What Every Runner Should Do At Least Once

Volunteer at a race! I had the pleasure of volunteering at the More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Half-Marathon on Sunday. I arrived for my assignment at 6:30 am. Walking through Central Park that early with very few people, besides the race organizers, around was one of the most peaceful, zen moments I’ve had in a while.

I dutifully separated thousands of bananas, poured thousands of cups of water and untangled thousands of medals. I made small chit chat with my fellow volunteers, some more willing to chat than others. I didn’t care, it was a beautiful morning, perfect for running.

My final assignment was to hand out medals to the finishers.  I got to see the winner cross the finish line, something I wouldn’t normally get to see if I were running. I was one of the first people finishers saw as they came in search of food and a little relief from the tough race. Many of them were a little dazed and confused and I could totally relate to that look and feeling.

I’ve had that overwhelming feeling of crossing a finish line and being greeted by way too energetic, well meaning volunteers. Sometimes I felt like I was a jerk, sometimes I wanted someone to acknowledged what I’d just accomplished, sometimes I was free with the high fives and sometimes, I just wanted to get to the water and food without delay. I saw all of those things at the finish line. It gave me a new perspective about the volunteers at the races I’ve run in the past and a new mindfulness for the races I plan to run in the future.

Being a volunteer is a lot of work. There’s set up, distribution and cleanup. Cleanup is the hardest part, because of course it comes at the end of a 6 hour shift, and runners aren’t the most conscientious when discarding their banana peels, energy tubes, water cups, etc. We volunteers have to make sure we leave the park, as clean as we found it and for runners, it’s usually the last thing on our minds at the end of a race.

I’ve also had the displeasure of volunteering during bib pickup on race day. Understandably emotions are high when your bib cannot be found. But there seems to be a breakdown in how people are treated when you are viewed as a volunteer rather than a runner. I had to remind many people that being rude to me, as a volunteer, wouldn’t help them get their bib faster. I also had to remind a few that I was a runner and volunteering my time.

So I say, every runner should volunteer at a race at least once. It will give you a whole new appreciation for running and the great community that comes together to make each race a success.


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