In the evening of the same day I did my second sprint triathlon, I volunteered at a water/aid station for the MOO-nlight Half Marathon run in Davis. In celebration of this weekend’s super moon, I decided to finally post this recap.
FYI: While I’m so glad I gave back to fellow runners, I think there could have been more communication between people coordinating the race and the volunteers. If you volunteer for this race next year (because it is important to volunteer, I still encourage it), I hope that my email I sent to the race (shortened version of this post) will help make things better in the future.
First of all, let me just say that as an athlete, volunteers are integral to making a race run smoothly. From cheering us on, to making decisions for us when we are dehydrated and tired (like when I put out a hand for water but words dont follow), just know that on behalf of all us racing athletes out there, THANK YOU! Thank you for your time, for dealing with behind-the-scenes-issues you don’t show on your smiling face, and for just coming out to support us when you could be doing a million other things. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
MOO-nlight Volunteer Experience (also see highlights of race at the end!)
The contradictory confirmation email I received should have been my first indication that there would be issues. The email AND the attachment said to meet AT the water station and gave directions where to park. However, the email said to meet there at 7:30, while the attachment said 7pm. I showed up at 7 because I didn’t want to be late.
After I arrived (and everyone was just about there too), our volunteer box was nowhere to be found: No shirts, no glow sticks, no cowbells, no race vouchers (get $30 off one of their races). Our water/aid station leader had no idea that we were supposed to get any of those things. Furthermore, he said that he was told that volunteers would be parking at the start line and that he would be driving us to our water/aid station. A few of the volunteers went to the start line at 6pm to get there early (I dont know if they signed up as a volunteer earlier than I did or not), so they got glow stick necklaces, cow bells, and I assume their vouchers when they checked in.
I brought this up to our leader when we still had at least 45 min before the first runner came by so he called someone at the start/finish asking if our box was still there. He told us we would have to pick it up after the race. Well, kind of defeats the purpose of Volunteer unity if we dont have shirts saying we are part of the event and we have to go pick stuff up that should have been waiting for us here. Why our team leader couldnt go pick it up in the 45 min we had to kill, nor why the guy who was supposed to bring us more cones for dividing the trail in front of our aid station (since this part of the route is an out and back, so we see runners twice), couldn’t have brought our box I also dont understand. Thankfully I did bring glow sticks of my own so at least we could have some fun glowing 🙂 Below is an image of “enticement email” to potential volunteers (and our swag):
Did I mention we also had no bathroom/porta-potty? We were in a residential area and it was still almost 90 degrees for the first hour. I found a bathroom 0.5 mi away at a local park before sunset, but it had a chain lock hanging near the open door, so I didn’t think it would be open until 10:30pm when we would be done (since most public park bathrooms seem to close at sunset). So basically I didn’t think I should hydrate for fear of having to hold my pee for 3 hours or having to drive somewhere during the race, leaving dehydrated runners just so I could use the facilities. Also note that when we did start having runners, MANY asked if there was a porta-potty nearby (since pretty much every race I have gone to has a porta-potty near every water station, even if only 1). I had to tell those runners, “I’m sorry we don’t”.
It started out slow, a few trickling in at a time, but after an hour, it was “rush hour”. Barely enough time to fill cups, put out on the table and have some of us hold them to hand out before they reached the table. I started noticing numerous cups piling up and overflowing the one trash can with the one trash bag we were given. I asked our team leader if we had more trash bags, but no, we did not. So we used the city trash can for the time being while I tried stacking cups together to help condense the amount of trash spreading around. After 20 min, we got a water drop off (since we were running low) and I got some extra trash bags from him, so I didn’t have to do the stacking technique anymore. I needed to make sure the cups were out of the path of the runners, so cleaning up was just as important as making sure they were hydrated. Last thing we wanted was for someone to slip on a cup. Once the trash situation was contained I went back to handing out water/gatorade until the final runners came by.
