I spent yesterday and today as a volunteer at the helpdesk at the NY Marathon Expo at the Javits Center. It's an exciting time, as all the runners come to pick up their bibs and bags. I learned a lot in my two days and will be much calmer - and better educated - going into my own marathon this time next year. There will be no guessing or wondering or last-minute questions because now - after answering several thousand questions - I KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS!!! or at least many of them.
Manning the help desk, I got to experience most of the problems that could be brought to bear. Very common: forgot to bring my registration card. No problem if you've got good ID. Most people do, some people don't. The mix of languages has been interesting. I'm proud to be able to help people whose language I don't understand and they don't particularly understand English. I helped people from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, France, Italy, England, Ireland, Russia, Japan, Korea, South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, Canada, and the US. I helped people with very interesting names, including a few I had to go to the date of birth to identify, because there were three or four "Dave Jones" running. I even checked in Theodore Roosevelt.
Some problems are intractable -- people put estimated marathon times on the applications that are unrealistic or come in claiming a new and improved estimated time and they should get to change corrals. "I did this half marathon (handing me a printout from a race's website) in (pick a number...we'll say 1:50). So even though I'm placed in a corral with 4:30 marathoners, I should really be in the corral with the 3:45 marathoners, right?" No. You can't simply double your time; only the pros can run even or negative splits, dummy. YOU need to double, then tack on 30 minutes or more. You are in the correct corral!
People wanting earlier corrals often had proof of ability - but not documented, acceptable previous marathon time type proof. And they wonder why we don't want them moving into earlier corrals?
Other people...a handful....actually ended up in corrals WAY out of their league and they're going to be trampled. I counseled these people to go ahead and move back in corrals so they can run with their buddies and have a nice, relaxed marathon, instead of a terrifying start.
I mean, it's all in the Marathon Handbook people, didn't you read the handbook? No. Of course not. Here, let's send out 44,000 multi-page, glossy-coated collections of TOILET PAPER!
I felt proud of many of the people I met. Multiple marathons under their belts; people who run Boston-qualifying times regularly, etc. I felt most of the people are going to be just fine. A few I had doubts about; a handful who were clearly out of shape, some who were injured but determined to run, and several who were - quite simply - overly optimistic about their own ability. A half-marathon is one thing -- a whole marathon is three of them, get it? Some people seemed surprised when I described the rigors of racing beyond mile 18 or 20; that your body starts to put up a fight and doesn't want to keep going. Others seemed surprised that there were going to be hills -- big hills, including the bridges, and that the worst of all that is in the second half of the race.
Enough about the people, who were all very nice and patient, even though some were close to hysteria.
The other volunteers were sweethearts. Most of them were twice my age or more and most of them hadn't run a day in their lives. Like I've noted on other races, the volunteers seem to be drawn from the local nursing homes or something - though at least the CAPABLE residents. :) I worked next to one gentleman, Gil, who's been volunteering in various positions for the marathon for twenty-six years. He had a stroke in the recent past and had some trouble talking, but was very knowledgeable about the history of the marathon. He had been a track runner in his day, too, so he knew what the runners would be going through. He and I were the only runners at the helpdesk. While the others were all more experienced than I in doing helpdesk duties, they didn't have my energy, nor my experience running. I relied on them to learn the answers about where to go or who to ask or when to be there or how to fix a problem. But at the end of this evening, a few of the older volunteers thanked me for being there, that I did a great job, and that they learned a lot just listening to me, talking about race strategy and hydration and fueling and such with the runners (almost always to help keept hem calm and help them with the Big Picture). It got mentioned at dinner that it would be nice or should be a requirement, that all the runners volunteer somehow. I don't think that's realistic, but it is painfully clear that the marathon needs more volunteers who ARE runners!
Food: they fed us. Not the greatest food, but hey, it was there and it was free. And all the Poland Spring I could drink. Nice.
the expo: tons and tons of freebies. Some volunteers really worked the expo for swag, but I didn't. I'd swing through coming back from a meal or bathroom break and see what I could see in a couple of minutes and then got back to work. However, I did manage to come away today with several ice items. One guy gave me some titanium discs for pain. I'm not sure about this - sounds very new-age-y to me - but they were free. Another guy liked my compliments about Wigwam brand socks and handed me some sized runner's socks in another brand he sells. I got a few t-shirts, a water bottle, and a spiffy little messenger bag made out of some plastic that ING was giving away. More importantly, I got some sizzling deals on new running shoes! I got my hard-to-find New Balance 991B's for $15 less than I paid last time (they're still expensive); and got a pair for my sister for $20 less than she can find them at. Good score.
I'm worn out. It's been great volunteering, and I'll do it again next year. Tomorrow, I'll be helping at the Friendship Run and Sunday I'll be in the medical information tent beyond the finish line.
What I've learned:
- bring your photo ID, current with updated name and address
- don't lose your number AT the expo the day you pick it up. You will look like an idiot.
- signing up for a pace team might be a problem if you haven't ALREADY run a similar pace in a previous marathon. (Hopefully they'll get the bugs in this Pace Team thing ironed out.)
- All you really need is your bib and chip. Everything else flows from that.
- don't miss your bus to Staten Island. Bring a magazine and something to eat and drink, because you're gonna be there a while.
- accept your number and corral graciously and realize that nobody runs NY to make a personal best - you do it to have fun. You want a personal best - go run something smaller and flatter.
- the volunteers are not the staff and they don't have all the answers in the first hour
- it is neat to wear orange
- wear good shoes
- there are a lot of very fast women running this race
- 44,000 names single-spaced, two-sided STILL takes hundreds of pages and one's ability to alphabetize decreased as one spends more time doing so.
- parking isn't a problem when you have a motorcycle. I found a very, very unconventional spot that was very, very free just a block and a half from the convention center
got to get to bed; up early again tomorrow!