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.
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.
October 5th, 2014