When the race was winding down, I got some of the volunteers to help me do a clean up job along the course (not far) to pick up the numerous cups, empty gel packets etc… with our bare hands. I probably had hundreds of people’s saliva all over me (thankfully I didn’t get sick, I really tried hard not to touch my face or anything, but its not like we had a place to wash our hands with soap or at least disinfect them….). We were just starting to break down the water tables when a runner came up to us. She said that she thought she pulled a quad and asked us if this was an aid station that could call someone to pick her up. I told her she could sit on one of the water coolers, while I looked for something to ice her quad. All the ice had melted in the coolers, so I looked in our very small “first aid container”. That pretty much consisted of antiseptic wipes, bandaids, gauze and ointment. No pain killers, no instant ice packs (is that standard?). I told the other volunteers that I was looking for an ice pack, but couldn’t find one so I was going to check my car. Fortunately one of the other volunteers did have one in her car, so we did what we could to help the runner until the driver arrived.
While the ice pack search was going on, I heard some of the other volunteers looking for our team leader. No idea where he went. Then they were trying to contact him and it took at lest 30 min or more before the girl actually got picked up (took time to find/call/tell our leader, get him to call someone, and for that someone to come). So glad she wasn’t in immidiate need of medical attention, because I would have just called an ambulance.
So after we picked up everything and put it in the trailer, we all followed our team leader in our respective cars to go to the start/finish area. The lady there said, “We don’t know why/how your box didn’t get to your station, but since it didn’t, we gave the shirts away. We can contact you if you would like a shirt.” She handed us our vouchers and I don’t think any of us left our names for a shirt. I mean, I really don’t need another race/volunteer shirt, but it would have been nice for us to look like a team at our station to begin with. And again, why someone at volunteer check in didn’t contact our team leader saying our box was still here or have someone take it to us is another thing I don’t understand. There should be multiple checks in place. I do understand this is a race with alot of moving parts, but I have volunteered at Tinker Bell Half Marathon with an order of magnitude more runners and they have a well oiled machine with their volunteer system. I know and have experienced that it can be done.
How the experience could be improved:
- Consistent Volunteer Directions: One time, one place, no contradictory email.
- Make sure the team leader knows what the volunteers are supposed to receive and if they don’t, go get it or have someone bring it.
- Have each team leader give a quick meeting on how their particular station will be run. Including what to look out for and to make sure enough supplies are there in the first place (like multiple trash bags). I ended up having the most knowledge on runner behavior (fatigue, sometimes speechless etc…) and water station dos/donts based on my race experiences, so I did what I could in disseminating information that would be helpful in running this station.
- If it is an aid station, make sure to have multiple instant ice packs on hand.
- If it is a water station that is in an area with no bathroom, please put 1 porta-potty there or tell us in the email that there will be NO bathrooms available.
So I want to end this sort of recap/constructive critique on a positive note, so that those of you thinking of volunteering aren’t turned away. I made the best of the situation considering and I hope that the runners enjoyed the race tremendously. Volunteering was for them:
Still on the high of my race that morning, I was SO excited to be giving back to my fellow racers so soon. I loved yelling “wooo, good job, keep it up!”, complimenting you all on the super cute outfits you ran in, smiling at you as you passed by, and giving much needed relief when I handed you extremely thirsty runners some water. I loved being able to make your day, even with little things e.g. a couple of you runners saw others with glow necklaces and wished you each had one to wear, so I took the ones off my neck and clipped one around each of your necks so you could finish the last few miles in style. I loved cheering back when you runners would yell “We love our volunteers” because we know you are all so tired at mile 8/9, but you still managed to yell just as enthusiastically back at us. You are our inspiration, we applaud your efforts for taking on the challenge (especially this race is always in the heat and in the evening!), and we will do what we can to help you get to that finish line. Even if it means finding an ice pack in our car and calling a medic at the start/finish to pick you up. We want you to be taken care of during your race journey. Race on!