Last Saturday, Fabio and I volunteered for the DC Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon.
Some of you may remember when I won a free entry to Rock ‘n’ Roll during last June’s National Running Day with PR Running, and since I’d never run this popular DC race I was psyched. Fabio signed up too, and all year I was looking forward to the race.
Then I found out I had to have surgery on my foot and wouldn’t be able to run it, so I decided to volunteer instead of sitting on the sidelines feeling bummed while everyone else ran. Truthfully Fabio had trouble motivating himself to train for the half without me (usually when we train for races together I’m the one pushing us to stay on schedule) so a few weeks before the race he decided to drop out and volunteer with me instead.
Signing up to volunteer was really easy – there was a button right on the homepage for volunteers, and from there you got to choose whether you wanted to be at the start, finish, or somewhere along the course. Although I thought being at the finish might be fun, I really was more interested in being on the course so I could cheer runners along. Fabio and I both selected that option when signing up, and luckily we were both assigned to the split between the half and the full.
The day of the race was super cold and rainy, and Fabio must have asked me ten times as we drove over if I was sure I wanted to do this. The crappy weather actually made me want to volunteer more, since I knew a lot of other volunteers had probably bailed. Here I am questioning this decision as the cold rain poured down on the car.
Our instructions said we could either park at RFK stadium or find street parking near our designated spot, and after checking things out on the map we realized it would be a 20 minute walk from the stadium to our location, and in the pouring rain we just didn’t feel like doing that. We wound up driving over to our assigned volunteer location, and found a parking spot just a couple blocks away. Sweet!
As we walked over to our location, we were shocked by how many police officers were stationed around the course – literally every block had a different cop car set up to close off traffic. I don’t think I ever realized just how many people it takes to close off DC for an event like this.
Soon we arrived at our location and checked in with our volunteer supervisor, whose name is escaping me now. Whoops! Here he is in his bright yellow vest. 🙂
Whatever his name was, he was super happy to have Fabio and I show up since he had figured most of his volunteers would bail. Um yep, considering we were the only two people at this station, I am thinking he is right.
He took some time to show us where to stand and tell us what to say, which basically just involved standing in the middle of the road and directing half marathoners to stay straight and to the left (our right), and full marathoners to stay right (our left). How hard could it be, right? 😉
Here’s where the actual split was; you can see why they wanted volunteers since it’s obviously a little confusing.
After he showed us what to do, he led us over to his truck where we dropped off our gear (including our umbrellas – boo) and gave us a volunteer bag filled with snacks, water and a t-shirt. He also lent us each a pair of gloves (thank God for these!) and let Fabio wear his extra neon vest. Haha!
By this point we were told that the first runners were only about a mile away, so we got into position. I stood near the beginning of the split, and made sure to position myself near one of the signs so if I ever forgot the directions all I had to do was look over my shoulder and check.
Fabio was positioned a bit farther behind me, so while we couldn’t really talk to one another I could always peek back and see what he was doing. 🙂
Soon enough, the first runners started coming! They were incredibly fast and barely acknowledged my encouragements of “Go runners!” and “Looking strong!”
At one point I cheered “You’re almost there!” and one of the speedy guys said “Thank God!” at which point I was hoping he really was almost there…I knew we were somewhere around the 12 mile mark but didn’t know much more than that. Oops!
Then a couple of ladies passed by, and I was so impressed by them. They were so fast! After that our first full marathoner came by, and I got to practice saying “Full to the right, half to the left!” while pointing in the opposite directions. It didn’t seem to hard!
After this the waves of people started coming stronger, and I had a great time cheering for each group that came along. Most of them were super appreciative, and I got tons of smiles, high fives, and thank yous.
At one point my mind started to drift a bit (with hundreds of people passing you each second that tends to happen) and I accidentally said “Full to the left, half to the right,” since that’s the way I was pointing. A bunch of people yelled out “No! That’s wrong!” and then I had to apologize and yell it again the correct way. Ahh! After that I made sure to pay more attention to what I was doing and not space out!
After standing in the street for about an hour, a nice lady who lived in the house next to where I was standing came out and said I looked like I needed a cup of coffee. Heck yes I do!! A few minutes later she came out with a steaming mug of coffee with cream and sugar, and I must have thanked her about a million times. So nice of her!
After that it was back to guiding runners to their appropriate lanes (I would say there were slightly more half runners than full) and cheering them on. All of their thank yous and high fives had me on cloud nine. It’s pretty awesome to stand and just get thanked for a couple hours!
Soon enough, I saw a few familiar faces including Sokphal, Anne, and my friends Katherine and Tommy! I was so excited to see all of them, and Anne even managed to snag this picture of me. Here I am pointing that the full runners should stay to the right!
Thanks, for the photo Anne!
Cheering on the runners and directing them to the appropriate side of the road continued for another hour or so, and then at 10:45 we closed down the lane for the full runners and made everyone do the half. I only saw a couple of full runners who were disappointed to miss the cut-off time, but for the most part they had all passed already.
Then we got the ok to head home, and were thanked by our volunteer coordinator.
As we drove home I admit I felt a bit emotional – something about being out there with the runners all day had me pumped up on energy but also feeling sad that I wasn’t out there hitting the pavement with them. I also just felt so good about getting thanked a million times for coming out to support the runners in the rain, and I know this is one experience I will never forget.
This makes me want to volunteer at every race I don’t run!
Question of the day: Have you ever volunteered at a race? What do you usually say to volunteers when you pass them while running?