Monday, March 22, 2010

My Volunteer Report from the National Marathon

One of the coolest aspects of running I enjoy the most is how the motivation to run can appear in the most unlikeliest of places and in the most unexpected of ways. Whether it is a billboard next to a highway advertising a getaway trip to a destination that just happens to be the location of your next marathon or a voice mail from a long lost distant friend who just wants you to know that she's running a race to raise money for pediatric cancer, it is funny how life always finds a way to inspire us to be good runners even when we're not so actively looking...

I went to D.C. this weekend hoping to run some miles in our nation's capital, but not expecting to find any logical answers to the questions that have been plaguing me for the past couple of weeks. If you recall (you can read here if you don't), I'd been having a difficult time recently trying to juggle an increase in my patient responsibilities and an appropriate mileage/time for marathon training. I still hadn't as yet figured anything out when I boarded the megabus for my four hour journey down to D.C. early Friday morning. All I knew was that I was extremely tired (I had only three hours of sleep the night before), I would be meeting a close virtual friend and I had a job to do...

Six short hours later, I found myself at the entrance to the Armory next to RFK stadium in Washington D.C. not quite knowing what to expect. The National Marathon Expo was in full force and I was there to volunteer. I was excited, not only because I was surrounded by the special segment of the population that not only understands my passion for running but shares in its celebration and revels in the training, but also because I was finally meeting my friend Dorothy face-to-face for the first time. If you must know, Dorothy, the author of her own blog Mile Posts, is an incredible woman who wear many many hats. Not only is she a wife, a mom to two beautiful children, she's also the Volunteer Coordinator for the National Marathon this year and one of the Saucony Team Captains. And as if that's not enough, she's also an avid runner who is seriously fast, and getting faster all the time. Case in point: She won the B&A Trail Marathon a few weeks ago down in Virginia. Yeah, you read right...WON, as in First Female Finisher (read her story). How incredibly awesome, right? Now, we've been blog buddies for a long time, but we've never had occasion to meet. So when she mentioned that she was in desperate need of volunteers for National, I figured the least I could do was come down to D.C., meet her and help out putting on this great event...

Well, let me say this, if you told me D and I were best friends in a previous life, I would not disagree because even in this, our first meeting, we hit it off immediately and had immensely interesting conversations in between all the work that had to be done. For me personally, the next seven hours (plus the five on race day) were some of the most fun I've ever had. I played about five different roles and got to meet and interact with so many people, each with their unique story of how they came to register for their race (either half, full, or even as a relay-half marathon) that it's impossible NOT to be humbled by the experience and develop a deeper appreciation of the sport. The people I talked to ran the gamut from an insanely fast 2:45 marathoner who was shooting for a 1:17 finish in the half marathon in preparation for Boston to a veteran runner who was looking for this 95th official marathon finish. There was a mom who was running her first half-marathon because she lost her son the previous year to brain cancer and he'd been a finisher for five years straight and a college student who was running the race as an excuse to do something fun for Spring Break. I also talked with a coach who predicted I had the potential to run 2:40/2:45 for the marathon with the right training and a guy who was seriously worried he was not going to make the 6hr cutoff for the race. Collectively, each runner offered me a glimpse of the race from their individual perspective and made me realize that the digits on the clock isn't ultimately what really gives meaning to the running experience. it is the running experience that gives meaning to the digits on the clock. A time without a suitable story is like a book jacket without the book. In either case, it is empty and not worthwhile to own. The challenge then is to always find meaning in the work you're putting forth. Whether we're talking your day job or the mileage in training, the goal/achievement you're working hard at must be tangible and valuable to you. If it isn't, the digits won't mean very much and you'll be left to question why you bother spending the effort...

i departed D.C. a little more than 28 hours after I arrived dressed, in almost identical clothes. Internally though, I knew I left the national capital a better runner and a better person than when I arrived. I feel immensely more liberated and rejuvenated in knowing what exactly I must do to advance my work and my running. Thanks D for allowing me to volunteer and help out, and congratulations to all the runners who ran and finished this race! You all helped this volunteer immensely more than the help I was able to give back. Hopefully, next year, I'll run this course right along with you. Maybe...

