I had a few friends running the inaugural Oakland Marathon, and while I wanted to run it too, it didn't sync with the schedule I am following for my own upcoming personal inaugural marathon. I was planning on being there to cheer people on, but when Chic Runner wrote a post last month on volunteering at races, it inspired me to want to volunteer at one too! So, you guessed it, I signed up to do so at Oakland. I was assigned to work at the Finish Line and was told to report at 11:30 am. As I read through my volunteer's packet, the one line that made me smile was,
"Don't tell runners you're 'almost there' unless you're at Mile 26"
Having never participated in a race, other than as a runner, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I decided to arrive early, well before my scheduled 11:30 am check-in time, just to see what things were like.
I took the first BART train of the morning, leaving at 9 am, and got to the Frank Ogawa Plaza about a half hour later. The half-marathoners just had just taken off about 30 minutes prior.
The first thing I saw when coming up from the 12th St/City Center BART station was the Oakland Mayor and the actor Mark Curry, aka "Hanging with Mr Cooper."
I made my over to the Volunteers tent to check-in. They had run out of regular Volunteer t-shirts, so they had to give me a race tech shirt (the 5K one).
I was so happy, I'd rather get a tech shirt that I can run in, than another regular t-shirt that I'll never use. :) Another lady with the same last name as me checked in at the same time. She was from Sacramento and had run the Twilight 5K the night before so we "buddied" up and headed to the Runners' Finish area.
All we were told was to work on "blankets." We walked past the food area, then the medals area and then found the group that we'd be working with separating mylar blankets.
In case you don't know what these are, let me explain as I did to the number of runners who also asked me, "What is this for?" At first I answered by saying, "Its to regular your body temperature." But I got a lot of strange looks so then I said, "You're sweating a lot right now but when you cool down you'll get cold really fast, so this will keep you warm." It seemed to satisfy most of them.
These things were not easy to separate, but we got a system going and it worked out quite well.
Personally, I think this was the best assignment to have because we were in prime view of the Finish Line. We saw EVERY runner that finished.
As we worked on unfolding the blankets, I kept my eye on the race clock. When it said 2:15, I knew that we'd be seeing the first of the marathoners pretty soon. Soon we were getting updates that the lead runner was at Mile 24, then Mile 25, etc. There started to be a buzz going through the crowd and I watched as the race organizers rolled out the Finish Line ribbon/tape. When the lead runner became in view, we all stopped what we were doing and raced over to the Finish Line with our phone cameras in hand.
I can tell you that I have NEVER seen someone win a race before. And unless I'm volunteering, I never will again. It was SOOOOO EXCITING!
The guy who won was a 40-year old and when I saw him cross the Finish Line I started crying. Being in the thick of my own training, I know the process that he must have taken to prepare for this, months and months of training, and this was his reward - a win!
The second person to cross the Finish Line was from Hayward, and the third person was from Oakland! Each of the few people who finished was greeted by Mark Curry, the "Hanging with Mr Cooper" actor. I was so impressed with him. He took each person by the arm and led them to the medical tent and handed them off to the medics. While he escorted them, he also spoke to them - I wish I could have heard what he said. As more runners crossed the Finish Line, he couldn't greet each one personally, but he did his best. He also took special care with those runners who looked like they needed extra assistance (i.e., about to pass out). He personally walked each one to the Finishing area, sat them down if they needed it, and walked over to us and got them a blanket. He really took the extra effort to greet people and it really touched me.
As more and more runners crossed the Finish Line, it got a little chaotic, but was so fun and I even got to see a few people that I knew! Some runners came across yelling, "I love Oakland!", others were very emotional having accomplished a huge feat. More than a few people told us that it was a great, great race and "we" (I laugh at the "we") better put it on again next year.
As the crowd dwindled it came down to the marathoners and half-marathon walkers. I could see the exhausted look on the faces of the marathoners. I knew it hurt to even take one step up on the sidewalk. I could relate to their pain so I walked to them and put the blanket over their shoulders so they didn't have to grab for it. I knew that every muscle in their body probably ached.
My friend Missy was running her first marathon and I was so excited for her. As the 4:30 mark approached, I kept looking for her, hoping I didn't miss her. I thought about texting/tweeting her, but I didn't want to be a distraction and I really didn't have that much time to keep checking my phone either.
When she did come in, she saw me first. She said yelled my name and gave me a big hug. She looked spent, but still REALLY GOOD (some of the other runners that came in earlier did not look as good as she did). I put a blanket on her and walked her up to the Finishing area. We took a photo together and then I got her water and took her to the medic tent so she could ice her knees. As we sat down I noticed a long line for massages. These poor runners had to stand in line waiting for a massage after running all those miles. After sitting with Missy for about 10 minutes, she was ready to move on to the Greeting area to meet her friends so we said our goodbyes and I went back to my station.
As I walked back I noticed that there was still a lot of food, water and blankets left. After they ran out of water and food at my last half-marathon, I take more notice of these things now.
Once I got back to my station, I stayed for about another half hour, but honestly, the hype had died down for me. I'd been on my feet for 4 hours (after my 19-mile workout yesterday, which I'll be detailing in a post tomorrow) and hadn't had a thing to eat or drink since I got there. I took a break to eat some food that I had with me. They did have food for the volunteers, but I wasn't in the mood for pizza. After I ate, my feet suddenly felt sore and I was exhausted. So I called it a day, said goodbye to everyone and headed home.
What a great day it was! I am so glad I volunteered at this event. Many of the runners thanked us for coming out and supporting them, but really, I should be thanking them for inspiring me. As I watched them Finish I thought to myself, "What's their story? Is it their first marathon, or their 60th?" (there was a guy there who told he'd just finish his 60th!) I thought of the amazing experiences they probably had to share about the race. It made me excited for my own upcoming first marathon (which I really needed because right now, I am mentally exhausted from all the training). It also made me appreciate all the hard work that the volunteers put into an event; they really do make a huge difference on the race experience.
I was never a huge fan of Oakland, but I have to give props where it is due - they put on a really well-organized event. As Missy said, she now has a renewed appreciation for Oakland!