Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Volunteering at the Parks Half Marathon

Several people mentioned in the comments on my last post that they hadn't had the opportunity to volunteer at a race yet.  So I thought I'd write a bit about my experience volunteering at the MCRRC Parks Half Marathon last weekend.

Now, every volunteer experience is different.  I feel like the better organized a race is, the better the volunteer experience is too.  And vice versa.  So if there's a race you're thinking about running but not sure about or not ready yet, volunteering is a great way to get an inside look at the race organization.  Most of my volunteer experiences have been great, but there has been one that was not so great.

In general, I've loved volunteering for MCRRC races.  It is my local running club and I run a lot of their races throughout the year.  So I'm happy for a way to give back as well.  In addition, their races are really well organized and that leads for a great volunteer experience.

So how does it work?  All of the race volunteer assignments I've signed up for start with a web site where you register.  The website generally lists the different type of volunteer assignments and the date/time the assignment begins and ends. There tend to be opportunities before race day as well in case race day doesn't work out for you.  Things like packet stuffing and packet pick up usually.  But you can pick which one works best for you based on time and interest.  In the past, I've done water stops, course marshal, day of registration, finish line bag check, and finish line medal hand out.  The finish line medal assignment is my favorite, but they were all good experiences.

Medals after we had unwrapped them

So this particular weekend, I was back at the finish line.  Before the race day, we received an email from the finish line volunteer lead which provided all the details we needed for race day.  I showed up a couple minutes before our 7am report time, checked in at the volunteer tent, and got my volunteer shirt to wear.  I just put it on over the shirt I was already wearing.  I then went over to my lead, she checked me in on her list, and I went to work unwrapping medals.

Piles of blankets ready to go

In addition to receiving medals, finishers at this race got blankets.  So task number 2 was unboxing blankets and stacking them on a table.  We did not unwrap these because we figured that no body was actually going to want to use their blanket that day since it was pretty hot.  We just organized them so that they would be easy to grab.

As with many events, there was a bit of a dead period once we were done with the preparations but before the runners came in.  The race provided donuts and coffee for the volunteers at this point, which was much appreciated.  This was also a good time to talk to fellow volunteers and get to know them a bit more.  The race lead also took this time to give further instruction, splitting us up into people to hand out the medals and people to hand out the blankets.  I handed out medals last year so I was on blankets this year.  She also stationed a couple people by the tables holding the blankets/medals so that they could make sure none were taken and also providing fresh supplies to us as we ran out.

Volunteers milling around waiting for the first runner to come through

Then the first runner came in, the volunteers all cheered wildly, and he was provided with his medal and blanket.  The runners came in slowly at the beginning and it definitely felt like there were too many volunteers.  But by the middle, more and more runners were coming in bunches at the same time.  And at that point, it felt like there weren't enough volunteers!  It was funny because a lot of runners seemed a bit out of it (to be expected after a hot 13.1 miles) and almost passed by without getting their finisher items.  So we handed out the items and kept an eye out for people who passed by without getting something so we could run after them to provide it.  Or course, it went back to a trickle of runners at the end.  The beginning and end weren't too busy but it was definitely hectic in the middle.

We also kept an eye out for people who seemed like they needed medical.  There were people nearby with wheelchairs and we were to call out for them if needed.  The other thing that wasn't part of our official duties but was good to be prepared for, was to be able to answer questions from runners.  So if you're stationed at the finish line, it's good to know where the food is, where bathrooms are, where transportation is, where medical is, etc.

And that was my volunteer experience!  It was really well organized and really fulfilling, but also hard work.  I definitely had a new appreciation for volunteers at races once I started doing it myself.  I didn't run 13.1 miles but I was also tired and ache-y afterward.  The best part of the day was seeing the looks of gratitude on runner's faces, especially as we handed out the blankets because many people didn't know they were going to get something in addition to the medal.

So if you haven't had a chance to volunteer at a race yet, I highly recommend it!