A few weeks ago, I took my grouchy non-running self on the road to the Colchester Half Marathon. As a volunteer. This is one of my favorite races and I hated not being able to run it, but I thought volunteering would be better than not being there at all. The race director, Rick Konon, is quite a character. I’m not even sure he needs volunteers, given his apparent ability to be everywhere on the course all the time. This is a low overhead race – Rick promises no t-shirts and no medals, but plenty of hills, cows, great food, professional level timing, more hills, and a big feast at the end. The race costs $14 and he’ll let you run it for free if that seems like too much money!
I wasn’t sure if it would be too heartbreaking to be at this race and not running it, but race day excitement is pretty irresistible. I was assigned to a crew that was to cover two spots on the course. We started with directing traffic at a turn just before the 1 mile mark. Our gang consisted of me, another woman about my age who has run a lot of Ragnars, teenage siblings whose mom was running, plus one of their friends. Pretty sure we didn’t let anyone go off course at assignment #1! I remember this turn so well – last year, this is where I decided to let Teacher Runner go and not try to chase her down. This year, I got to cheer her on! I also got to cheer for Kitty, a local sub30 friend.
Our second assignment was a water stop around mile 8. This stop was run by an experienced volunteer who had a system all laid out and the tables set up when we got there. The kids practiced filling cups and fooling around while we waited for runners to show up.
You could tell our team leader was a little nervous about what the teenagers would manage once runners started arriving and the kids were a little nervous too, I suspect. Race day energy affects everyone! But luckily the initial runners showed up as a slow trickle and by the time they became more of an onslaught, we were all practiced with handing out drinks and yelling Gatorade first! Water second!
It was about 50 degrees and overcast. Completely perfect weather for volunteering, but the runners were a little warm. We haven’t had much of that kind of weather here yet. Our aid station was at the top of one of Colchester’s famous hills and you could tell the runners had suffered on the way up. Those that weren’t making jokes about whether they couldn’t make the hill a little tiny bit higher were gasping for water. Teacher Runner came through complaining about the heat and I yelled at her to “Move Your Ass” one of Coach Cowboy’s famous encouraging phrases. I was also on the lookout for Kitty and soon enough she came along as well.
I was sad not to be running, but I love cheering. I’ve done enough Ragnars with Tiny Dynamo to be perfectly comfortable yelling my head off at whoever is going by and that’s exactly what I did. Even the taciturn teenagers got in on the act. I don’t care who you are – races are just exciting and fun to watch! Volunteering also lets you watch the race in a different way. The earliest arrivals at Colchester were slower runners who are allowed to start 30 minutes before everyone else. Then lots of speedy men and soon some fast women as well. At the top of the hill, runners were so glad for the water and it felt good to take a turn passing it out for a change.
Once all the runners had passed we did a quick clean-up and got our official discharge notice. I gathered the crew into the van and hightailed it back to the start, hoping to watch Teacher Runner cross the finish line. We got lost and didn’t make it on time, though I had a lot of fun screaming at runners and ringing my cowbell out the window while driving. Definitely getting me in the mood for Ragnar!
Teacher Runner ran really well especially considering the weather. She had to go right after the race, but I hung around waiting for Kitty to finish. No Subber left behind! She did a great job and we got to know each other better while enjoying the promised feast.
I made volunteering for at least two races this year one of my goals, so one down. It’s crazy hard to be off running for this long. Not to be able to bang out a half marathon whenever I want to is pretty heart breaking. I’m just trying to have patience and keep the faith and remember that I’ll be back and at some point this will all be a blurry memory. In the meantime, volunteering is was a great way to spend a sunny winter’s morning.