Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Volunteers Keep Us Going

Somewhere just before Mile 25 of last year's Manchester City Marathon, I encountered the course's final water stop.

I'm sure I needed water. I'm sure it felt good to stop to take a drink. But I don't even remember taking a sip.

Rather, what I remember about the last water stop of the race was the warm smile and friendly face of one of the volunteers.

He was an older gentleman, who eagerly engaged me and my running partner in casual conversation.

It was more like we'd met up with an old friend at the supermarket than a stranger along a marathon course.

He joked with us and asked us questions. He paid us compliments that I'm sure we didn't deserve at that point.

He had us laughing at Mile 25. If that's not impressive, I don't know what is.

I felt as if I was the only person he was looking to help. What's remarkable about this, of course, is that he'd been doing this for hours - literally. He'd been standing at this water stop, set up behind stadium, handing out tiny cups of water as hundreds of runners passed by.

I have no doubt that he was as cheery and upbeat with everyone as he was with me.

Race volunteers are one of my favorite parts of any race. From a practical side, races couldn't go on without them. The Manchester Marathon alone, which will have its fourth running next Sunday, requires about 500 volunteers with duties ranging from handing out water, to providing bicycle support to helping with traffic flow and working the pre-race activities such as registration pick-up.

Some of the larger running events need up to 3,000 volunteers, some of whom are dedicated solely to cheering and crowd support.

Sound strange? I don't think so. There are points along a course that a simple word of encouragement or a handmade sign help keep me going more than any cup of water could.

I distinctly remember a woman - a stranger - standing at the corner of River Road and Union Street near the start of last year's marathon, quietly encouraging me and calling me by name. (I had my name written on my shirt.) It brought an instant smile to my face.

Scenarios like this played out over and over during the run. Each volunteer adds a little something special to race day memories.

Pick-me-ups come in all varieties, like signs people make and the kids who hold their hands out to give high-fives. Personally, I appreciate the lone volunteer who stands on a secluded part of the course clapping for hours.

A team of St. Anselm students mans the water stop just before Mile 20 of the Manchester Marathon course. I remember their enthusiasm and their laughs. They played music loudly out of a parked car, prompting runners to stop for an impromptu dance to Michael Jackson’s Beat It.

Volunteers and spectators are a special bunch. After all, we (the runners) are working toward that medal at the finish line or a new personal best time.

What do race volunteers get? They get to help runners take off their shoes, they get to hold us up when we're feeling weak, they get to hand us bottles of water and bananas to eat. They wrap us in thin foil blankets. They get to take care of us.

But Dot Callaghan of Rochester says they get more than that. She's been volunteering at the finish line of the Boston Marathon for 15 years. She helps families track their runners, answers questions - and yes, helps runners take off their shoes at the end of 26.2 miles.

She helps them find their hotels, look-up their official finishing times and track down any clothes they may have left on the shuttle bus. During the race, she serves as an information source for family members tracking their loved ones.

The day, says Dot, is both exhilarating and exhausting. It's the energy of race day that keeps bringing her back, she says.

If you've ever stood along the sidelines of a race or watched runners cross the finish line, you may know what she means. It's hard to leave a race without feeling inspired and impressed.

To volunteer for next week's Manchester City Marathon, email or sign up at the event website,

If your want to do something a little less formal or just want to get a taste of what a race day is like, come by and cheer the runners on.

They'll be happy you did. And I suspect you will be, too.

1 comment:

  1. Aw, great post! I love the volunteers at the races....I always make a point of looking them all right in the eye and saying "Thank you so much". It is not a lot compared to all they do. I hope they know how important they are to our race!!


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