Monday, June 15, 2009

Early Saturday morning

A few weeks ago, I decided I would volunteer for the Renaissance Half Marathon. I wasn't sure what job I wanted to do, but I figured I'd come and support my sister and her husband as they ran this race. I managed to recruit one of my sisters, my niece, her boyfriend, and a friend to come and be part of the water crew at Mile 8.

Saturday came very early for us, since we had to report to our stations by 5:15 and we live 1 hr away from the race. As I was getting ready that morning, I kept wondering if I had lost my mind. Why on earth would anyone get up so early to go and hand out water to people who are even crazier than me?

We arrived at our station in the Bridgewater subdivision. Wow. Those houses are enormous, big enough to fit the entire Duggar family! We picked up our jaws from the ground, and started to set up. Coffee hadn't started working yet, some people were trying to be the "boss" and well, no one was getting paid so we didn't exactly appreciate the attitude. Finally we started to see runners coming up.

Our station was Mile 8 of 13.1. The front of the pack fit the stereotypical picture of a runner: fit, faster than a speeding bullet, and "in the zone". Most didn't want any water, others wanted us to throw water at them to cool them off. They went by us rather quickly, we were all in awe to see them disappear as quickly as they approach our table, like a bunch of gazelles. Some of them you could hardly hear breathing.

Then the middle of the pack started to show up, the real people, people like you and me who enjoy running and don't care if they ever win a medal. They are just loving it.
Some of them thanked us for being there, for cheering them on, for getting up so early to help out. I saw several people I knew, some from work, others whom I had trained with for the Chicago marathon.

The back of the pack were mostly walkers, but boy, can they walk! They smiled, they were just happy to be there, and didn't seem bothered by the fact they still had 5 miles to go before they could claim their medals. They were happy to be doing it.

I have to say the volunteers at our station were awesome. We never discussed it but when the first runners showed up, we started to cheer for them, as they came up the hill to our water stop. And we didn't stop until the very last person passed our water stop. We cheered them on in unison, which was very cool, because up until that morning, most of us had never met.

As I was there, watching, serving, I realized why I got up so early that day: I have been in their shoes. I know how important it is to hear a stranger call your name, cheer you on, tell you they believe you can do it. Saturday, I was one of those strangers for a lot of people. By the time they came to our stop, they had gone 8 miles and still had 5 more to go. That's where their minds would start to take over their bodies, and they'll have to pull the strength out of somewhere to finish.

For some, this was their first 13.1 miles. They had never done it before, and probably weren't sure if they could finish it. I wanted to offer some support, to let them know that finishing 8 miles was a big accomplishment and they could complete the rest.

A lady told us we were the best water stop so far, because we were cheering everyone on. She thanked us for that. That felt pretty good, I have to admit.

When we finished, we went back to the finish line to find my sister and her husband. Along the way, we passed some of the runners in their last mile towards their goal. One of them said "Oh, there you are again" and smiled. We cheered them on as we passed them and told them the finish line was close.

It was a great experience. Having been in the shoes of a runner before, I know how good it feels to have complete strangers line up the streets and cheer you on as you battle to conquer your goal. You may think it's not important if you are there or not, but runners notice the expectators and the volunteers, and they are thankful for you.

So next time there is race in town, like the MS Blues Marathon, consider coming out and cheering. You may be surprised how good it feels to know you made someone's day.