July 23, 2013

Training Tuesday: The Other Side of the Water Table

The Day
I have completed 31 races since I started running (yes, I just counted!), but Sunday I got the chance to see what a race is like from a different point of view--a volunteer.  When Autism Speaks sent out an email asking for volunteers to help man a water station at the Chicago Rock and Roll Half Marathon, I signed up right away--and convinced my cousin to sign up with me!
31 races later...
We had to be downtown at our site at 5am, resulting in a 3:40am wake up call in order to give us time to both drive into the city and hit up a 24-hour Starbucks--who knew those even existed??  Even though the sun wasn't out yet, it was already humid!  We did manual labor for awhile setting up tables, had a mild freak out when some misinformed city traffic workers told us we had set up the wrong side of Michigan Avenue (separated by a hefty grassy median) and that we'd have to move everything, realized they were totally wrong, and then started in on the big job: the water cups.

Check out our awesome table of cups. At the time, three layers of cups (on many, many tables) seemed like enough.  Famous last words.

Before we knew it, the leading runners were passing through at lightning speeds.  After shoving a cup into their hands (who knew that super fast runners don't slow down and/or walk through water stops like me?), I very quickly realized I was going to get SOAKED during this job!  I loooved it, though.  I think I am a natural water station volunteer.  Maybe I can put that on my resume under "Additional Skills," hmm?

We stood in the streets of Chicago for hours, saying, "Water!  Water!" on repeat, cheering for runners, and handing out cup after cup.  It was totally and completely awesome...until it became totally and completely frantic.  When one table ran out of water, we moved down to help man a table that still had plenty...but at a certain point, almost every single table was out of water.  We desperately tried to keep up with the huge stream of thirsty and dehydrated runners that kept coming by filling pitchers at our water jugs and pouring into cups the waters had grabbed, their water bottles, anything.  I was standing in the street for a long time with a pitcher, just trying to get it IN the cups the runners were holding out to me, not all over them and their ipods.  I was only mildly successful!

That worked well for awhile...until we completely ran out of water near the end and had to tell the poor runners who were clearly struggling and in such bad need of a drink that we couldn't help them.  I felt awful!  Most of them were super understanding though.  I have to say, I don't understand how this can happen at a race.  The Rock and Roll Half has been going on in Chicago for years, always on a hot day.  I know runners take more water than usual when it's like this outside, but you'd think that after a year or two race organizers would be able to do a better job getting the right amount of water.  I can't imagine what that must be like for the runners--I hope it never happens to me at a race!

Thoughts on being a volunteer
I loved volunteering--what an awesome way to see a race from a different point of view.  I think runners probably make the best volunteers because we know what WE want to see at a water station, and we know what words we want to hear to motivate us!  I had to resist the urge to tell another volunteer that no, at mile 9 they are not "almost done."  No one wants to hear that until at least mile 12!!

I also have a completely new sense of gratitude for the sheer amount of effort it takes to put on a race from the volunteer standpoint.  I was on my feet for over 5 hours this morning and literally never paused.  Between set up, running around like a crazy person to get cups into runners' hands, and picking up crushed cups and oozing Gu packets off the street for an hour, after I got home I was ready to collapse back into my bed.  I felt like I'd run the race! (You better believe I took a 4 hour nap...)

The runners overall were so grateful.  Even when they had to stop and wait for a cup to be filled towards the end, they were so thankful.  Most were even understanding when we had run out of water, or understood that it wasn't our fault at least!  There were several runners who were a little rude or annoyed when the cup didn't get RIGHT into their hand or splashed on them, which kind of annoyed me, but almost everyone was the total opposite.  I always try to thank the volunteers at a race, but now I know that no matter how tired I am, I will thank every single person who hands me water on the course of every race I do from now on!

I am already looking for another half marathon or marathon to volunteer at this fall.  I may have a new hobby!  (And yay it's cheaper than actually running every race I can find!!)

Have you ever volunteered at a race?

Have you ever been in a race that ran out of water?


  1. I have volunteered but it's been awhile so I should again. I was just running a race that ran out of water and it was awful. Well, actually ran out of cups. I didn't get mad at volunteers - I get that - but included it in my post race survey.

  2. This sounds like great fun! I might see if I can help at a London one!

  3. I keep saying I should volunteer at a race. I'll do it this fall. I hate when people say "almost done", when you know you're not/


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