November 8, 2006

the post that didn't get written

Back on Thursday Nov 2, I began to write a post about the marathon expo, where I was volunteering. That turned instead into my first audio post, focusing on the question of the numbers of CF people and comparing that to the number of people running the marathon Sunday.

So I never got around to talking about volunteering at the expo. For that matter, I haven't written anything about volunteering Sunday, either. I've decided not to go into great detail in this post, either -- I'm still trying to figure out whether the volunteering even mattered. To the reader: this will be a little long, but unimportant. I did see NYFlyGirl and check her in and that's maybe the only important bit. If you only have a limited amount of time, please go read an actual runner's race report.

The facts:

My volunteering did not begin auspiciously. Oweing to a disappearing kickstand and dropping my motorcycle on my foot, twisting my ankle and knee in the process, I was late. I had tried to turn my body as I fell over in front of my house so that I wouldn't do any damage to the joints, even as I realized what was happening and that this was going to hurt. It was all very slo-mo. I had to pull my foot out of my shoe to get it out from under the bike. Then I had to recover a bit, lift my bike, make sure nothing important was broken, and get on my way. So I was late. And though I tried to pretend nothing happened, I was using Tylenol 8-hour through the three days of the expo.

So I spent Thursday through Saturday checking IDs, making edits to runners' information, and figuring out the Spanish, Italian, German, and French words for "blue", "green", and "orange". The Help Desk turned into the Solutions Desk and most of the old duties were moved out to ID check area, so it wasn't too mind-numbing being there, and I know Barbara, the volunteer in charge of that area for the last 13 years or so, was grateful to have me. I like Barbara a lot and would work with her again for sure. Not so sure I want to volunteer at the expo again, is all. I could tell a lot of stories because of those three days and there were bright moments, but all in all -- meh. Might have been better off sleeping and running.

Sunday was spent in two places: Staten Island and Central Park.

Staten Island was cool. No, sorry, I meant COLD. I met the volunteer bus at 3:45 a.m. at NYRR and we went out to the starting area. We were split up into groups and I went with to the blue food court area, where I spent the next five hours handing out donuts and bagels. (The donuts, while plain, were bona-fide Duncans and were quite tasty. The bagels, not so much.) 40 of us handing out food; could've been covered by 25. I felt marginally useful, but perhaps could have been more helpful somewhere else. Despite wearing four shirts, a jacket, and two hats, I was soon so cold I was shivering and could not stop. Cups of tea and coffee weren't warming me up and eating some donuts didn't help either. (Lesson: eat a big breakfast BEFORE standing around in 30-degree temps for five hours.) I took several breaks to walk around and warm up, using the opportunity to observe and take mental notes for next year, when I'll be one of the 37,000 suckers freezing his balls off while waiting to trot to Central Park. *sigh*

Once the runners started to line up in the corrals, the volunteers headed for the buses, which were doing double-duty as giant crowd-control barriers at the time. I got to see the blue and orange groups head toward the starting lines, shedding amazing amounts of clothes as they went. (By the time they were all gone, the toll plaza looked like a WWII battlefield, but instead of craters, imagine discarded sweats and jackets. It could not have been more artfully arranged.)

As the runners streamed out of the corrals and toward the starting line, I scanned the crowd for the lime-green Team CF jerseys that are by now so familiar to me. I saw several and hurried to catch up to these people. With each runner, I introduced myself as we trotted, telling them my name, that I have cystic fibrosis, and how much I personally appreciate their participation today. Of all my volunteering moments, it was this that truly stands out to me and made all of Sunday morning worth it.

I also want to note that when the recorded announcement mentiond the "air force will be doing a flyover before the race," she wasn't kidding. I expected something nice, but typical, perhaps a couple of jets a mile up passing over the bridge or something. Nope, we got an AWESOME buzzing by a four-prop giant plane that came in - I shit you not - no higher than 150 feet over the trees, appearing out of nowhere from behind the national guard base and turning in a tight bank to buzz out over the crowd and then narrowly avoiding the bridge itself. Sweet mother of God, I've never seen anything like that!

The afternoon was spent at the baggage trucks. I wandered around for 45 minutes looking for "hospitality" and "Dan Brown". Nobody seemed to recognize the name and obviously didn't know what the fuck hospitality meant. I tried five places, being directed from one to the next, before finding one who said Dan would have a cowboy hat on and hospitality meant bagels and bags. He directed me on up the Central Park loop and sure enough he was right. Had he not been, I would have simply gone home at that point.

I teamed up with another volunteer and two UPS drivers at their truck. These guys were GOOD. They got the bags organized and were 100% done by the time the first runners showed up. The entire day, it took no more than 45 seconds for any runner appearing at our truck to get his or her bag. We were a crack team. Not an exciting job, but we did it well. Turns out my two drivers had done this for six years and both had actually run the marathon last year. Cool. I only point out how good these guys were because, by way of contrast, the next truck down was terribly inefficient and disorganized. They couldn't get their shit together before the masses of runners showed up and so had seven drivers trying to locate bags and a crowd of chilly runners three or four deep at times.

So I'm ambivalent about the volunteering. I enjoyed myself more last year. But I am wondering if next year, it would be more expedient to volunteer for Staten Island in the morning, even as a runner. Though it means two extra hours of toe-numbing cold, I'll be out there long enough to have a difficult first few miles no matter what I do. The volunteer bus is free and I could make the time pass quickly by handing out tea and coffee, then drop my bag off, shuck a few extra clothes, and be off and running. Literally.

Another thing I'm worrying about is the finish. By the time I finish, it'll be almost as cold in Central Park as Staten Island in the morning. It's important to get to warm clothes fast...but if my truck is the 76th one, that's nearly another MILE further up. Perhaps I can persuade a friend to volunteer as, say, a chip clipper and to hold a sweatshirt for me....

And speaking of chilly runners finishing, I observed a lot of people coming in and it affirmed for me that I absolutely made the right decision not to run this. I would not have been prepared for Staten Island. I would not have run this well and would have ended up once again as one of the miserable, injured runners who were mostly in the last third. Hurting and tired is one thing, but I refuse to put myself in the position of being one of the Walking Dead, the runners who are so in pain and so unhappy. I want to be one of the guys finishing around 4:30 that, though tired, were still in good spirits and were still alert and functional. There's just no sense in it otherwise.

Well, that's it. A long post, sorry, for such an unimportant one. Please go read the other running blogs and immerse yourself in the race reports. A lot of people ran fantastic races, a lot of people actually PR'd, and their stories - a few of the 37,000 - deserve your time.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Your story is no less important than a race report. No one would have races to report if it were not for people like you.

Thank you!