Tale From the Other Side of the Start Line

After spending hours and hours and hours on the runner’s side of a race weekend, I finally got to sit my non-sweaty ass behind a table and see what goes on behind the scenes a bit as a volunteer.

We signed up for the “Finish Line 2” shift (you were able to choose in the registration portal) – I thought it would be a great place to not only pay back some of my racer debt, but also use our experience to REALLY benefit the runners. You know, like any other person’s “great job!” or “here’s your medal!” or “bagels are that way” might not be just enough. I could stand there and smile and be like,

“I totally get it, man. What a great day you just had! Congratulations to the moon and back you are one tough cookie here’s your water and I’ll just tuck these pretzels into your pocket here… some seltzer water should take that nipple blood right out of your shirt and trash cans are over there if you’re gonna puke.”

Kidding. We just wanted to be where the action was and not wake up too early.

We reported to the volunteer tent and were immediately herded down to “awards” where we were stationed. Being completely out of sight of the finish was a bit of a bummer but I mean I guess we weren’t there to fulfill our own desires, were we? Awards tent it is! (sorry to everyone I promised a cheer/hug)

We were given the quick rundown of what to do – mark bib, check list, be friendly, rocket science, etc – and pretty soon traffic started flowing to our area and it ended up being a lot of fun. Long Beach is part of the “Beach Cities” race series, and the people who completed all three this year (Surf City in Feb, OC in May) got the extra medal we were handing out, which was approximately the size of a dinner plate and heavy enough to weigh down a few feeble-legged finishers.


pretty slick bling if you’re into that sort of thing

A few things I realized throughout the day that I loved and/or shocked me:

  • Where’s Grumpasaurus? It was surprisingly easy to be smiley and peppy for five hours nonstop. Runners make me happy and brought out some wide-eyed perky cheerleader I didn’t know was hidden inside my crabby soul.
  • Moving Pebbles, Not Mountains. People in slight duress truly appreciate any extra effort, no matter how teeny tiny. Offering a phone to call husband or look up directions when GPS and music sucked theirs dry, sharing a spare water with a desperately thirsty marathoner, walking an unsteady finisher towards gear check, etc took .001% extra effort but (seemed to) mean a lot to them.
  • Runners Love to Talk Running. Runners that just finished a race are not super into talking at all.
  • 50 Shades of Perspiration. Some people sweat for a very long time after finishing exercise. Some people’s heavy makeup still looks fresh after 13.1 miles (I asked if she’d reapplied – “No, I just don’t really sweat very much!”)
  • “I AM SO MAD! (but not at you, you’re just here.)” Although their quick outbursts would suggest otherwise, most people know their spitfire is not hitting the proper target with the messenger.
    • (due to “high levels of last-minute registrations” we ran out of BC Challenge medals. most let their disappointment known but politely accepted the promise to mail one to them, and the majority of those understood as a volunteer it was not our fault. others may have gone off to try and slit our tires.)
  • Fire-Putter-Outter. At my last job (the one I hated), I dealt a lot with complaints from dissatisfied clients for things that were out of our control (ah, the life of third party service industry.) Although it sucked, I was pretty good at for some reason. Fixing problems for a product (running) and a customer (runners) you actually care about is not only much more tolerable, but kind of rewarding.
  • Minor Collateral Fire Damage. That doesn’t mean being told “you should all be ashamed of yourselves!!” was any easier, but lets chalk the extra fire power to low blood sugar and blisters.

Was it a blast? Not the whole time, but I had more fun than I thought I would. Not like, laughy ha-ha fun, but like, enjoyment being around and supporting something I love fun.

I loved congratulating people on their accomplishments and feeling like I was a little part of their special day. I loved that I felt I knew what they wanted to hear to make a good day great or a bad situation better. I loved that when the bossy head lady stole my paper to “show us how it was done” that I had the balls to politely take my spot back and tell her that runners leaving without a medal do not want to hear that they “should’ve run faster.”

I love that my fellow runners reading that are either gaping at their computer in disgust or wagging a “oh noooo no she di’nt” finger at the screen right now.

