Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Other Side of the Table: On Being a Race Volunteer

What happens to those who don't run a race?

As you probably read earlier this week, "The Ukrainian" finished his third consecutive Surf City USA Half-Marathon.

I did not.

Instead, I hopped on the expo train with him (while on a school-related conference call!) as he was picking up his bib and volunteered for five hours.  I had been planning on volunteering at this race for months.  You see, I had done this exact race three times in a row and decided that this year, I wanted to do the 5k they have instead.

Well, the 5k was lopped off this year, so I asked my high school friend who happened to be the volunteer coordinator for this race if I she could use some help.  (She's amazingly awesome, by the way! :) )

"The Ukrainian" was very open to the idea of volunteering.  We were split off for a while as he worked Volunteer Registration and I was given the tiring task of crowd diverting at the expo.  Later on, we ended up getting a much better (and easier) assignment.

We handed out marathon bibs to some of the few hundred marathoners that showed up that afternoon.  Since I have a little race volunteering experience, this part was a breeze.

I loved how important I felt during this time.  This was much-needed, since I've been in a little bit in the dirt lately.  People asked me questions that ran across the gamut -- from "how do I downgrade to a half-marathon?" to "will I be able to start in so-and-so's corral?"  I am so glad I have lots of experience being a racer to help allay the fears of first-timers. :P  Being on the other side of the table, so to speak, was definitely an enlightening experience.  I got to see the many, many different types of people who choose to embark on this 26.2 mile journey.  They came from many states and countries, had different support accompanying them, and unique stories.

The highlight was when I met Sam from Operation Jack.  I did not know he was him... I gave him his packet, and then asked me how to find someone.  That's when he explained that he ran 61 marathons last year --

I stopped him -- "You're Operation Jack!" I said.

"Well, Jack is my son, but yes."

I was so starstruck!  Funny, because I don't get all celebrity-y, ever.  I see where my priorities are. :$

"The Ukrainian" was a good sport about joining me, and he was actually a very good and efficient worker.  He said he would do this again.  I was worried that he'd tire out from helping, since he was racing the next day, but he was in good spirits in that giant, humid tent.

Soooo many people did not claim their bibs, and entry fees for this marathon were $100+.  Made me almost want to grab one and run the race with it!

And thank goodness we got a little snack bag after a few hours.  I hadn't had lunch and was becoming exhausted.

That night, we went to The Olive Garden.  This was one of my first times there.  Not sure why we were eating at this chain since we were in Huntington Beach, but it was the suggestion of a friend that recently moved there.  As you can imagine, the wait was a bit heavy since so many runners were in town.

As for me, being a non-runner, I stuck with the basics:

Minestrone, salad (dressing on the side), and stopped at two breadsticks.  I felt weird having to limit my intake since I wasn't running.  I even stuck to one portion each.  Everything kept reminding me of pre-race rituals...

"The Ukrainian" got a pasta dish, of course:

My friend's drink.  (She wasn't running, either.)

The next morning, I woke up very early to head to the race to start my shift.  My duties varied from leading high school volunteers around to assembling awards for the age group winners.  It was a bit tiring (I had to scurry around a lot), but the whole nine-ish hours I spent volunteering for this race were truly rewarding.  I think that every runner should volunteer at a race at some point.  Or send a spectating family member to help out while you're running.  There's always work to do!

In the races I have done, I always try to thank any volunteer that directs me, gives me a drink/gel, or cheers me on.  Of course, I didn't know too much of what was involved until now.  It made me feel proud to be a runner, even though I was afraid I would lose some of my "runner status" by not running this race.  It was a conflict that kept crossing my mind that weekend but slowly died away.

I heard lots of wonderful comments about how organized this race was, how much volunteer support there was, and a bunch of other things that made me feel like I was part of something great.  Though I must say, though, that from behind-the-scenes, it looked like chaos!

Sure, I didn't get a medal or a new race time.  I didn't get to share my mile-by-mile recap with "The Ukrainian."  Instead, I listened to his race story and thought it was nice to be able to focus on him entirely.  It was a new experience and one I don't think I would mind repeating.

Of course, seeing all those runners made me excited for my marathon next month.

Before I end, let me just say that just because I didn't run a race didn't mean that I deprived myself of a nice rewarding brunch:

Above: Grilled chicken and waffles via More Than Waffles.  Obviously not my dish.  ;)  Their Belgian waffles are SO good (and I'm not a waffle fan).  I might have had a few bites... and some of that potato.

Above: This was my meal -- a Tuscan benedict.  Whole grain bread topped with two poached eggs, topped with basil, tomato, and feta.  I was good and got the fruit instead of potatoes.  I shared, of course!


  1. love the perspective of a volunteer. its amazing how many different jobs there are to do at a race! love the olive garden. i ate there before my last race and even though i usually have to take a doggy bag for my left overs i ate EVERYTHING in front of me. including several baskets of bread all by myself.

  2. More Than Waffles huh? Looks delish! Your egg dish with the runny yolk is what I want right now.

    So great that you volunteered your time for a race we all love so much. Don't lie, I know you love it. Even the rainy years! I actually thought about that one crazy year on race morning. I would have mailed it in had it rained like that. Not as young as I use to be! :S

  3. Volunteers really can make races fun and memorable. Very cool that you did that!

    LOVE the chicken and waffles! That looks so good. Yum!

  4. Thanks for volunteering! I try to help out a couple times a year.

    Remind me to hang around with *you* for breakfast!

  5. I've always wanted to volunteer, but every time there is a local race I run it. Next time I'm gonna help!

  6. I love being a volunteer at races. Since I race on tuesdays and saturdays during track and cross country season, I never get to participate in road races. Volunteering allows me to enjoy the spirit of the races without messing up my training schedule.

  7. Awww, you didn't get a picture of operation jack!? I totally would have. NO shame at all.

    But, it looks like you guys had a great time!

  8. I volunteered in a half marathon in the fall just to make sure I didn't aggravate my injury & run the half myself. Selfish reasons still, but it was definitely fun (especially since it was a local race so I knew the folks who put the race together as well as a bunch of the runners).

  9. great job volunteering! I have done registration but that's it. I am so thankful to all people who do volunteer and it is so great to gain the perspective from you. I definitely will look for some opps in the future!

    PS: cute blog!

  10. i've never though about volunteering (duh!), but it's such a ice way to "pay it forward." I'll have to try it out.

    Chicken + Waffles = Awesome

  11. Sounds like a fun time! I've always wanted to volunteer, but I'm so selfish that when it comes down to it, I generally choose to run the race instead :) That eggs benedict photo looks delicious!

  12. Sounds like a fun time! I've always wanted to volunteer, but I'm so selfish that when it comes down to it, I generally choose to run the race instead :) That eggs benedict photo looks delicious!

  13. I've always wanted to help volunteer at a race, but never got the chance. After running LA, I have an even greater appreciation for the volunteers. They were super dedicated hanging out in the rain for so long, cheering everybody on!