Sunday morning I got to experience the Marine Corps Marathon from a different perspective, as a volunteer instead of as a runner. Because Preston and I had wanted to be a part of this incredible race, we debated for awhile about registering for the 10k. Once I realized that it had sold out, I immediately headed to the volunteer registration page instead.
We knew that we wanted to volunteer someplace on the course, and after a short debate, decided to sign up for Food Station #2 (just before the mile 13 marker on the course), where we handed out Clif Shot gels. We were well aware of the walk that this volunteer position would require since its on Hain’s Point, and the closest Metro station is just over two and a half miles away from the end of Hain’s Point, where the food station was. Nonetheless, we signed up, and figured that walking over five miles that morning would be good exercise.
Sunday morning we left the house just before 6:00 a.m., and as luck would have it, we just missed a Metro train as we arrived at the station. Due to Metro only running trains every 15-20 minutes on the weekends, we sat at the station for about 15 minutes before we were finally on our way.
We got off at the Smithsonian station around 7:15, and headed out towards Hain’s Point. Our volunteer assignment started at 8:00. We checked in with the Marine in charge, were given our volunteer shirts (the only sizes that were left were sizes XL and XXL – much bigger than what either Preston or I wear), and chatted for a bit with the other Marines stationed at the same table as us. The time passed by quickly, and before we knew it the first wheelchair participants made their way through the food station at 8:14 a.m., just 34 minutes after the wheelchair start of the race!
Seeing the wheelchair participants was so inspiring. Many of them were missing one or both of their legs, and the fact that they had the determination to keep moving forward was beyond words.
After the majority of the wheelchair participants had made their way to the halfway point of the course, there was a brief break before the runners started to make their way through. It was incredible to hear the updates on the elite runners via the walkie talkie that the Marine in charge had. As we heard each update and how much closer the elite runners were getting to mile 13, we were blown away by their speed. And at 9:03, just 68 minutes after the race had started. the first elite runner arrived!
The speed of the elite runners was absolutely amazing, and quite inspiring! After a short while, more and more runners started arriving at the food station. And within less than an hour, there was a steady stream of runners.
We were instructed to stand on the side of the road, holding out Clif Shots, and that runners would come towards us if they wanted one. The number of thank yous that we received was beyond countable, even from the runners who declined the Clif Shots.
With several other bloggers running this race, I tried my best to be on the lookout for many of them. It wasn’t an easy task though, as I was constantly having to reach down to pick up more gels, and I was also trying to pay close attention to the runners who approached me in order to receive a Clif Shot. The one blogger I did see was Pam from We Run Disney. The only other person that I saw was an old coworker. It was just too crowded to easily find the other runners that I had wanted to see that day.
As more runners came through, it was clear that more and more of them were starting to struggle. I tried to encourage as many runners as I could, as did the other volunteers and Marines around me. One Marine in particular kept encouraging runners to take the Clif Shot from him by saying “I’m holding freedom in my hand.” As runners asked us what flavor gels we had, some volunteers joked that they had beer flavored gels, which of course got a smile and a laugh from many runners.
The one thing that disappointed me about this race had nothing to do with the organization itself (I actually thought the race was well organized, volunteer communication and directions via e-mail were very prompt and clear, and volunteers were well supported), but rather with some of the runners. Preston and I were stationed at one of the last tables at the food station, and by the time most runners got to us they had already picked up at least one Clif Shot. We were told that runners could receive multiple gels, but some runners wound up with handfuls of Clif Shots – so many that they couldn’t hold onto all of them. I worried that we’d run out of gels, and that slower runners would be shafted, but fortunately there were more than enough boxes of gels, with a couple of boxes to spare. I just don’t understand the need to be greedy, especially when there’s no way that anybody’s body could handle the number of gels that some of the runners left with.
Around 11:00, the crowd started to thin out quite a bit, and around 11:30, the last of the runners had made their way through. We were then provided plastic gloves in order to help pick up the trash. Although the trash sweeper truck came through and picked up most of the trash, there was still debris left that had to be picked up by hand.
By 12:00, we had finished and started the long walk back to the Metro. On the walk back, we saw runners in the distance running over the 14th Street Bridge. And as we neared the National Mall, we saw even more runners on the course, especially since we had to cross the course on 14th Street in order to get back to the Metro.
The more that I processed my volunteer experience, the more motivated I became to finally register for my next major race. Only a couple of hours after getting home from volunteering, I got on the computer and pushed the registration button for my next half marathon.
QOTD: What experience(s) have motivated you to register for your next major race?