Volunteering at Lakefront Marathon!

Welcome to Day 5 of my 31-day blogging streak! Not sure what I’m talking about? Click here!

PS – just a note, before I begin today’s post – when you’re blogging every day, responding to comments gets kind of hard. I’m going to be making an effort to be better about responding to your comments, but please know that I do read and love all of them! Thank you all for reading and sharing your thoughts. I always look forward to hearing them.


Yesterday morning, along with thousands of others, I got up long before the butt crack of dawn and dragged myself out to the suburb of Grafton for the 35th running of the annual Lakefront Marathon.

Except, I wasn’t running. And I totally cheated and cut in at the 2nd mile of the course. Why?

Because I would be volunteering there!

Myself and a big gang of volunteers were running the water and Gatorade station at mile 2 of the marathon, the first one along the course. This was my first time volunteering in a marathon and volunteering along an actual race course.

The race started at 7:30, and when I arrived at 6:15 volunteers were already hard at work. It was still pitch black out so for the next half hour or so we were working by the light of some headlamps.

I was on Gatorade duty and the first thing we had to do, once the tables were set up, was make a ton of Gatorade. We used mixing sticks to mix up huge batches of water and Gatorade concentrate in big round jugs.

At the tables, one of us would set out cups in neat, compact rows while another one of us filled the cups halfway full using a pitcher. It was really important that the rows of cups be as tight and compact as possible, because once we filled the table with cups we had to put cardboard over the cups so we could add a second layer and start the whole process again!

We ended up with three tables of two layers of Gatorade. The water tables after us had just as much, if not more.

By the time we were all set up, it was only a few minutes until the start, so we only had a a short time to relax and then get instructions for our duties once runners started coming through. Even though we were just volunteering, I remember this moment having a really exciting quality and feeling really pumped up – kind of like when a team huddles together before going onto the field for the big game or the cast of a play takes a moment before going on stage; that feeling of being together as a team one last time before a big moment.

The race started at 7:30 and we expected the first runners to start coming through around roughly 7:40. Because, you know, there are humans who run 5 minute miles. In marathons. No big.

We stood in our places, cups in hand, ready for the rush. I remember the excitement when I saw the first bobbing heads in the distance as the lead bikers approached. And then, there they were – the lead pack of runners! Sometimes even fast people don’t necessarily look like they’re running that fast, but man, these guys seemed like they were flying.

Then more and more runners started streaming through, the crowd bloating as the middle of the pack neared and then eventually thinning out again toward the end. And the whole time I stood there with cups in my hands, basically just screaming “Gatorade!” over and over again at the top of my lungs. For the first part of the race, another volunteer was able to stand behind our table and help hand more cups to us so we didn’t have to keep reaching back to grab them, but as the crowd go thicker he eventually had to come to the front with us to help hand out cups to the runners. It was a furious 40ish minutes of yelling, handing off, reaching back for more cups, and repeating.

And then, just as soon as it started, it was over. The last runner passed through, along with the course marshal behind him and then a big truck which came to pick up our tables and supplies and all of the clothes runners had discarded. Some of the volunteers started raking up the cups thrown in the road while I helped take down tables. There were still a lot of cups left on the tables, and so taking them down basically just meant flipping the table over and letting all the cups crash to the ground, and then a bunch of us scooping and raking them up.

The truck left with the tables and the trash bags and then, as one volunteer put it: it’s like we were never here! I stayed around for a moment to enjoy a cup of coffee and then we were on our way. I was home by 9 AM.

I loved this experience and I will definitely do it again every year that I am not running Lakefront. The awesome thing about being the first water station is that you get to see all the runners in the shortest amount of time, and everyone is still looking strong and happy by that point.

A bunch of people I know were running today. I kept a lookout for them but in all of the hullaballoo I only managed to spot a couple of them. One of them actually spotted me before I spotted her, calling out “Hey Hanna!” as she flew past.

But everyone out there inspired me. The feeling in the air on a marathon morning is just unbeatable  – especially a small-but-mighty marathon like Lakefront. I was already excited about running my next marathon in the Spring, but now I’m really excited. I can’t wait to start on my next marathon journey and be part of another marathon day.

So, in closing, here are a few things I learned from volunteering at a marathon water stop:

I will never take another water stop for granted again!

All those little cups at the table and in the volunteers’ hands didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Someone has to go through and fill up every single one of those. And make sure every single one is packed together in neat rows on the table. I don’t think I’ll be able to pass a fluid station again without thinking about all the work that had to get done to get it up and running (so to speak).

A lot of people take water and Gatorade early in the race

I couldn’t imagine we’d need to be furiously handing out cups – I thought, do that many people really need fluid already at Mile 2? On a cold day? But boy was I wrong. We were busy. I wouldn’t say a TON of people took cups, but a big chunk of them did. There was never a dull moment.

