I’ve spent a lot of time racing. I love to do my long run at a race, surrounded by 100s of other runners. One might say it’s a bit of an addiction. A few years ago, though, I began giving back by volunteering at races. I quickly discovered that volunteering is just as much fun as running a race and, while a totally different workout, often just as much exercise! Since my first volunteer stint, I’ve volunteered many times and had a few chances to be on the paid race crew, such as the Nike half in 2013 and a local 5k.
This past weekend I got to be on the race crew for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge half marathon. The coolest part was I got to experience a totally different aspect of putting on a race. This time I was involved with the actual course management, which meant basically the tasks involved from the time when a runner crosses the start line until they cross the finish line.
My role? I got to put the mile markers out at 4am on Sunday morning. Know how early you have to get up to put out mile markers at 4am? 2:30am. Oy. I really didn’t actually go to sleep on Saturday night.
This role starts before race day though. A few days ahead of time, I had the opportunity to meet with the gentleman who marks many of the courses in the DC area. Did you know that there are a ton of rules about how to accurately mark a course? Yes, yes there are. We drove the course and found each and every mile spot. I took notes. I took pictures. I found good landmarks to help me remember where the indicators were.
And I was thankful for every piece of information I had + my Garmin 220 at 4am on Sunday morning. Things look a whole lot different in the pitch black than they do in broad daylight. (There was only one case of running around on the side of the road with my headlamp frantically looking for the marking. For the record, I found it.). Know what I found interesting? My Garmin (yes, I used it to help us get close to each mark) was spot on. Funny how not having to dodge other runners helps keep you with the measured distance LOL.
This course had some challenges other courses don’t have – there was a section of the course only accessible via bike or walking. This meant one of our volunteers actually walked a half mile each way carrying a mile marker sign! And those were not light!
I then spent the rest of the day helping out at the last water stop. I unloaded a ton of boxes (do you know how heavy a box with 6 gallons of water is???), helped with set up, handed out drinks, cheered on runners, and then packed it all up again. Thankfully, despite a small number of people, I had an amazing crew and everything went smoothly for us.
Thanks to one of my MRTT friends for letting me borrow her photo.
I never stopped moving long enough to take a picture of the water stop I was at…
So, the next time you run a race and the mile marker doesn’t match your Garmin? Realize that someone was out there at O’dark thirty working hard to put it in the right place. Sometimes mistakes happen (race crew are humans too), sometimes signs get moved by police or volunteers (had that happen at a race I ran this spring where the cops moved the turn around and that messed up mileage for the entire rest of the race), sometimes you’ve just zigzagged too much (I KNOW I’ve done that LOL). Either way, it’s very seldom the case that every attempt wasn’t made to put markers where they belong.
It was a long day (I worked 8 hours by noon!), I’m sure I looked crazy running around the side of the road at 4am with a headlamp and reflective gear, and I totally forgot to eat, but it was a heck of a fun time!
And I looked good… (Yes, I wear Skirt Sports when I work a race too.)
25 thoughts on “Racing: behind the scenes”
I love how you scheduled your shower!! LOl. I worked a similar capacity at RnR DC last year. It is incredible what goes on before a big race isn’t it!
The first time was my “I know I’ll want to stay in the warm bed” time, the second was if I want a shower I have to get up, the third was I have to get up immediately. Since I never actually fell asleep, I got up with the first one. I was pretty much a zombie by last night.
I was asked to do the 4am shift for WWB HM but decided I liked my weekend sleep. Glad you were able to help Alexis and Jeff out!
Good for you for volunteering. I like to do it too but after having done water stations ONCE I now do inside volunteering at the race expo for our local marathon… much drier!
Ha! I’ve done a few water stops in the pouring rain and a few where I’ve gotten wet just from spillage. I managed to stay dry this weekend…
YOWZA – that is early!! I haven’t had to get up quite that early to volunteer yet, but someone has to do it. And we appreciate volunteers even when it’s not voiced. 🙂
That’s awesome that you did the mile markers. I know my mileage is usually off because I don’t run perfectly straight – people always think the course is off when really they weaved a bit getting around people or taking corners wide or tight. I’d love to do more volunteering as my kids get bigger.
That’s awesome. We have so few races here locally that I end up running, not volunteering. I really need to change that.
Races are most definitely not possible without the volunteers. I volunteered at last year’s Army Ten Miler, and I can’t wait to volunteer again in the future. I can’t wait to volunteer at more races in the future.
haha… scheduling your shower. That’s awesome. I volunteered at the Chattanooga Ironman a couple of weeks ago and realized just how important the volunteers are
Love that you shared this perspective!
That sounds like a lot of fun, in a crazy kind of way!!
sounds fun! some things I never really considered! I thought I just show up to run and everything magically came together just for me.. LOL. just kidding.
That is a long day!! But really great to be able to see the behind the scenes and to see how much work goes into putting on a race! Love hearing about the behind the scenes.
I watched some friends organize 5Ks and I know there is a lot of work that goes behind putting together and coordinating a race whether big or small. I want to volunteer more too.
Great job! I volunteered at a Ragnar Relay last year, and also was on the organizing committee for the Ontario Women’s Triathlon – I really gained a lot of appreciation for what goes into planning a large race from those two volunteer gigs. I really should volunteer with my daughters to hand out water at a race.
It is cool to hear all about what goes on behind the scenes. I have never done it but volunteering at a race would be such a rewarding experience! What an early start, was there at least a good sunrise?
I’ve only volunteered during the “awake hours” so this was great insight as to what happens in the early morning hours. Thank you for volunteering!
Thanks for a job well done!!
great to read this because i’m usually like UGH when my watch doesn’t match the mile markers (both UGH at the signs and at myself for weaving). what a long day — i LOVE LOVE LOVE your alarms. 🙂
I’ve always been impressed by and grateful to the helpers at any race. But I’m probably even more so now having read this post. Getting up that early takes a lot of commitment. I’m happy to get up early to run but to do it so others can run is so commendable.
Wow I’m super impressed how early you got up to make the race happen. Super cool to see this side of it! #wowlinkup
I used to volunteer for the Chicago Marathon every year because it passed the apartment complex where I lived. Since I moved into a home, I have only volunteered once and that was for the Ragnar race because my friend made me do it LOL. #wowlinkup
How fun to take a peek behind the scenes of a race! Thanks for sharing and your hard work. Love my Garmin too 🙂 #wowlinkup
I’ve always assumed the prep, planning, setup process for the marathon was a ton of work. Thank you for contributing! Seems like it went perfectly! #wowlinkup