Ever since I started running races, I’ve wanted to volunteer at an event. Volunteers are so important, from cheering runners on to waking up at ungodly hours of the morning to do hours of physical labor such as ripping out mylar blankets….(ok so that was me!).
But seriously, I wanted to give back to the running community and what better than through runDisney?
What o’clock does my shift start?!?
Registration slots for a Disney race even as a volunteer go FAST! Needless to say I watched the runDisney website like a hawk waiting for volunteer registration to open. Which in this case for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend (1/16/14) was the evening of 11/11/13. If you are wondering what some of the different shifts are, click the image to your left. If you are an individual, you click a link on the runDisney volunteer page which takes you to a special place on Active for registration, like the pic. Its first come first serve and you won’t know if you got your shift until a few weeks before the race. If you are a group, you send an email and are on the lottery system. Group volunteers do the water stations and I think the medals (at least that’s what it seemed like for this race weekend). Anyway, I got two of my friends and my mom to commit to volunteering as well and fortunately we all got the shift we signed up for, Mylar/Chill towels!
While we all would have loved to hand out medals, we did get to spend time congratulating runners handing out Mylar blankets. Plus, it was one of the later shift options available race day. We only had to wake up at 1 am, leave by 2 am and start by 3. Hence the reason I did lots of exercising the day before, I needed to tire myself out to go to bed by 7pm.
Parking and Food
RunDisney does a pretty good job at making volunteering worth your while. You get to park in the structure for free, as long as you remember to print out the parking pass they send via email, a long sleeved shirt to wear with “Race Crew” written on the back (for race day volunteers), breakfast (bagels, fruit, tea, coffee with optional syrup pumps), a water bottle and a snack pack. Had we thought about it, we would have brought our own snacks to eat since I had eaten the same boxed snacks two days in a row already…and brought another bottle of water for when it got really warm out. Then after your shift, you head back to the tent you checked in that morning, to check out and receive your free pass to any Disneyland park good for 1 calendar year. Not sure how it works for expo shifts that are only a few hours long, but that’s how it worked for the long half marathon race day shifts.
Our Team Leader for the Mylar Station showed up around 3:30 am to walk us all down to the finish line. He had been there the day before for the 10k, but had otherwise never done a Mylar station at a race event (though he had experience with other shifts). He told us we should start ripping out Mylar blankets from their tightly rolled up coils in boxes and aim to have about 2000 done before the start of the race. Imagine an extremely large box of tin foil…only the foil had perforated edges. The boxes themselves were heavy, each containing 200 blankets. We had to pull the Mylar up from the box on the ground, find the perforation, rip, open the blanket, and stack. It did take us till about 5:30am to get this done. It was chilly outside, so once we finished and weren’t physically moving stuff around, all of us grabbed a blanket or two to stay warm. Plus a few of the neighboring volunteers at the medal stations grabbed a few as well.
For race start, we saw the fireworks go off in the distance. Then, we had about an hour to kill before the elite runners started crossing the finish. So, the four of us went to use real bathrooms at the Disneyland hotel to stave off using port-a-potties more than necessary.
It was really cool to be volunteering at the finish line since we got to see the first finishers of the race! At first, the runners just trickled in. Then about 2 hrs after the race start, we started to get a small crowd of finishers, but it was still manageable. An hour later, it was like all hell broke loose. We had half of our Mylar team out giving blankets to runners (we would swap to give everyone a chance to hand out blankets to runners) and the other half ripping more blankets out. While we usually had spares to loop over the arms of the volunteers as ‘refills’, it slowly dwindled down as more and more runners crossed the finish. There was about 20-30 min that we could not rip and open them fast enough. We were all working so hard that I hope all the runners that wanted them during that time, got one. It was chaos. After this time of madness, it did start to slowly trickle down in numbers, giving the rippers a chance to catch up.
It was during this time that my mom discovered these seemingly strange items in a box next to the mylar blankets piled on their wood flat. They were metal contraptions that looped onto the top of gray finishers chute bars (about hip height) that held the mylar blanket spools so that you could rip the mylar blankets off more easily! Apparently our Team Leader saw them yesterday and didn’t investigate further to figure out why they were there. Definitely would have made all of our lives easier since we were really sore the following day doing it all from the ground (bend over, stand up, rip and repeat).
All in all, we had a great time (though an exhausting time). My mom and I dressed up in our tweedle outfits again (but wearing purple volunteer shirts) for fun and we did get some compliments from the tired runners. Some of the runners asked what the Mylar things were for (which we explained to those who asked). We also saw some great and hilarious costumes! Since it was a Tinker Bell race, many women and men were in tutus and wings. We even saw a trio of males dressed as three disney princesses: Jasmine, Belle and Cinerella. My mom asked Belle if he wanted a Mylar blanket and he said “Why would I want to cover this up? If I’m gonna wear this, I’m going all out!”. Later we saw the trio get some promotional photos taken of them. I mean why not, they were hilarious and didn’t take themselves too seriously. They did wear their chest hair and facial hair proudly… I didn’t get my phone out fast enough, so I only got their backs in a couple photos below.
The advantage of being a race volunteer at the finish line is that once you are done with your shift, its easier to get back to your car and leave. I heard that people working the water stations would end up getting stuck in the massive traffic in Anaheim caused by the road closures, meaning you wouldn’t get back until at least a half hour to forty minutes after the end of your shift. We did hit some traffic getting out of the structure, but it could have been worse. After getting some real breakfast, I hit the sack and took a 2 hour nap! All 4 of us had great fun though!
Would you ever volunteer for a runDisney race? What station would you choose?