I love our little runner tribe with its unspoken bonds of support and understanding. I loved the cute married couple that asked me to take their picture together and kissed before taking their phone back, and the 78 year old woman that high fived me and said “see you next year!”

Runners are so damn cool. I don’t care what anybody says about our silly short shorts and gross missing toenailed feet.

I’m really glad I got to spend some time on the other side of the table yesterday, and I’m looking forward to doing it again. Soon.

Sarah OUaL


20 thoughts on “Tale From the Other Side of the Start Line

  1. That’s awesome that you had such a good time volunteering :) The people who run these races always make it fun. I love the experience of being at races, whether running or working. I work part time (about 30 races a year) doing race timing. We use RFID timing & every race is a blast… even the ones that are tough. I love being there to see those people who are running their first race or doing their first tri. That’s the best! I love knowing I played an important roll in their day. I used to volunteer at races a lot before getting this job, and after 3 years of timing, I still love it just as much!


  2. Nice volunteer recap! Yep, definitely a mix of good and bad at every race no matter what side of the line you’re on. Awards sounds like a job I should try next time. (I’ve worked the “volunteer coordination” shifts, and those are tough! Have to dispatch and entertain high school students and keep people busy if there are too many volunteers. Meta-volunteering!)


  3. Ashamed to say ………I’ve never volunteered and ran about 40 races in the 6 years I’ve been running. Thanks for the reminder to reciprocate. I appreciate it. :)


  4. I’m still trying to volunteer (and to find the right race to volunteer for!) Something this off-season would be nice. Sounds like a great experience. Even as a spectator I’ve seen all kinds of bizarro things (a guy at a triathlon with his swim cap still on under his bike helmet, the woman on the folding bike at the same tri, people running in makeup…I have never *quite* got the runnning in makeup. What’s the point when it’s going to melt off anyway?).

    And – did they RUN OUT of race bling? How do you do that? Don’t you count the number of people who signed up, give a little discount for a small percentage of no-shows, and order the requisite number of medals??


  5. I volunteered about a year and a half ago for the rock n roll chicago 1/2, and it was so great. Like you said, not LOL fun, but heart growing 3x it’s size, fun. And because I volunteered, when i’m racing I always try to give a little more than the normal “thanks” to them. Maybe a “thank you for being here” sort of thing.


  6. I did not know about this special medal but I spend a great deal of time trying to maximize my number of medals. Maybe Ill aim for this baby next year! Also glad you had fun.


  7. What a cool experience! I really need to get my butt out there and volunteer soon. I almost did earlier this year and let marathon training be an excuse. No more excuses!


  8. Thanks for volunteering and bigHUGEmassive apology for you having to deal with the endorphin-infused anger about running out of medals. Not cool and our fault.


  9. _ I love that my fellow runners reading that are either gaping at their computer in disgust or wagging a “oh noooo no she di’nt” finger at the screen right now. _



  10. I LOVE this. As a recent second-to-last-place finisher I appreciate your talk back. If I could have run faster, I would have. Duh. Now I think I need to go find a race to volunteer at – to the internet!


  11. So that’s where you guys were hiding! This is hilarious. Sorry we didn’t see you there! We were wondering where you might be (from the beer garden).


  12. I need to do something like this – what a lovely thing to do!

    ‘I love that my fellow runners reading that are either gaping at their computer in disgust or wagging a “oh noooo no she di’nt” finger at the screen right now.’ YES! MY JAW DROPPED TO THE FLOOR!


  13. That’s so awesome that you volunteered the LC race, I just ran it for the 2nd time! I was scrolling through your blog and saw the photo of the Beach Cities medal (I’m one race away from getting mine, woo!), so of course I had to read your whole post.

    Glad to hear you had a good time even with the running-out-of-medals thing. I’m sure everyone you spoke to was happy to talk to a cool and collected cucumber like you =) It sounds like you had a good time though, maybe I’ll volunteer for this race next year!


  14. LOVE this. especially the side commentary. I will admit, I didn’t volunteer when I should have while injured (did it several times when i was running healthy). I was too busy sulking, being single again, and partying my ass off to want to get up early to help a race. oops. thanks for reminding me to give back again!!



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