Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why you should volunteer at races

I had a really enlightening experience last weekend that I wanted to share.  It took me a week or so to think about how I wanted to blog about it without sounding like I'm up on a soapbox.  Please someone, kick it out from under me!  However I wanted to talk about my first experience volunteering at a race; the Seattle Rock n' Roll Marathon.

My friend Danielle was running her first ever half marathon and has been training for the past 4-5 months for this feat.  I was (and still am) in complete awe of her progress from being a non-runner to running a half marathon.  I wanted to be there when she crossed the start and crossed the finish line to support her and watch the culmination of all her hard work, but what was I to do for the next how-ever-many-hours inbetween?  So, I decided to sign up to be a volunteer at the race!  I figured since I would be there to support my friend who is there racing, why not support the other racers too?

I signed up with the RnR Series volunteer group and I took the shift that they have the most trouble filling, the morning!  So an early start for me as the call time for the volunteers was 4am!  GAH!  It was POURING rain and I was seriously starting to doubt my sanity in making this decision.  I went anyway, armed with a hat, layers of clothing and my waterproof jacket.  I get there (they provided free parking) and was given a poncho, my volunteer shirt, a shoulder bag (to put your stuff in since there was no bag check for volunteers) and some morning snacks. 
Pretty snazzy looking, huh?

I was lucky and got into the position I was hoping to: the start line corrals.

Pretty place to start, right?  I got to my corral and got set up.  We had to rope off the corrals and have the trash and recycle bags available, along with a bag full of packets of salt.  Luckily, by this time the rain had lifted and the sun was making its way through the clouds, it was perfect running weather here in the PNW!  Cloudy, cool and dry (well not on the road, but at least you are!).

In my corral was an entire running group that had over a hundred people racing together, and their cause was very touching.  Wear blue: run to remember.

It was a group that runs in memory of fallen soldiers, some of which were family, friends or even no relation at all, just because.  The group was amazing.  They had fantastic energy and were so sincerely nice.  They gathered for a prayer before the race began and called off the names of those they wanted to remember.  The group leader was carrying a flag the entire time and ran with it during the race!

The corrals were filling up and the energy was palpable.  I'd never been to a race like this before.  Not a marathon series, nor one of this magnatude.  Rock n' Roll has this down to a science and they have a great set up!

The race had finally begun and Corral 17 was moving to the start line.  One of the amazing things I've ever seen at a race I experienced here (and I'm so pissed I didn't get a picture of it) was the amount of clothing that is shed before the race!  It's chilly in Seattle and you want to keep warm while you're standing around for an hour+ waiting for your race to start.  So apparently, the racers will drop their clothing along the railing of the start line, if they don't have friends that will take it for them, and everything that is left is donated to the homeless.  That's awesome and such a crazy sight to see!!

Another crazy sight?  This guy.  You're not seeing things, yes, he is juggling.  You know what?  He juggled those 5 balls the entire. half. marathon.  They called him the "joggler" because he runs and juggles at the same time.  I guess if you really want to amp up your training, this is a WHOLE other level, my friends!

We are finally at the start and I was so excited, I wanted to jump in and run!  It was such an amazing feeling.  I cheered as my corral left and I headed down to the other corrals to help out.  I found my friend Danielle and cheered her on as her corral made their way to and over the start line.  She was nervous but grinning from ear to ear!  After that I helped break down the start line and the booths that surrounded that area.  Once that was done, I headed back to the volunteer table with others to be re-assigned, I was riding the good energy from being in the corrals.

Now I was already done with the shift I signed up for, but I decided to stay and help a while to wait longer for Danielle to finish.  I got assigned to the finish chute handing out "fuel" to the finishing runners.  The volunteer I was hanging out with Mitch, and I were assigned to the banana tables.  GO TEAM BANANA!!!  We had to break down the bunches into singles and lay them out on tables for the runners to grab as they went by.  We already had a ton laid out, but I also saw that tons of people were passing by and not getting their bananas.  So I grabbed armfuls of bananas and held them out to the dazed runners in the middle of the chute that were walking past me.  Some just walked past and declined, though many zeroed in on the banana like it was a million dollars being waved in their face.  It was so fun to be able to hand these simple bananas to these fantastic people after a grueling race. 

What was the most awesome and heartwarming part of this and my day as a whole, was the amount of "thank you"s I got from the racers.  Many thanked me for the banana and others thanked me for volunteering.  Mostly, the thanks came in their eyes and body motions when I assisted them in some way.  That was the most rewarding of the whole day and I left the race later that day floating on a cloud. 

My friend finished the race in 3 hours and 11 minutes...an incredible time!  She did such a fantastic job and I'm SO proud of her.  What this race did for me, and why I titled the post as such, is that you should experience this for yourself.  All of us that race and thank (or not thank) the people that volunteer to make the race happen and work as well as it does, owe it to ourselves to be a part of that wheel at some point.  You are no less important to the cause by volunteering instead of running.  I know I got the most amazing amount of satisfaction by being their for my fellow runners in small ways that made a huge difference in their experience.

I encourage you all to volunteer at a race, big or small it doesn't matter, just be involved.  Then reap the rewards of giving back to the community you love so much and have an even deeper appreciation of the process we involve ourselves in everytime we cross that start line.

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