Today I volunteered at a local race -- the March Madness Half Marathon -- which is a very popular yet difficult race in Illinois. It usually sells out in a couple of hours each December. I have not yet run this race, but it is definitely on my list. This year, I decided to work the race (many in my running club work this race every year).
The day started at 6:30am when I arrived at the Cary-Grove HS Gym and checked in. I received a very cool race sweatshirt to wear and was directed to work the Mile 5 Water Station. I got there, waited for 30 minutes, and 'nothing'. No supplies or anything showed up. So I went back to the gym, only to find out that the supply truck had just left to deliver everything. So I drove back and waited.
By 7:20am, more people showed up and the supply truck finally arrived. I was going to be working with other running club friends and members of the Cary-Grove HS Track and Cross Country teams. We had four tables -- two with water and two with sport drink. I worked the first sport drink table.
We got all the tables, cups, sport drink mix, and water out and began to set everything up. Mixing the sports drink when it was 26F outside and windy was a cold endeavor (and spilling some on my pants didn't help either). But by 8:10am, we were ready to rock and waiting for race start at 8:35am.
When the race started, we figured it would take about 25 minutes before we saw the elites run by. And we were right. Wow! They ran right passed us (none of them wanted water or sports drink) and making it look like they were running slowly when, in fact, they were sprinting by at a 5:00/mm pace. They made it look so easy! It was pretty impressive! I will never be that fast!
But then the rest of the thousand runners came. And came. And came. It was amazingly busy for the next three hours. I was warm with the exception of my fingers, which were freezing from being held out, extended, as I offered cup after cup to deserving runners. I did not have time to think about myself -- all I could think about was making sure that the runners who needed sports drink got what they needed. It was all I could do to keep up with the demand -- handing out cups and grabbing more from the table (while other helpers were filling up more cups to keep things flowing).
As a runner, I felt the obligation to provide for my fellow runners. Being a local race, there were many runners that I knew -- many in my running club, my health club, even a few Marathon Maniacs -- and it made the experience of serving them all the more meaningful and important. It was really awesome giving both my friends and everyone else something to drink today.
There were all kinds of athletes in the race -- runners, walkers, racewalkers -- in all shapes, sizes, and ages. You could see all kinds of emotions on their faces -- fun, pain, determination, effort, and joy. And, I would say at least 2/3 of them expressed thanks for us being out there working the water station and supporting them.
I know that when I run, I try to thank the volunteers. And today, I got to appreciate how that makes one feel to receive that kind of thanks. I encourage all runners to remember to thank the volunteers, and not 'just' the ones at water stations, for their service. Because they do this, we can have these races. They may do this for a variety of reasons, but for someone to donate 3-6 hours of their day to hand out water, sweep up empty cups, and bear the elements, they deserve our sincerest thanks.
After the last runner passed by, we cleaned up the area, got everything placed on the supply truck, and headed back to the gym. At the gym, I got to greet several of my friends and talk to one of the leaders of the Road Runners running club to which I belong. It was cool to see the runners eating their post-race snacks, chillin to the DJ's music, and celebrating. It was a great day!
Don't miss an opportunity to work a race. Trust me, you won't regret it. And it may make your next race even more meaningful.