The first ever Cambridge half marathon was a new experience for this runner. Wait, you don’t actually think I ran that far, do you? No, for this race I was a volunteer for the organizers.
Every race has a ton of support people who make it happen. They range from the organizers to city workers to the police who help block traffic. Among all those people are the volunteers that race organizers recruit for things like handing out numbers, monitoring the course, and doing virtually everything else that needs to be done.
The Cambridge Half was the first of its kind. It was put on by the organizers of the Cambridge 5K series of races. I have run many of these races over the past few years, and they are always well-run and a fun time. Since I knew that I would not run a half marathon (you can read my reasons for choosing the 5K as my distance here), I thought I would volunteer as a way of giving back a little to the races that I like so much.
Everyone who runs races should try to volunteer at one or two also. It is a way to give back to the running community and a way to stay involved when you can’t run for some reason like an injury or a distance that you don’t specialize in. It’s also a way to indirectly support causes. For example, the Cambridge Half raised money for Belmont S.P.O.R.T., which provides activities for people with special needs, and Cambridge Camping, which offers camps for low-income children.
I volunteered to help with the set up on race day as well, which meant that I had to be at the race venue by 5:30 a.m. It was an early bedtime the Saturday before, but worth getting the extra rest. Once I was there, I did a variety of jobs from helping set up the bag check, to cutting zip ties off of porta-potties so they would be open for racers to setting up water at the finish line.
The staging area was the CambridgeSide Galleria mall in Cambridge, Mass. I spent some time getting racers out of the mall and to the start line. It was around this time that I learned from the race organizer that about 200 of the people who signed up to volunteer but didn’t show. (Note: DON’T be that kind of volunteer.) As I was moving through the mall, one woman who was there to watch her boyfriend and sister run asked me if she could be a last minute volunteer. Turns out she was supposed to run the race, got injured, and had to pull out. She wanted to help and her help was welcomed, so if you find yourself in that position, consider checking in with the race organizers.
Helping to move a rack of medals from a parking garage up to the finish line on the street mean that I got my workout in for the day. This thing was heavy.
Once the race started, there was about an hour of down time before the first runner came across the finish line. The volunteers spent time getting things set and taking a few speedy time gag photos with the clock at the finish line and trading stories about how they came to volunteer. One woman had given her bib to her dad, since she had an injury, and others wanted to be there to support friends and family who were running.
Soon, the first runners were crossing the line. As someone who has never been at the front of the pack on these races, it was fun to see the top finishers. As there were plenty of people handing out water and medals, my job soon became moving people out of the finishing chute and breaking up some of the family and friends’ reunions with the runners. The goal was to keep things open for the runners behind folks. Everyone was polite and thanked the volunteers.
It is a testament to the organizers that despite being so short on volunteers, the race ran very smoothly and the runners posted positive comments on Facebook afterwards.
I had a great time, met some nice people, and got some beer out of the bargain, so I will definitely consider volunteering again. If you get the chance, find a good race and explore it from the other side as a non-runner.