I ran the Empire State Marathon the past two years, and while I knew I wanted to run a different fall race this year, I couldn’t imagine not taking part in the event in its third year. I will also admit that I have never volunteered for a race before, and it hit me this year after both the Lake Effect half and the Shamrock full that I should probably give something back to the sport. Both of those races were terrible, weather-wise, and to be out there, standing practically still in the cold to support the runners? Freakin’ awesome.
I’m not sure how it works with all races, but Empire had their shit together. Clicking on the link to sign up as a volunteer led to an information capture page, but also to a list of volunteer opportunities which allowed you to sign up for your job preference. When I saw that “Finish Line – Medals” was still available, I jumped on it immediately – how much fun would that be?!
When I arrived for the start of my shift, it was a bit disorganized and I just tried to jump in and help where it seemed necessary. Eventually someone showed up with boxes upon boxes of medals – they were really nice!
There were too many cooks in the kitchen, however, and at some point one of the volunteer directors came over and started shouting that she needed someone to lead the kids’ race. “Who wants to run, does anyone want to run?!” >> UMMM HI, I DO, I DOOOOO!!!
And just like that, I was in charge of leading the kids to the turnaround point of the race and usher them back to the finish. Only problem? Nobody was really sure where that turnaround point was.
So I made it up. Sorry kids. I just kind of ran for awhile, picked a random landmark, and told them to start turning. I think it probably ended up being .75-1mile-ish, which is appropriate for a kids race, right?
Oh and I totally could’ve housed all of them. That’s what you get for starting too fast.
Once I was back, it was time to start preparing for the half marathon leaders to come through. My coach won by a landslide, but more importantly, he ran almost 2 minutes faster than he was hoping for and managed to come in under 70 minutes. It was neat to be at the finish to see it, but also with some of the other runners I train with. A nice little celebration.
From there, it was honestly go-go-go for the rest of my shift. People started streaming through the finish like crazy, we were all yelling and cheering like crazy, and handing out medals as fast as we could. We let the cute kids go up front, and the adults hung back to catch anyone else who still needed a medal.
It was so seriously inspiring and motivating to see all the finishers. The range of emotion displayed by the finishers was huge: some were hurting, others wanted to jump around and high five. Some wanted you to put the medal on their neck, others acted like you were almost offending them with your offering of a finisher’s medal. Some looked so strong they could run the race all over again, others looked like they needed to lay down. Only one guy puked, a few dry-heaved. One couple kissed, another got engaged. Some looked utterly defeated, others looked relieved, most looked joyous. It was an absolutely amazing experience and I was so glad to be a part of each and every person’s day.
It was one of the best running-related experiences of my life, and I encourage anyone reading this to volunteer for a race at least once – especially if you haven’t ever done it before.
Honestly, from the stud speedsters running 2:40 to the people gutting it out to get under 6 hours, I was so inspired and amazed by everyone. It made me remember how amazing it is to just finish a marathon – and that I need to be more grateful that I have a body that will allow me to run marathons no matter what the time on the clock says. Congrats to everyone who ran the Empire full or half (or relay!) this year; I hope to be running this race in some capacity next year but if I’m not – you bet your ass I will be volunteering again.