This past weekend, I did something I've never done. I became one of those volunteers. After the many hundreds of people who have helped me in all those runs and races, I felt like it was time I gave back a little. It was an amazing experience.
Three of my friends and I volunteered for the Seattle Rock n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon. We had several friends who were running the race, and since I'd just done a half marathon a few weeks ago, I wasn't quite ready to run again. So we decided to support our friends by being on the course, helping out the event a little bit and being there to cheer them on.
We arrived bright and early at 6:30. I was expecting there to be a bunch of people volunteering and that we would probably be transported to a water station with a bunch of other people. Imagine my surprise when we called Jeff, our race contact, and we were the only four volunteers he had at his location.
Our job was, among other things, to "work the split." This was one of the locations where the half marathon and marathon courses split off, and it was going to be our job to make sure that the folks with the blue bibs (the half marathoners) went one way and the yellow bibs (the marathoners) went the other. A very important job. We helped Jeff put up signs, cones and other things along the course, and then we went to our posts.
I ended up working my post by myself, and in the hours I was there, I learned so many things.
1. A bullhorn in the hands of someone who is, shall we say, not shy, can end up embarrassing your friends who are running the race. My job was to direct the half marathoners to the left and the marathoners to the right, but I took advantage of the bullhorn to cheer on my friends when I saw them, much to their chagrin. I'm hoping that it was more inspiring than embarrassing to hear "Marathoners to the right; Half marathoners and Joy Kelly keep to the left."
2. People who come to these events just to cheer people on are awesome. These ladies in this photo were there for hours, and as far as I could tell, they weren't there for anyone in particular. They were stationed at the top of a slight hill on the marathon course, and they had great signs. But the best part about them was that every person who saw them and heard them cheering momentarily forgot how tired they were, got a big smile on their face and started running a little faster. Every single one. I don't know if those girls realized the burst of energy they gave to every runner that passed them. I don't know if they knew how important they were to helping someone continue on who might have wanted to quit. They were awesome.
3. I'm not done. To date, I've done one marathon and had to pull out of a second one due to injury. Lately I've told myself that after one more, I'm probably done with marathons and maybe even half marathons too and will go back to 5 and 10K's. After last weekend, there's no way I can stop now.
According to my count, I saw three blind runners, each tethered to a friend or family member leading them. On the marathon course, the third place competitor at the 13 mile mark where I was working was a paraplegic. I saw people of all ages and sizes, all competing and struggling and succeeding. I saw people speeding up when they were exhausted to make it onto the marathon course before we closed the road and they were redirected to the half marathon course. I saw the last person on the course right in front of the police car, still running and still determined to finish.
I just turned 45 a few weeks ago. The way I now see it after spending a day volunteering, rather than being done, I've still got decades of marathons and half marathons to go. As long as my body lets me.
|The Volunteers with our beloved bullhorns |
(from left to right) - Me, Shannon, Sasha and Sarah
To give my water bottle to a woman who needed it.
To direct a guy who was so tired that he didn't have any idea where to go and actually needed me to point him to the right course.
To chat with a woman from Texas, who ran the half instead of the full because she had injured her ankle, while she waited for her friend that was doing the full marathon so she could run portions of the race with her. They reminded me of me and my running friends and how important and amazing that kind of camaraderie and support has been in my life.
To give back and honor all those hundreds of people who have handed me water, stopped traffic for me and told me "you're almost there."
What a great day.