on the other side

Yesterday, I turned the tables and stepped out as a volunteer at Vancouver’s BMO marathon.  This is another major and popular race in Vancouver and I had considered making this the race that would be my first half marathon.  However, given the timeline, I wasn’t confident that I’d be ready in time.  The date of the Whistler race was more comforting to me at the time of registration.  I had a few friends who were slated to run this race and so I thought, why not volunteer?  I’ve run enough smaller races now to understand the true value of the volunteers.  I saw no harm in taking a turn, and it was another way to still experience the excitement of the big event.  I figured it’d be a good experience to put myself on the other side.

As a volunteer, I was given the choice of time slots, location, and which job I wished to help out with.  I chose an 11am – 2pm shift, handing out water bottles at the finish line.  I wanted to be able to see the faces of the runners as they crossed the finish line and have the opportunity to congratulate them on their efforts.

When I woke up yesterday morning to the sight and sound of the miserable rain, I must confess that I was secretly glad that I had passed on signing up to run.  I had considered running the 8km (for fun) but because I’d already committed to volunteering I restrained myself from registering to run.  The weather was awful!!!  It was not just a light spring shower.  It was WET!!!!  I thought of all the poor runners trying to warm up and then waiting in their corrals.  They were going to be soaked to the core before they even started, no matter which distance they were running.  Poor things.  No race should start like that.  I honestly wasn’t sure who was going to be more miserable – the runners slugging through the elements, or us volunteers, standing in the pouring rain.

I layered carefully in a way that I would be able to stay as warm and dry as possible.  I knew I wouldn’t be raising any core temps, so I dressed warmer than I would have had I been running.  For the first time ever, I actually put on the rain ponchos that were provided, and it did help keep my core area dry.  It was the edges of my sleeves and my feet that eventually got soaked to the core, but oh well.  It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be fixed with a hot shower and warm, dry socks at home.

As for the experience, it was still a great one.  I gained a whole new perspective on what it is we accomplish as runners.  As I offered water and congratulations to all the runners, I took in the looks on their faces.  I saw everything from complete elation and satisfaction to “what did I just do to myself??!!!” looks of agony.  I saw tears of joy and tears of pain.  Some of those marathoners were hurting!!  I was in awe of the fast finishers, but I also had a huge soft spot for those who slugged it out for 4 hours or more.  I even stayed out  beyond my scheduled shift for an extra hour.  Partly because so many other volunteers had left by then and I felt someone should be there to offer them their water, but also because I was waiting for a friend to cross the finish line.  Just as I was about to give up, there he was!  It was worth the extra hour in the rain.  But no matter whether they finished in 3 hours or 6 hours, they all had something in common:  They FINISHED.  And they each have the medal to prove it.

Every athlete that I greeted was so grateful and gracious.  They were more than happy to accept the bottle of water and many of them bee-lined straight to me as soon as they could see what I had ready and waiting for them.  They truly appreciated my being there for them and it gave me a sense of gratitude that I could offer them a bit of relief and a smile after all their efforts.

Had the weather cooperated, it would have been an equally amazing experience.  But somehow, the miserable weather made it even more satisfying.  The runners seemed to truly appreciate the fact that we were there for them when we could have easily found reasons to stay away.  I felt appreciated.

I’ve always thanked the volunteers at my previous races, but now I have a whole new appreciation for their time and efforts.  When in Whistler (and any future race), no matter which stage of the race I am at, I will be sure to give an extra nod of appreciation to the volunteers.  They really do make a difference to the entire race experience.  Hats off to them all!

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