Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Volunteering - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50k

Well, I had my first experience volunteering at a race. It was the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail and it had both a marathon and 50k option. Basically, there was an extra loop along the course that the runners did if they wanted the 50k option. My assignment was to be a course marshall and stop runners at a place where the trail intersected with the road to make sure there were no cars coming as the roads were not closed.

It was clear that trail races have some challenges that road races don't, but this wasn't an ideal first volunteer experience. I'll start with the good things.

The weather was perfect for a Spring day and the location was beautiful. At the beginning of my shift, I even saw three deer frolicking in the woods while waiting for the first runners to come by. It was absolutely beautiful.

I was paired with another volunteer who had been running with the Montgomery County Road Runners for a long time. We had a lot of great conversations for the hours we were together.

The snow covered trail when I got there.

Trail, what trail? Oh, that little strip by the tree with footprints.

The runners were amazing. We were stationed approximately 6 miles from the finish so the runners had already run at least 20 miles by the time they got to us. And the conditions of the trail were not good. It started out snowy/icy and ended up muddy as everything melted throughout the day.

And this is what the trail looked like after the snow melted.

There were lots of muddy and bloody runners. But they were all so appreciative and friendly even after having run for hours in these conditions. They really made it worth it and I am so glad I was able to be there for them.

Pretty much all the runners were mud covered by the time they got to us (photo from MCRRC)

Now, for the bad. Sadly there were some problems with logistics. I never heard back after I signed up as a volunteer. The day before the race, I asked one of my coaches and she emailed the race director with the inquiry. He apologized for somehow missing me and asked me to fill in as a course Marshall as someone else had cancelled at the last minute. The only information I was given was that I should be there from 11am to 2:30 pm and the directions for parking. I assumed the other course Marshall with me would have more information.

Well, that was the second problem...a complete lack of information. The other volunteer had no information either. All we knew to do was watch out for traffick to make sure runners didn't get run over by cars and cheer them on. But runners would ask questions about how much longer until the end, distance to the next water stop, etc. and we had no idea what to tell them. We also didn't know what to do in case of medical emergency. Thankfully, we had no medical issues but it was quite possible given the condition of the course.

Lastly, the email said to stay until 2:30 but wait to leave until the sweepers showed up. Well, we waited until 3:30 and there were no sweepers, ever. We did finally leave after having given the extra hour because we couldn't wait longer. Did I mention there was no bathroom available anywhere near us?

I did hear from various people the next day that there were problems all along the race but that this was very unusual. Everyone said that they had never had a volunteer experience like this one and that it is usually much better organized. So I won't let this taint my opinion of volunteering for local races. And the runners really did make it worth being there. I was very happy that I was able to be there for them as they finished such long distances in such difficult conditions. They really were inspirational.

This runner was so cute, and still chipper by the time she got to us (photo from MCRRC)

Anyone else have interesting volunteer experiences?