Thursday, October 13, 2011

Volunteering at the 2011 Chicago Marathon

Wow, what a race!  It felt like the whole city of Chicago was buzzing with the energy from the marathon.  People come out to cheer the runners on and the streets are packed with spectators, which is amazing.    
I was lucky enough to get a spot volunteering for the race this year.  I was set up just past mile 20 at Aid Station 15.  This is where most people "hit the wall" in the race, so it is an important aid station.  We handed out Gatorade, water, and bananas to the runners.  
The city of Chicago closes down lots of major streets for this race.  We had tables set up on both sides and they were stacked high with fuel.  

It was an early morning with a 4:15am alarm.  I made breakfast, packed some water and snacks, and was out the door.  Any other morning at 5am the trains and buses aren't that busy, but on marathon day they were buzzing with runners and their supporters.  I made it to the aid location, which was in the Pilsen neighborhood, which is just before Chinatown, around 6am.  It was still dark out and there was already a line of volunteers waiting to check in.  

I originally wanted to volunteer with Fleet Feet, but their station filled up before I knew I could get the day off from work, so I ended up volunteering with Chicago Run.  It is a local, non-profit organization that promotes youth running in schools.  It sounded like a great organization and the idea of helping out at mile 20 sounded good to me too.  
I enjoyed the day, but I do have slight complaint about some of the volunteers.  A high school group was also volunteering at this station so there were a lot of teenagers around.  At first I didn't really mind, but then they started cutting in line and later were not listening to the lead volunteers about leaving room for the runners to go by.  Some were just sitting on their phone not doing anything.  And worst of all, a few were even laughing at the runners, not to their faces, but seriously - these people are running a freakin' marathon!  They weren't all horrible, many were enthusiastic about helping, but some should not have been there.  They were all there to get volunteer hours, which is great, but if they didn't want to be there they should have found another way to get the hours in.  It was just frustrating and disappointing.  That ends my little rant and aside from that I really had a great time volunteering!

After waiting about 20 minutes we all finally started checking in.  Each volunteer got a Nike Jacket and baseball cap which were donated for all race volunteers.  They were pretty nice!  We also learned where we would be stationed for the day.  I was given right side Gatorade.  

I ran into some college students and other adults and we manned the first tables together.  A lead volunteer told us we were to set up tables, attach Gatorade signs, mix the Gatorade, lay out cups, fill them, and stack them up four high.  This was quite a task, but our group divided the work up with a few people doing each duty.  I mostly stacked and filled the cups with Gatorade.  It took about an hour and forty-five minutes to set everything up.  

The big street was lined a full block, on both sides, with Gatorade, bananas, and water.  

We were gathered for some instructions about handing out the water, not to tell them they were almost there (which they weren't- there were still six more miles left!), to stay to the sides so the runners could get by, and to, of course, cheer on all the runners.  

Soon the wheelchair athletes were came through and shortly after the elites.  These guys were SPEEDY!  The lead male and female runners ran just behind motorcycles with a camera at them the whole time and there were also some helicopters above.  I can't imagine running with a big camera in my face.  

The Men's leader and winner, Moses Mosop.
That's Ryan Hall!
The Women's leader and winner Liliya Shobukhova.
Then more and more people came running towards us.  I loved cheering them on, especially those who had names on their shirts.  Some of the words of support we shouted: "You're doing great!" "Awesome job (their name)!"  "Looking strong!"  "You can do this!"  "Amazing!" and one I say to myself during a tough run "You are so much stronger than you know!"
People of all different ages, races, and sizes ran by and were all equally inspiring.  There were even a few pregnant women, two guys juggling, men painted in orange, lots of charity runners, a blind runner,etc.  It was really fascinating to watch!  There was such a range of emotions on the participants faces: some were smiling, some were focused, some looked tired, and others exhausted, a few made it look super easy, and a handful were crying in pain.  But they all kept going and continued forward!

There was a steady flow of people for over three hours.  The morning had started off a bit cool, but as the sun rose and beat down on the street, it got warmer and warmer.  As it reached mid day most people were walking.  The number of people coming through began to dwindle and soon the final time car came through indicating that was the end of the race.  It was then time to sweep the streets, fold up the tables, and put things away.  In no time waste management had arrived to gather the trash and sweep the streets.  We finally cleaned everything up by about 2pm.

I didn't even run the race, but boy was I exhausted.  We had been going pretty much non stop since 6:30am.  Since the roads were closed off to traffic for the race, no busses were running nearby.  I was in an area of town I was not at all familiar with so I just walked until I found traffic.  Even though the race was officially over there were still people walking to finish to finish the race -that's determination!  I took a short break during the volunteer shift for a mini larabar and water, but by 2pm I was starving and not feeling so great, you would have thought I ran the marathon.  I arrived at a Jamba Juice and grabbed a Pumpkin Smash smoothie to get something in my system.  It helped, but I needed some solid food and finally made it to a more familiar area of town and grabbed a bagel sandwich, before finally reaching home.  

My voice was sore from all the screaming and cheering I did, but it was worth it.  I think as a group our aid station had some great energy and support for all the runners.  We were playing music and encouraging everyone during a tough mile of their race.  For being out there for over six hours the time really flew by.  Seeing all the runners was really inspirational and has me contemplating running my first marathon.  I don't have one in mind right now, but I feel one is definitely in my future.   

Congrats to all the Chicago Marathon finishers this year!  You definitely "Owned Chicago!"

Have you volunteered for a race before?  What do you like to hear people cheering for you during a tough race?