Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Volunteering at Nike Women's Half Marathon DC

This past Sunday was the Nike Women's Half Marathon here in DC.  I knew I wouldn't be anywhere near ready to run a half marathon by this point but I decided to go ahead and sign up to volunteer. I knew I was going to volunteer at a local race through MCRRC this year but I also wanted to try out volunteering at a larger race.  I convinced a friend to join me so I was even more hopeful that this would be a good experience.

So as not to bury the lead, we had a great experience and thought it was very well organized. I would absolutely recommend this as a good race to volunteer for if anyone is interested.

The good experience started way before the race day.  There were multiple appreciative emails. In addition, there was a happy hour set up for volunteers a couple weeks ago as well which was supposed to include some complimentary food and drinks.  I wasn't able to go but it was definitely a nice gesture.

Crowds in the starting corrals

Race day started bright and early as we were supposed to be checking in at 6am. We left the house at 5am and hopped on the metro which Nike had arranged to have running early. There was a bit of a crush trying to get out of the metro station once we were off the train but we finally reached the volunteer check in tent only 15 minutes late. This was one of the few break points in the organization of the day.  The individual at the volunteer tent just had us sign in, grab at shirt, and that was it.  But we didn't know where to go next.  The email instructions had just said to look for the water stop lead named Allie but no one knew where that would be. So we just wandered toward the start/finish line and kept asking volunteers we saw along the way.  We finally found the water stop and Allie.  She was great and gave us our instructions, which were pretty simple. Wait until all the runners had passed and the unload bottles of water on to the table so they were ready for runners to grab when they came back.  As the bottles were grabbed, we would re-fill the tables with more water bottles.

It was great that they had reusable water bottles sponsored by Whole Foods.  Not only was it greener, they stayed cold almost the whole time.

The water stop process went pretty smoothly for the most part.  The start was beautiful with the sun coming over the Capitol.  We waited and cheered on the crowd as they started and then began our work as soon as they were all past.  It was nice that the DJ kept spinning music while we worked and the announcer kept providing updates of what mile the lead runners were at. There were tons of volunteers and the work went quickly. We were ready at least 30 minutes before the first runners came in. That left time for some photos and hanging out with fellow volunteers.

Once the runners started coming in, things got busy fast.  There was a lot of carrying and moving crates of water bottles, replenishing the bottles on the tables, yelling out to runners to make sure they understood there was water in the bottles, and handing out the bottles.  We were also supposed to keep an eye out to make sure runners only took one bottle to make sure there would be enough for everyone.

This was the best part of the volunteering.  It was great to see all the runners coming in after finishing. It looked like it was a walk in the park for some and a struggle for others. Everyone did something impressive that day and I was happy to be able to help in their journey.  And of course, the runners were so appreciative that it made us even happier to be there for them. The DJ and announcer continued to keep things lively the whole time runners were coming in.  Apparently, at one point someone proposed to his girlfriend on the course (I think right after the finish) and the announcer gave a play by play for those of us that couldn't see it.  She said yes and her new fiancé gave her the necklace :)

There was only one more snafu that I saw and it had to do with the station after ours, the food.  There was one point where the food station really backed up and some volunteers from our station were taken to help out with the food. I'm not sure what happened but a line built up and didn't move for around 15-20 minutes. I'm sure it was really frustrating for the runners who came in at this point and they probably had a bad experience because they were stuck waiting in a long line. Because we were there all morning, we could see that this was a small blip and things moved  well before and afterward. But of course, that doesn't help the runners who were stuck in line.

After all the runners were in, we cleaned up the water station. We dumped out the water from all the leftover bottles and threw them into cardboard boxes for transport. Again, they kept the music going while we were cleaning up and spirits stayed high. The staff were great and our lead, Allie, really was wonderful keeping us all working but still having fun.

We were tired and I was sore the next day.  But it was still a great experience and a cool opportunity to get a look at a race I was trying to decide if I want to do next year. It seemed really well organized from my perspective and I think I'm definitely going to try the lottery for this one.