Last Sunday I had the privilege of volunteering at the 29th annual Army Ten Miler. This was my first time volunteering at a race, and it being a prized national race made it an extra special experience.
In the last two weeks leading up to the race, many questioned whether or not the race would even be held because of the government shutdown. Five days before the race, ARLnow.com published news that if the shutdown were still in effect on race day that the race would still be held, but that the course would be altered in order to avoid areas of the city managed by the National Park Service. (The Marine Corps Marathon, which was held two days ago, was in jeopardy of being canceled because of the shutdown.) Fortunately, Congress came to a resolution the day following the release of the article, and both ATM and MCM continued on as planned.
It would have been a real shame for the running and military communities had either of these races been impacted by the shutdown. While I prefer to avoid discussing politics on my blog and know that many people were more significantly affected by the shutdown than facing the potential of an altered or canceled race, there was so much patriotic pride on display during these races that it truly would have been a shame for the races to not have been able to go on as planned had the shutdown continued. Thousands of runners would have also been disappointed after putting in hundreds of hours of training and logging hundreds of miles in preparation for these races.
Preston ran the ATM, so we both got up early that morning. Volunteers were asked to report by 6:00am, about an hour earlier than Preston would have probably arrived had I not been volunteering. Because volunteers were given parking spots and runners were not, he opted for the extra early wake up call and drove to the Pentagon with me. Upon arrival at the Pentagon’s South Lot, where the race staging was held and where the start line was, Preston and I parted ways and I took the shuttle bus to the North Lot. After checking in at the volunteer tent and receiving my finish line access wristband and volunteer shirt to wear during the race, I was sent off to my volunteer site – the Finish Coin Distribution corral just past the finish line.
Back in July when I signed up to volunteer, I elected this position for a couple of reasons. At the time that I signed up, I had also convinced my friend Jen to sign up as well. Although she wound up being sick the morning of the race and was sadly too sick to volunteer, we decided that this site would be one where we’d likely be able to work side by side. I also favored this position over many of the others since it would allow me to congratulate Preston right after he completed the race. Although my reasons for choosing this specific task were very personal, looking back on how this experience impacted me I wouldn’t have wanted to choose any other volunteer position.
When I walked up to the corral, I found many other volunteers just as clueless as I was as to what we were to do. In the corral were tables covered with unopened boxes of finisher’s coins, so without direction we started opening the boxes and prepping them for the race. Eventually, our lead volunteer arrived, gave us more specific directions, as well as guidelines for how to distribute the coins. We were told that under no circumstance were we to give a coin to somebody who didn’t finish the race or didn’t have their “Finisher Coin” tab on their race bib.
After we finished our prep work, we were given time to roam the Hooah Tents and grab a bite to eat. Fortunately, our position in the North Lot put us at a great location to catch the beginning of the race on Rt. 110. When the race started at 7:55am with the wounded warriors, we were able to line up along the side of the street and cheer the runners on. It was very moving to see these veterans as they cycled or walked past us with their guardians as they kicked off their ten mile journey through Arlington and DC.
At 8:00am, the race officially started. As each wave was released, we continued to cheer the runners on. One of my fellow volunteers took it upon himself to start calling out random names (Billy, Rebecca, John, and Megan being just a couple of them); any name that he thought was common enough that would catch a runner’s attention. It seemed to have worked since a couple of people responded with gratitude for the support and clearly appreciated being cheered for.
One of the big things I noticed while watching the start of the race was the number of pregnant women that ran. Although I’m not pregnant, and Preston and I are still discussing when we want to start trying, it was encouraging to see so many women running with their little bun in the oven. I only hope that when I do become pregnant that I can remain as active as these women clearly are.
As the last wave of runners passed by us, we were warned that the wounded warriors would start finishing at anytime and that we needed to get into position in our corral. As the cyclists started coming in, it was inspiring to see how important this experience was for them. Several of them shared with us that this was their first race post amputation. As we tore the tags off their bibs and handed them their coins, several of them shed tears – clearly moved by what they had accomplished despite the hurdles that they had to overcome in order to participate in the Army Ten Miler.
We had a short break after the wounded warriors came through before the elite runners arrived (the winner of the ATM finished the race in 48:04). During our wait the finish line DJ played the Cha Cha Slide, and encouraged the volunteers to participate. You didn’t have to tell us twice – we did – and of course the photographer for the volunteers was right there to catch us all in the moment.
In the middle of the Cha Cha Slide, we started to get flooded with runners, and for a good hour and a half or two hours we were swamped with runners coming through. I did my best to congratulate each runner individually as I tore their tab off their bib and handed them their coin. Many of them thanked me for volunteering. I even got a “God Bless You and the Other Volunteers,” from one gentlemen. One of the runners, clearly in the military, told me that he wouldn’t take the coin from me until I shook his hand. I tried to question him, but could tell from his face that I shouldn’t. When I shook his hand, he said he had to give me a proper military thank you for my service during the race before he could accept his coin.
These were only two of the memorable runners that I encountered during the race. It was clear that most of the runners were very appreciative of all of the volunteers, and many acknowledged that the race couldn’t have happened without any of us. Although I already knew this, hearing this from runners only reinforced how essential volunteers are to any race day operation, no matter how large or small the race itself. I will definitely make more of a point to share my gratitude with the volunteers that are working at future races that I run.
One of the most memorable runners that I gave a coin to was Preston. In the midst of the crowd (there were more than ten lines for the coins), he somehow managed to find me.
For so many reasons, including those that I’m still internalizing and have yet to verbalize or put in writing, I’m beyond thankful for my volunteer experience. I will definitely be looking to volunteer again in the future, whether it be at the Army Ten Miler or another race.
QOTD: Have you ever volunteered at a race? How did your volunteer experience impact your own running?