She weakly said, “uh huh,” then collapsed. I am so glad I caught her before she hit the ground. The girl volunteering right behind me on the street quickly ran up to help me hold her up, but then ran for water. We gave her a quick drink and thought she might vomit, so we dumped it down the back of her neck to cool her off. One of the bikers on the course was a doctor who assessed her pulse and had us lay her down. Only a couple minutes later the ambulance was there to take care of her.
As scary as that was, help arrived very quickly. Although the full marathoners had to run around the ambulance which was probably inconvenient, most people ran up to ask how they could help. The running community is really full of some amazing people. You can bet we were all on high alert after that. I made no exception if I saw someone who looked like they were dying to ask if they were okay. “I’m fine, my legs just really hurt right now,” was always the answer. I understand that pain, “a half mile more to go and I will offer you my advice to walk up and down the stairs backwards for the next couple days. Now go get that medal!” That advice saved me after my first few halfs.
Near the end of the shift, I walked down to where the course opened to the half and full marathoners running together to the finish line. 25.6 miles in and those runners looked awful. Is that what I looked like last weekend?! Probably! Oh wait, that girl is totally choking back tears, yep, THAT is what I looked like. Trying not to cry as the finish was so close. It was nice not being the one running this time around.
All this for a free t-shirt and Chipotle coupon? You bet 🙂
Volunteering is important to run a successful race. You are a representative of the running community in a different way that means a lot to the directors, runners, and the city sponsoring the location. Sometimes your job description is course marshal, sometimes its going a little above and beyond to help create a better experience for everyone. Its accepting sweaty hugs, fist bumping, calling people out when they look tired to get a smile out of them, or maybe catching someone before they hit the ground. Consider signing up to help out a race in your local area an experience how fun it can be!
The Nationwide Children’s Columbus Half and Full Marathons will be running again next year for 2018 on October 21. The race directly benefits the Children’s Hospital, and is very inspiring. Consider this one if you are looking for pretty flat race next fall, or want to volunteer.