Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Different Role For Runners

By the time you get to the start of a race, you've trained countless hours, registered, paid your fee, picked up your race number and chip, gotten a cup of water, used the port-a-pottie, and filed into a marked off starting corral, checked your watch, anxiously chatted up your neighbors, retied your shoes, stretched, listened to the 'official race instructions,' heard the National Anthem, and then heard the starting gun shot and made your way through the gate checking the official time as you started your watch. As you weave your way through the crowd you 'stay in the lane,' check your time on the official clock at each mile marker, head to the side and grab a cup of water, weave your way past a few more runners, pick up a few more cups of water, speed past the line of runners waiting at the port-a-potties along the route (silently smiling inside that you're not one of them), and kick your way across the finish line with every last bit of energy you have. Your shaky legs carry you through the crowd of sweaty boddies over to a chip clipper you cuts your chip off your shoe and throws it in a bucket as you thank them. Then after locating the fuel tables, volunteers hand you cups of water and apple and a bagel. Maybe your stomach can handle it, maybe the food is saved for later when you're famished. You find an open space to stretch your legs so they don't freeze up, then pick up your bag from the baggage area, showing your bag number and bib number match. Then, it's off to find your family and friends and grab brunch. You've run your race, given it your all, and now you're going to celebrate!

Sound familiar? It takes a lot of work, not just on our parts as runners, but also on the part of race directors, race staff, volunteers, and sponsors. My parents raised me to say 'please' and 'thank you,' so I tend to say thank you to as many volunteers as I can because they are taking time out of their day so that I can run. I've been known to thank the course marshalls as I'm running through a busy part of Central Park. They don't have to do it. They're volunteering.

I ran my first race in 2006 but didn't really get into it until the next year and didn't volunteer for one until 2008, when NYRR changed the marathon qualifying requirements to include one volunteer credit in addition to finishing 9 races. I have to admit, I'm so glad they did this because if they hadn't, I don't know if I would have volunteered. I've only volunteered for two races (I run as many as I can!) and the one last year was particularly cold and dreary, but I'm glad I've done it. When I decided not to try for the NYC Half Marathon this year I did decide to volunteer for it. Yesterday I delighted to see that there were positions available to work at the expo! Yes, it's a cushy indoor job, but it's still volunteering when I'll be able to help runners and their families and see the excitement the day before the big race! I ran the NYC Half in 2008. That morning, instead of waking up to my alarm clock, I woke up to thunder and lightening. Immediately I was concerned for Gracela, who I knew was on her way at that dark hour to the race course to help set up the fluid station where she was going to be working for the next 4 or so hours. Countless volunteers wake up before the sun is out and work through rain, heat, sleet, snow, any and every weather condition so that we can run and strive for a PR.

As runners, I think it's important for us to give back and help other runners when we can. Yeah, we pay race fees, sometimes very high ones, but a lot of work goes into the events and they can't happen without volunteers. So, today I'm urging you to find a race near you, take a day off from running, and volunteer your time and support. Cheer on the runners who are pushing their way through a tough hill, hand them water when they put out their hand, and congratulate them on a great accomlishment and all the hard work they've done to get there. I've really enjoyed my experiences and can't wait to do it again! We're all lucky to be part of a great running community and part of being in a community is supporting it, not just benefiting from it.

If you're in NYC, head over to the NYRR site and check out the volunteer opportunities. They're still looking for volunteers for Run for Haiti this Saturday. (Inside tip: I've heard Paula Radcliffe, Ryan Hall, Grete Waitz, Deena Kastor, Meb Keflezighi and other pros are running!) I would be there in a flash, but my Mom is coming into town for the weekend. Perhaps we'll stop by and see the excitement! If you're not in New York, check with local running stores and races you've done in the past to see how to get involved. Take a little time to give back!

It takes a lot of work and a lot of people to keep all these runners moving!

Today's questions: Have you volunteered for a race? Any good/funny stories? What did you like best about volunteering?

Before I sign off today, I have to say THANK YOU! I logged on this morning to see that I now have 53 followers! I really can hardly believe it and am so thankful for all of you who read my blog regularly, who are reading it for the first time today, and who comment on the various topics I ramble on about each day! I really had no idea what to expect back in August when I started this journey, but I am constantly surprised and amazed by all I learn from the blogging community and the friendships I have started. This little blog was started so I could share my experiences and the little bits of knowledge I pick up while trying to live a healthier and full life. Not surprisingly, I have learned and continue to learn from all of you, and I appreciate that more than you know! I hope you continue to enjoy this blog, learn a thing or two along the way and keep commenting!


Jocelyn said...

You painted a great picture of what a race day is really like. :)
I volunteered for my first race in January for the Manhattan 1/2. It was a lot of fun (even thought it was super cold) but I enjoyed being a course marshal. Yeah for volunteering!

Madeline - Greens and Jeans said...

I have to log volunteer hours for my job and I always pick to work a run or a bike ride! I always have a blast!

Robyn said...

Great post! The first run of this year was in January (Fred Lebow classic) and it was so cold that my toes were numb. I don't know if I could've done it without the support of the volunteers.

Julie said...

Hi Lisa,
I have not yet volunteered for a race but would love to!! I think it would be pretty fun and very it would give me a chance to cheer people on!!!

Maureen said...

I'd love to start volunteering. I think soon I'm going to try to make it a once a month thing that Kyle and I do.

Molly said...

I have yet to volunteer for a race, although I'm thinking of doing so at a 5k this spring. I prefer to run longer races, so I think that would be a good way to give back.

NY Wolve said...

I actually just finished volunteering to complete my 2011 9+1 credit. I blogged about it to, and how it makes you appreciate the effort. So your words of wisdom are particularly appropos for me.

Kate said...

Hey Lisa - It was great to get your comment on my blog and after poking around yours, I think you are right - we are very similar! You can tell I'm new at this blogging thing, but I really like the community as I sense it so far.

I also really appreciate your recent post about race volunteers, because I agree - they are definitely under-appreciated. Conversely, there is something about being a race volunteer that is nearly as rewarding as running the race, I find!


Ashley said...

that's a really great idea! i am still farily new to races and i had never thought about volunteering myself. I am going to check into that right now! thanks for the post.