Have any of you ever worked as a race volunteer? Have you ever learned anything about running while volunteering that you never learned anywhere else? Share your volunteer stories if you are so inclined. Have a great beginning of the work week!

18 comments:

Jen said...

I have worked at many races. I get so emotional. I always lose my voice cheering.

I know how much I love encouragement while I am running so I give it my all.

Once worked a turn around at mile 23 of a marathon. I had people actually come find me after the race to tell me how much my cheering gave them that push to the end. I just cried.

Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal said...

Wow Lam - Thank you. I don't think I'm particularly special. I think that when you love running as much as I do it's hard not to want to share your passion with others. Even if that means juggling 230498239408 things at once. Thank you for volunteering. Thank you for listening to me vent when I felt I was going to freak out. Thank you for helping me realize that you can accomplish anything you put your mind too - whether that means a sub 3:30 marathon or managing 900+ volunteers :)

Julie said...

Hi Lam,
I am so glad that you had such a positive volunteering experience!! I am also thinking of volunteering for a marathon coming up here in May! I would love to volunteer for all of the wonderful reasons that you listed in this post:) How great was it for you to meet Dorthy, as she sounds like a fantastic individual and talented runner:) Thanks for sharing about your experience as a volunteer in DC....I can't wait for mine:)

I hope that you have an excellent week Lam!!

Lauren said...

I love reading your posts they always make me consider things I hadn't before. This really makes me want to volunteer at a race!

Betsy said...

I started volunteering when I was injured last fall and loved it. Running means so much to me, it feels significant to be able to give back. I joined a racing team this year, and one of the requirements is that we log a certain number of volunteer commitments every year. I am more than happy to do it.

marathonmaiden said...

i really wish i had the time to volunteer at races (hell i'd love the time to actually race haha!) there's something so infectious about seeing others run. some because they are so darn fast and some because they are working so darn hard

Amy said...

Lam! I love this. I've only volunteered at one race, but it was so much fun.

I'm glad you're getting some of your heart abck.

春天來嚕 said...

原來這世上能跟你共同領略一個笑話的人竟如此難得........................................

JohnnyGo said...

Lammy -- I was there running! I'm so pissed I didn't see you there! What jobs did you have at the expo and on race day???

Lisa said...

What a beautiful post. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. I agree that we have so much to learn from each other and we can grow through simple experiences. I'm planning to run a half in April, not for a specific time, but to run alongside my friends and cross the finish line with them. It is the journey and the story that's important, you are so right.

I've volunteered a few times, just this Saturday at the Expo being one of them, and it's so great to be a little part of a runner's experience. I love support from volunteers when I'm out there running, so it's the least I can do to give back.

Jamie said...

What a great post Lam! Sounds like an amazing experience. One of these days I'm going to find the time to give back.

NY Wolve said...

Glad you found some personal fulfillment in the volunteering. I have been somewhat cynical about the NYRR and the volunteer requirement, but after I did it, I thought it was a good experience.

Ad for your personal takeaway, I agree it is the story that matters. I mean if you think about it, very few people enter the race with an expectation to "win" the race. That means we run for our own reasons -- you, me, and everyone else I know. At the end of the day it reminds me ofd what they told my 4th grade daughter in PE class -- if you had fun, you won. That's why I do it -- for the personal satisfaction, and I hope your experience enhances that for you.

Lauren said...

I added you to my "Chicago Marathon Buddies" List on my blog :D

Ms. V. said...

I volunteered at the LA Marathon last year at Mile 20. I had never run a marathon, and now that I have, I realize that most people are trying to stay in a zone, and don't need me to trying to take care of them! Just give them the water and stay out of the way!!

Laura said...

I was there running too, as a pacer - so much fun! I wish I had known you were there. Thanks for the support - you guys are what made that race great :)

X-Country2 said...

I have so much respect for race volunteers. Great report!

kevin f forde said...

We as runners often overlook the role race volunteers play,be it 5k,or a marathon.
One of these days I'd like to volenteer just to give back to all who've handed me water,wrapped me in a mylar blanket or handed me my race bag after the race

blaine said...

I've been fortunate to be the race director for a 5K fundraiser at my kids school the past two years. I never realized how much work went into a race (even just a small 5K) until I did one. It is an awesome experience despite all the muttering and cussing that I might do...

 
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