Observations from a marathon volunteer

This weekend was another running first for me. However, unlike last weekend’s relay race, it didn’t actually involve any running. It did involve a lot of cheerleading and a ridiculous amount of high quality H2O.

On Saturday, I volunteered with Back on My Feet at the Carmel Marathon water station on Hawthorne Drive. My only real experience with water stations before this was during the Monumental half when I clumsily made my way through each stop hoping at least a few drops would land in my mouth and not all over my face and shirt.

My experience was great and I met some awesome people. As the (un)official captain of our water station, I can proudly declare ours the best of the entire race. Everyone came ready to work and have fun, and we even had an official water station hashtag: #highqualityH2O. I learned a lot that I will take with me to my next race, whether it’s as a volunteer or a runner.

The best damn water station around

Dress warm but wear finger-less gloves. It’s spring but you wouldn’t know it based on the four layers of clothes I had on. I wore gloves but they got wet pretty early based on how I was holding the cups. I took them off and my fingers felt numb most of the day but it was better than soggy, cold gloves.

It’s all in the technique. Some runners blasted through the station. Some slowed to a jog. Others completely stopped. We had slow periods with one or two runners at a time and crazy rushes, especially when the pacers came through. I found a technique that made the hand-offs pretty smooth in any scenario. In my right hand, I gripped one cup on the top with a finger on the inside and my thumb on the outside. In my left hand, I had two cups gripped in a similar style ready to quickly move to my right hand as needed.

During the smoothest hand-offs, runners would say if they wanted water or PowerAde as they were approaching the station, we told them water was first then PowerAde, and they would point at and make eye contact with the person they were grabbing from. This worked pretty well and I only had one or two botches for the day.

Getting set up before the first runners came through     That's some high quality H2O

You can’t go wrong with goodies for the group. We arrived at 6:15 a.m. and were expected to be done around 11:15 a.m., an early start and long day with no breaks. I made blueberry muffins and Josh brought Starbucks, which I think everyone appreciated and it established team camaraderie right away. Even better, the people who live across the street brought us a fresh coffee pot and mugs and helped pass out cups for awhile!

The human spirit is an incredible thing. We cheered for every single person who came through, including the last two who walked in front of the bus that picks you up if you fall behind the closing time of the course. And I was inspired by every single person. Some of them were flying by, including my friend Jesse Davis who got water from me and went on to win the race for the second year in a row. Some were struggling, including a guy with my favorite t-shirt of the day: “Looks like walking, feels like sprinting.” I can relate, man!

But what’s so impressive about each participant is the fact that they signed up, showed up and kept putting one foot in front of the other. That’s more than most people did that morning. And in light of the tragic events at the Boston Marathon last week, it’s proof that if runners know anything, it’s how to endure and keep moving forward.

Have a good tip for water station techniques, either as a runner or volunteer? Any water station mishaps you learned from and laughed about later? Comment with your thoughts! 


4 thoughts on “Observations from a marathon volunteer

  1. Oh how I appreciate a good Waterboy reference at 3:15 on a Monday!

    My technique is more about not slipping in the water/gatorade soaked road. I usually run around the puddles and get water from the person at the end of the table. Seeing that I fall down often, it’s a miracle that I haven’t been “that girl” … yet.

    One other thought: I guess technically, the Libertine/Ball & Biscuit/La Hacienda/Sakura aren’t official “water stations”…but I do dream of their cocktails & food for 99% of the race… so that is a post-race “water station” if you ask me…

    • It definitely gets slippery around the water stations and the discarded cups are tripping hazards for sure. Luckily we had Annie on our team who worked hard to keep the cups cleared throughout the day. Our station was super clean!

      And thinking about your post-race drink is a must! During the Monumental, I kept thinking about how good a Leffe Blonde at Chatham Tap would taste.

  2. Pingback: Here we go again: Monumental training update | Melanie Woods

  3. Pingback: A Monumental Day | Melanie Woods

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