August 21, 2011

I Was A Race Volunteer!

I had the most wonderful experience this morning: I volunteered at a local half marathon! I'd never volunteered at a race before, and since I wasn't running this particular one, I thought it would be fun to give back. I mean, I do lots of half marathons and triathlons and there are always tons of people volunteering their time to help me; I wanted to return the favor.

This particular race was the America's Finest City Half Marathon. I have done this particular race twice before: it was my first ever half marathon, back in 1999, and it was the first half marathon I did last year when I re-entered the world of running after taking a 7 year hiatus! (You can read a recap of last year's race here). It was so interesting to be on the other side of things! My chosen assignment was to hand out medals at the finish line, which I was excited to do not only because of the sheer joy of being able to give the runners medals, but also because I had tons of friends running the race and I wanted to be able to personally give them theirs!

I thought I might be jealous of the runners, since I wasn't running it myself, but I wasn't jealous whatsoever. I spend the entire time with a smile on my face, enjoying every second. I've mentioned before about how I love to be around a large group of runners, and this was yet another example when I felt I was in the perfect milieu. Sure, I can feel at home with other women, with other moms, and especially with other moms with kids with special needs. But give me a group of runners and I'll spend hours talking about races, training, injuries and gear. Runners are my peeps.

A few highlights and observations from my 3 1/2 hour stint (2 1/2 hours of which were standing at finish passing out medals; the first hour was spend unloading medals from boxes!)

  • We runners are often not a great looking bunch when we finish. I can't tell you how many people crossed the finish line with snot literally dripping from their noses or dripping down their chins. I wanted to tell them to either wipe their noses or learn how to blow a decent and perfectly aimed snot rocket!
  • On the other hand, we runners can be gorgeous when finishing. The number of people beaming, glowing and smiling made me happy over and over.
  • Men who think they might have bleeding nipples should either cover them with band-aids or not wear white shirts. I handed medals to two separate men with blood on their white shirts where their nipples were. Not only is that yucky, but it looks painful!
  • Most of the people just took their medals as I handed it to them. But two people wanted me to actually place the medal around their neck. The first person said she wanted me to do it because it made her feel "like a winner" (I told her she WAS a winner!). The second person said he wanted me to do it because it was his first ever half marathon. I was touched by both requests.
  • I gave medals to many of my own friends who crossed the finish line, and gave each a hug. Each person warned me how sweaty they would be. Each was a hot, sweaty mess....and I didn't care. I was so proud of my friends and wanted to hug them, sweat and all!
  • One couple crossed the finish line together. I handed the woman her medal first. Her husband snatched it out of her hand and put it over her neck for her. They then shared a tender and very sweaty kiss. I then gave the woman another medal and she placed it on her husband's neck. It was so romantic!
  • Another man finished the race and waited by the finish line. After a while, he told me, "there's my wife!" and asked me for a medal so that he could be the one to place it over her neck. Again, it was so romantic!
  • There was a 5k race before the half marathon. The medals were only for the half marathoners, not the 5k folks. In fact, we were still unpacking the medals when the 5k was going on. One woman finished the 5k and came by the table and grabbed a medal. When another volunteer told her that they medal was for the half marathoners (in fact, they SAID "half marathon" on it!) she demanded to talk to a race official. When the race official came by, she refused to give the medal back, saying that she "paid for it". The race official let it go, but I really wonder about that woman's integrity.
  • Seeing my friends cross the finish line was an awesome experience.
  • I noticed that the fastest and slowest the runners tended to look the most beat-up after finishing. The people finishing in the 1 1/2 hour range, as well as the 3+ hour range, for example, tended to limp more, look more dazed and had less smiles compared to the people who ran a more middling pace.
I am definitely going to volunteer again. In fact, it is now my goal to volunteer at least once a year at a half marathon or triathlon. What a fun way to spend a morning....and now I am more inspired than ever to run my next one, which is in October!


  1. You got the best volunteer job I'd say! That's really, really interesting, the last bullet about the first & last finishers being the most beat up. It makes sense though!
    I'm yet to volunteer at a race, I swear i'm going to do it at some point !

  2. I didn't realize until after that you were volunteering at the race!! I totally missed you! I was watching some of the volunteers unpack the medals. What a fun job to have! I've only spectated a few races and I've enjoyed being on the other side of things. (and yesterday I was so glad I did the 5K instead of the half! I was home eating when people were still running) :)

  3. It was so great to see you at the finish! In those joyous/painful moments as you cross the finish it's so good to see a smiling face. Thanks for volunteering!

  4. I am so with you on this! I love, love, love to volunteer! Especially at the finish line. Everyone should try it!

  5. how awesome! ive never volunteered before. i would like to volunteer at a triathlon. i probably wouldnt be a lucky and get a cool job like you did. i would probably be stuck handing out water at mile 3 or something

  6. Always inspiring and so fun when you know fellow racers !! I'm hoping for a Full Ironman volunteer position in May and I can't wait!! You are 100% correct...volunteers are so important to these events and the participants. Great way to pay it forward!!

  7. I'm glad you had the chance to do this and had a great time!

    PS, I love the pics you took while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge!

  8. I'm going to have to can my half in October and I was just thinking I might like to volunteer for the race instead. This sounds cool (maybe I'll keep tissues on hand, though!). Also, that 5K runner sounds heinous! I would have been embarrassed if I was her, not rude!

  9. I've always wanted to volunteer for a race. In fact I almost volunteered for last year's Portland marathon but by the time I decided to do it, there weren't many volunteer spots left. It turned out to be a good thing because it poured the whole time. :)


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