I've had the pleasure of running a lot of events this summer, and most of them were made extra-special by the amazing team of volunteers that made each of those races possible. I have wanted to repay all those favors for a long while now, and though I have volunteered at a race once before, it had been a small event had more than enough hands. This time, I had the opportunity to pitch in for a much larger event that really needed the help: the Women ROCK Chicago 5k/10k/half marathon race series, held this past Saturday by Team Ortho.
I chose to be a course marshal for the half marathon, and was posted along the Lakefront Path just under the Montrose overpass (approximately mile six of the course). It was the perfect morning for a race! Sunny, a little cool, not a cloud in the sky... I was pretty excited to be out and about instead of staying cooped up in the house all morning. I helped set up the turn cones and signage for my area, and started to wait for the lead runner.
By the time she got to my side of the bridge, she was already off the course a little bit! Ready to step up, I directed her back onto the right path as she whizzed by - she was really moving! It took almost ten minutes to see the next set of runners; by that time the marshal on the other side of the underpass had readjusted the cones and made the proper pathing much more clear. I put on a smile and sent people around the bend, letting them know there was water upcoming and cheering on EVERYONE!
It wasn't long before I started hearing some feedback from the runners. Apparently it had been a few miles since the last water station, and it was starting to get hot. I had no problem mentioning that water was coming up, but I was shocked when runners would actually snap at ME as if I was the reason there hadn't been a water station sooner! I certainly sympathized and was disappointed to hear there hadn't been another station, but there was hardly anything I could have done about it. After all, I'm just a volunteer, and did nothing to help plan the race, how could it have been my fault? Thankfully, it was only a handful of snotty runners in the front of the pack who decided to take out their thirsty frustrations on me. Most of the women who spoke up did complain about the water but at least thanked me for my time and energy.
My particular section of the course was at mile six going out and mile nine coming back, so I got to see everyone twice. I actually had a blast cheering on all the runners, and I know I put smiles on a lot of faces. Yelling the same things over and over felt a little repetitive, but then I remembered the most I'd ever see these people was twice, maybe three times if I stopped by the finish line after the race, so I shouted to my heart's content, and reused whatever seemed to make people the happiest. There was a lot of "it's a beautiful day to run!" and "you are all amazing, wonderful, beautiful people!" going around in my little section!
Of course, the main reason I was there was for safety, and I did keep an eye on all of my runners. Two ladies stumbled on some of the rocks in the path, but they both got up quickly and dusted off before I even had a chance to get over to them. I saw them both come back strong, so I am happy to report I had no incidents on my watch! What I did have was a lot of fun and an overwhelmingly rewarding feeling. I know what the vocal and encouraging people at my races meant to me, and I am confident I was able to pay those experiences forward this weekend.
Once the final runner was through my section, I packed up the cones and signs, then headed back to the finish line. My friend Mary had a last minute schedule change that allowed her to volunteer for the race too, so we decided to make the most of the day and head out to lunch afterwards. I found her handing out medals back at the finish line party, and lent another helping hand to keep the process moving. We made sure to get some photos in the party area too!
We were both really happy we gave our time to help make the event a positive experience for every participant. With any huge race event, there will always be little snags and hiccups, but we can both say confidently that we contributed nothing but positive energy and reliable help. Wandering around the festival area, I was actually recognized by several runners who remembered me as the "super sweet gal out at the far end," and they thanked me for helping them power through the grueling half marathon. Mary and I both went home all smiles!
Did you ever have a particular volunteer who absolutely made your race? How did they help you? Have you ever given back by lending a hand at another race?