Sunday, December 8, 2013

Volunteering at the 10th Annual Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage

Last year, I ran the Hot Chocolate Run for Save Passage, a large community 5K that takes place in Northampton. This year, I decided it was time to give back after all the races I've participated in, and I signed up to volunteer as a marshall at the event.

I think that volunteers make a huge difference at running events. As a runner, I am always very grateful for volunteers who come to cheer, pass out water and gels, and assign bibs. When I've been flagging during a race, the cheers of volunteers are a definite factor in getting me to the finish line.

The race starts at 10:00 a.m. for runners, but, as a volunteer, I had to arrive at 8:45 a.m. to receive my assignment and get to my post. We were supposed to meet in the parking lot of The Felt Building on West Street, so I parked in the nearby Smith gym parking lot (with plans to go for a run at the gym later), and headed over.

There was a small crowd gathered. We received our assignments, a brightly colored vest, and a mug for helping.

I was handed a map and told that I would be overseeing the intersection of Lesell Avenue and South Street. This is fairly close to the beginning of the race -- I would be seeing runners come through between 10:02 a.m. and 10:18 a.m.

It was around 9:00 a.m. when I headed out. I didn't have to be at my post until 9:30 a.m., and, since I was on the running route instead of the walking route, I wouldn't see runners for at least thirty minutes after that. It was cold, through not brutally so, and I wandered trying to decide what to do.

Around this time, another volunteer who was marshalling in my area came upon me. She was thinking the same thing, "Should we spend extra time in the cold or go for a brief coffee?" I joined her for a quick trip to Woodstar Cafe to warm myself up.

At around 9:25 a.m., we headed back towards South Street to line up at our assigned positions. I put on my orange vest, and situated myself at the corner of Lesell.

I waited in the cold for the runners to come. Traffic was light. I was in a very easy area. Lesell is a side street and a dead end, so I expected little traffic.

At a little after 10:00 a.m., I started to see lights. The police car that was leading the runners was coming up the hill. Runners poured after the pace car. At first, there was a small number. These people were looking fast and were determined. The front of the pack runners were dominated by men. I saw at least a dozen men go by before I saw any women at all. These runners were focused and giving it there all. I clapped for them, though I doubt they noticed; they were so focused on running. I admired their skill.

Next, the pack started to get a bit fuller. These were middle of the pack runners. People like me, who were going to run the race in anywhere from 25 to 30 minutes. These runners seemed to be having the most fun. They were here to enjoy themselves. Some were determined and wanted to PR. Some were just dressed in costumed out to support a good cause. A few of these runners made eye contact with me as I clapped and cheered.

The number of runners started to thin again, as we got to the back of the pack. These runners didn't look to happy either. They were out here, and they were struggling to get through the race, even in this early part. I admired these runners too. They were out doing something new, trying hard, and giving it their all. They were focused in a different way than the lead runners.

Around this time, I got to help direct the one car that came my way. The very agreeable driver was happy to wait a couple of minutes until the last racers went by the make his turn. Soon, the last of the racers passed and the police car that was following the race made its way slowly down the street. The police car was followed by marshall volunteer coordinator's car. He collected my vest, and I was free to go.

It was only 10:20 a.m. I had expected to be marshalling until 11:00 a.m., when the Smith gym opened, so that I could warm up with a nice indoor run. A quandry. Then I remembered I was wearing my running shoes and my sports bra and a tech shirt under my coat. And my car was parked a mile away. I was chilly, and I wanted to run -- who needs the gym?

I ran the mile back to my car in around 10:50, which is pretty respectable considering I was wearing a heavy winter coat, jean, and carrying a mug. It was 10:30 a.m., and the runners were passing the Smith gym where I was parked. I waited briefly as they made their way past the gym and then headed out of town.

Now I am home in my comfortably warm house, having completed a T25 workout, and am relaxing drinking tea out of my mug.

I had a good time volunteering to help with the run. Maybe I will do it again next year. I might volunteer for something closer to the action at the start/finish line. Or maybe I'll marshall again with hopes of getting a busier area. Either way, I was glad to help this year and to get to cheer on some of my fellow runners. I hope my small bit of encouragement helped.

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