I knew that I would blog about my experience helping with the ZOOMA 1/2 marathon yesterday and I thought it was very interesting after reading a blog I love, Barbie Runs. She had said she wanted to volunteer at a race and be a spectator for a race. I luckily have had the opportunity to do both. As a runner I know how much it means to have crowd support and volunteers. Being on the other side is completely different.
My first volunteer experience was last year after personally running ZOOMA. My friend Jessica and I volunteered to help with the Atlanta Thanksgiving Marathon & 1/2 Marathon. I had NO IDEA how much work went into 1 water stop. We were at mile 4 for the 1/2 marathon and mile 19 (i think) for the Marathon. We had to get to the stop early. I think around 6 or 630. And we setup tons and tons of cups. Here I learned my appreciation for a 1/2 filled cup. Not too full for those that like to run and go. And its so true-I get frustrated when I am running a race and I get a full cup. Its a mess to drink and it gets all over you. I think I had lost my voice by the end of the morning from all of the cheering-but I knew how I felt when I ran and had “cheerleaders” so I wanted to make sure I did the same here. I also remember being sad for some of the marathon runners. Watching people get swept at the end was heartbreaking-they worked so hard and were forced to finish because of time constraints (At this point in my life, I had not run my first marathon and couldn’t imagine putting in all that time and training and not finishing but looking back-they probably didn’t train properly). We didn’t finish until 1130 or so. Something I also think we runners forget about. We may cross the stop at a certain time but the volunteers don’t finish until the last runner (or sweeper) passes. And the same was for yesterday.
I didn’t love the ZOOMA race last year–part crowd support/part “medal”. I like bling and the silver charm on a leather rope didn’t cut it for me. I really had no desire after they moved the race to Chateau Elan either. BUT, they did change the charity to Team in Training this year and it was TEAM’s local event for the fall season. So when they asked for volunteers, I figured, why not? I received the reminder and here’s where we need you email early last week. Please arrive at 630 am and you will be at the finish line. Remind me why I volunteered again? 630 and I am not even running? And the race is 45 minutes from home? Goodbye Friday night. Of course my attitude changed on race morning. There is just something about race atmosphere that I love. The music at the start, the crowds, the excitement, the first-timers. It was incredibly cold (Atlanta skipped fall and went straight to winter this year–34 degrees and frost??? and I did not envy the runners & walkers) and I am glad I wore layers! The race had a 5K and a 1/2 marathon and every finisher received a necklace (medal). So my job began 24 minutes or so after the start. I handed out necklaces from 8:15 till 11:15 (cut off time). I enjoyed seeing the finishers cross-especially my fellow TNT’ers!! I heard the course was very hilly and tough and I could see that in the finishers faces. Maybe that is why some of them weren’t so happy when they finished. The volunteers were full of cheer and “congrats” and I was surprised by how many didn’t have a smile on their face. You just ran 13.1 miles!! Be happy! Most people in this country don’t get off their couch! And I have been there-I realize you are tired and just glad to be done but wow, what an accomplishment. I hate to even complain about it, but I think I heard “thank you” from about half of the runners. I guess it just shocked me. It also reminded me what these volunteers do for each race. I am a fairly fast runner and finish and usually leave the race well before its over. I forget that these volunteers are here until the last runner/walker is done. That is a long time. And sadly, the crowd support dies down because most people have finished before the race technically ends. The same thing happened yesterday as it did at Thanksgiving last year. The race was being cleaned up and I could still see walkers. Bummer. That has to be such a sad feeling.
I really did have a great time volunteering and it reminded me to be thankful of the volunteers when I race. And to smile. And to say thank you. Next time you are racing and see a cop holding traffic for you, or someone hands you water, gu, gatorade, or your medal or they cheer for you…try and say thanks. Or if you are out of breath, just give them a nod and a smile :). Let them know that you appreciate what they do to. What what you do without them, right?