That was the question of the morning, asked of me by NYRR staffers and fellow volunteers alike. They all wanted to know if I was volunterring to fulfill the 2009 New York City Marathon guranteed entry requirements of nine qualifying races plus one race working as a volunteer. As I’ve mentioned earlier in my blog, the plus-one requirement was recently instituted as a way (I cynically believe) to reduce the number of qualified entrants for the marathon, while also getting more free labor for dozens of NYRR-managed events. From the grumblings of the other plus-oners I met today, it seemed they believed it to be a major inconvenience and a way for the NYRR’s to get free labor. I think I was the only volunteer who wasn’t put-out I “had to” volunteer.
Today I volunteered at the MORE Marathon and Half-Marathon in Central Park, partly to fulfill this obligation and partly to be there to support my distance running and walking sisters. I reported at 6:30 AM, checked in, grabbed my free bag lunch and an orange safety vest, and followed my newfound medal-dispensing colleagues to some yards past the Finish Line. We hung the medals on these two giant racks, and they shone dully in the morning light, chiming pleasantly, as if we had a pack of bridled reindeer waiting in the wings.
We put the two boxes of marathon medals to the side (blue ribbon with green trim), since those women would be finishing mainly as the walkers were coming through. Around 7:15 AM we were released until 8 AM, and I went to get coffee with Chris, a very nice Aussie who ran NY in 3:56 last year. Then we got the mylar blankets ready by unrolling them from rolls (like giant sheets of aluminum foil) and then stuffing them between the rails of the guard fence. The event’s behind-the-scenes logistics were very interesting to me, the little that I glimpsed. Just in our finish line group, we were about 12 people on medals and maybe another 12 on mylar.
At 8 AM the race started, and about 6 minutes later the half-marathon leaders whizzed by. Loken, who finished second, is running the Olympic marathon trials in Boston in two weeks (as is Tormey, the winner). We later learned that there were over 6,000 entrants in the half, but less than 250 in the full. While women of any age could enter the half-marathon, only women 40 years or older could run the full. A beautiful thing. A couple of mother-daughter couples ran by, bringing a tear to my eye, since they have truly captured the essence of the MORE event. We cheered for the women for the first hour and a half, until the first half-marathon finishers came thrugh our ranks and we began draping medals around many a sweaty neck.
“Caitlin Tormey (not pictured), 24, surprised the winning half-marathon team of Susan Loken, 44, and Jody Hawkins, 41, with a sprint finish. Though Tormey grabbed the individual win (1:20:13), Loken (1:20:14) and Hawkins (1:20:16) took the partners title—the first pair of over-40 runners ever to do so.” –nyrr.org
To be honest, my favorite part of my day spent as a volunteer was the prep work and cheering. I enjoyed chatting with the other nine-plus-oners, hearing their running and training stories and swapping race reports. I met a sweet guy who runs with the New York Flyers running club, another man who runs on his own with high weekly mileage, and a Scottish woman who was planning on her first NY in ’09–all people I’d be happy to meet again at a race in the park.
Spectating is always a positive experience for me, as it reminds me of all the reasons I run and race. We could hear the announcer counting down the minutes until the starting shot, and I felt excitement: for those wishing to PR, for those tackling the distance for the first time, and for the first-time racers. I knew what awaited them on the course and at the finish, and was honored to welcome those first-timers into the tribe with medals. We cheered and clapped, and I praised their smiles, tenacity and general fabulousness. I was thrilled to see more than a few familiar faces in the crowd from Team in Training, including Coach S., who told me at the finish line that she PR’ed! Best news I heard all day.
My expectations of doling out armfuls of medals to grateful, exhausted runners and walkers went bitterly unmet. I positioned myself at the back of the line of medal-givers, and basically stood smily at droves of finishers, already fashionably draped in medal and mylar. Perhaps I handed out 12 medals the entire day? At around noon, Chris and I surrendered, each frustrated that all of our good will and pride for these women had gone largely untapped. We turned in our orange vests and headed off to warmer climes (for me, the Shops at Columbus Circle). I was disappointed with my experience as a volunteer, not realizing until afterwards it wasn’t abut handing out medals per se; rather, it was about showing up for the runners and supporting their efforts with an effort of my own. No matter what, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the chance to cheer nearly 5,800 women as they claimed the loops of Central Park and marked this day as noteworthy in their own personal histories.