Cold. Constant rain. Five and a half hours standing on my post-surgery foot. That was my Saturday.
I volunteered during the first shift of the Country Music Marathon. Here’s a recap of the day.
While walking from the parking lot to the race location a police officer looked my way and said, “The princess has arrived.” I thought that was strange since I was wearing a baseball cap and a bright yellow rain poncho. I looked anything but princess-like. Then I saw walking behind me a young woman in full makeup, coiffed hair, a tiara and a sash. In the rain. I think her sash said Miss Soy Bean Festival. That’s dedication to her reign.
By the time I found the volunteer check-in tent I was 30 minutes late for my shift. I apologized profusely and the check-in people could not have been kinder. They thanked me for coming out in the rain, gave me my volunteer t-shirt, and pointed me to my first task. My fellow volunteers and I, including Miss Soy Bean, unwrapped individually wrapped finisher medals and hung them on racks. Those 30,000 medals weren’t going to unwrap themselves, after all.
I hung out with Michael, a recent college graduate and new Nashville transplant from Birmingham. He was a really nice guy who had that balance of providing the right amount of small talk without yapping too much at 6 a.m. Plus, he laughed at my jokes. In short, he was the perfect medal unwrapping partner.
We unwrapped medals until the first finishers of the mini-marathon (a 2.6 mile run) were about three minutes out. Then Michael, about five others and I were moved to the water stations where we stayed for the remainder of our shift. We were each assigned a large trash can filled with ice and bottled water. We handed out water just as fast as we could. After all of the mini-marathoners were hydrated, there was a lull before the half marathoners started coming in. That was tough because we had nothing to do but think about how cold and wet we were.
At last, the half marathoners started coming in, first in trickles, then in droves. Packs of them would stagger over to my trash can with arms outstretched, their eyes glazed over from exhaustion. The staggering, the outstretched hands and the glaze reminded me of scenes from the walking dead. I felt a little crowded, overwhelmed and pressured to hand out water fast enough. I’ve run 10 half marathons and I know what it feels like to finish and NEED WATER NOW.
Over the next two hours packs turned in to trickles and back into packs. Most finishers thanked me for the water. Many shared heart-felt appreciation that I would stand in the cold rain to support the event. A few snatched bottles from my hand while looking past me as if I were invisible.
Highlights of the day were bumping into my friends Linda, Lauren, and Tom. Tom told me he’d PRed. He’s been training hard, and I couldn’t be happier for him.
I don’t like admitting this, but couldn’t wait for my shift to end so I could go home and dry off. I’ve run one half marathon in the rain, therefore I feel qualified to make comparisons. I’d rather run in it than stand in it. At promptly 11:00 a.m. Michael and I hobbled to our cars. As we limped, he commented that he’d underestimated how stiff his legs would feel after standing for so many hours. Bless him for helping me feel less geriatric.
Here are a few final thoughts:
- I’m a Southern girl who was raised to say “please” and “thank you” (as well as y’all). I hope I’ve always thanked the person who handed me water at water stations and the finish line. You can be sure I will from now on.
- I think it would be great if every runner skipped at least one race and instead volunteered for it. I now have a better appreciation for volunteers.
- Seeing the exhausted finishers through my new lens renewed my respect for all of the training we have to do in order to finish.
- Quite a few runners were sporting their Boston Marathon shirts or Boston tribute shirts. Most were wearing the Run Boston bracelets handed out at the expo. Runners, walkers and volunteers proved that we will not allow fear to change how we live.
Hate did not win on Saturday. It never wins.