I will always say thank you to all the volunteers

I really loved it when a runner going by our station would yell out a simple “thanks for being here!” It reminded me how important such a simple gesture is. I didn’t volunteer just to get thanks from people, but it feels nice to have your presence acknowledged. It’s the little things, from both sides, that strengthen the running community – volunteers cheering on all runners from the front to the back of the pack and  making sure everyone, regardless of pace, has a good experience; AND runners making sure to thank and appreciate the volunteers who make their race experience possible. I have to confess that I could be a lot better about thanking volunteers in my races and now I’m sure that will change.

The word “Gatorade” will never sound normal coming out of my mouth again.

‘Nuff said


Congrats to all the 2015 Lakefront Marathoners.



What makes this experience special is that exactly one year ago, I was one of the people running through that very same Mile 2 water stop – bright eyed, bushy-tailed and on my way to my first ever marathon finish.

I thought all these memories would come rushing back to me yesterday, but they really didn’t. There was a touch of nostalgia, but otherwise, it just feels like such a long time ago.

Both of my marathons were happy, special days that I’ll never forget. Yesterday’s experience volunteering and being part of another Lakefront Marathon, coupled with the memories of my own special day one year ago, remind me that running a marathon is a very special treasure of an experience, whether its your first or your 50th. I want to make sure that every marathon I run is not “just another race”, but a special day with a great story and all the happiness and pride it deserves.

One year later and I continue to work harder and aim higher, always.


Lakefront Marathon
October 5th, 2014
26.2 miles

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14 thoughts on “Volunteering at Lakefront Marathon!

  1. So fun to volunteer at the race that meant so much to you a year ago! Although I didn’t officially volunteer, the year after running NYC, I went to the city to cheer for others and made a sign. I appreciate all the volunteers and spectators so much, it’s fun to give back sometimes. I’d love to do it more often for sure 😀 And I’ve never been assigned a fluid station before! But it’s such an important job. I’m glad you had so much fun out there!

  2. I love your race pictures! You did amazing at your first marathon Hanna 🙂
    That is awesome you did a volunteer water stop, such a different perspective than running a race. I wouldn’t think you would be super busy at mile 2 either, but hey never too early to start your fueling, right 🙂

  3. I have always wanted to volunteer at a race, it seems like it would be a great experience. Even just cheering on other runners at a race is so much fun! I always thank the volunteers at races, we wouldn’t be able to do it without them!

  4. Good for you for volunteering! 🙂 And nice that you got in at an early stop and were home by 9:00! LOL!

    I am impressed you saw anyone you knew, at all!

    When I am running with a handheld I take water at every stop, despite the weather. And sometimes, I take it even when I have my pack! I drink a ton when I run, though. Everyone is so different!

    This was the first year in quite some time I didn’t do anything with MKE (the years I haven’t run it, I’ve spectated at mile 21ish and handed out licorice and pretzels). Someone always asks if I wish I was running it… nope. If I desire to run a marathon, I will find one to run and train for it! Ha!

  5. I can’t believe it’s been a year since our first marathon. As I was lining up for the 10K on Sunday I kept thinking about Portland. I can vividly remember standing in the starting corrals chatting with other first time marathoners excited about the morning ahead, but it still feels like it all happened a lifetime ago.

    That’s so nice that you volunteered! I’ve yet to volunteer at a race but it’s on my to do list. Adam volunteered at my first half marathon – he handed out water at the first aid station and then he handed out medals at the finish line. It was so cool to have him place the medal on me… I’m tearing up just thinking about it now! hah, oh man!

  6. that is SO awesome!!!!! I just volunteered a week ago at a local race, not at a water stand,but on a street corner (directing traffic & cheering). As runners we know how valuable the volunteers are…the races wouldn’t happen without all that free help LOL Thanks for giving back!!

  7. I love working a water station! Even after doing for so many years, I am still surprised how early runners want water or gatorade. Even food! I’ve had people ask for real food at the Harvest Marathon the last 2 years- we were mile 8! Yes, gatorade does sound weird after shouting it so many times. 🙂

  8. That’s so awesome, Hanna! I am always so grateful for race volunteers, although sometimes I get so focused that I forget to say thank you, which I always regret later. So thank you for volunteering!

  9. I was one of those anonymous 3500 who took a cup, and I cannot thank you enough. Both for the support on the course, and for the perspective from the other side. I had a blast running my running my first marathon, and I know I couldn’t have made it without you and the thousands of supporters on the course, and that alone means my thanks cannot be enough. But this post makes me see that you had as much, if not more fun helping us, that I know I’m going to be looking for opportunities to support my fellow runners.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting! Congratulations on your first marathon, and I’m so glad you had a good experience. Lakefront is such a great first marathon – I know. I had a blast at last years, and I just wanted to pass it on. 🙂 Enjoy your recovery!!

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