A few months ago, I realized a very silly thing. Though I have been a distance runner since approximately 2007 (six years! Woah), I have never volunteered at a race event.
So I signed up to volunteer at the finish line of my first marathon, the marathon I ran last year, the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. (AKA... The best marathon. My opinion may be biased.) I received my volunteer placement email early last week and learned I would be working the gear bag pick up area, and if I could come an hour early, they could really use some help yesterday morning.
Every person working gear bag pick up showed up an hour early, coffee in hand and ready to throw some gear bags.
Everyone working gear bag pick up was either a runner or cared very much for someone who is a runner.
It took about an hour to unload the truck, and another 45 minutes to organize the bags (some of which were heavy - I learned later a lot of people pack their own chocolate milk and Gatorade and sandwiches and beer and things for the end of the race - seriously?), and no one complained for one second.
The excitement in the air crackled between us as we tossed bags in order and laughed giddily when we realized we couldn't count. RACE DAY!! Who knew race day was so exciting even when you're not running?
I met a lot of really amazing fellow volunteers, most of whom were fellow marathoners who volunteer for stuff like this because they really, really love running and runners. And of course, because runners talk a lot about running even to people who are not at all interested in running, we talked allllllll about running all morning. We got a little somber when we realized what the police dog was sniffing for amongst our gear bags. Turns out the officer was a runner, too.
And when the runners started coming to the finish line, we cheered. We said congratulations to every single person and I got to make a big fuss whenever I found out it was someone's first marathon, or they had a PR that morning, or they thought they were going to die at mile 18 but pressed on because a child gave them strawberries, or because they were crying and couldn't talk. Everyone thanked us, some people more than once.
No, no no no no no, runners. Thank YOU for running. Thank you for letting me be part of your big ass deal day. It was, truly and honestly, an honor to be even a small part of your marathon experience. I hope your day was as awesome as mine.
So... I highly recommend volunteering for something you love. You probably already do that, because a lot of people have more sense than I do. I know that next year if I'm not running a marathon, I'll certainly be there at the finish line to make a big deal out of everyone, because I love the Milwaukee running community. It's amazingly supportive of everyone - fast, slow, experienced, first-timer, big, small, young, old... you love running, I love running, let's celebrate.