Yesterday I volunteered at the inaugural Swamphouse Half Marathon and 5K. When I first read about this race last November or December, I knew I wouldn't be able to participate because it was scheduled just 1 week prior to the marathon I had on my schedule. This is a race put on by a local running group, the West Volusia Runners. I have never even run with this group, but I've run with people who run with them...you know, friend of a friend of a friend thing. However, the race was going to take place in my town, and because of the many events I participate in, I know how important the volunteers are--not only to the organizers, who certainly could not get everything done without them--but to the participants. For those of you reading this who do not participate in organized sporting events (like running races, cycling events, triathlons, etc.), the value of the volunteers supporting the athletes cannot be overstated. You would not believe how helpful it is to have a stranger yell encouragement to you halfway through your race, at mile 12 of 13.1, or at the finish line.
With this in mind, I was happy to volunteer my time for this event. Even though that meant getting up at 4am on "spring forward" Sunday! Let me tell you what a rewarding experience this was. My job, along with my two new friends Claire and Tommy Johnson, was to deliver the water stop supplies (tables, chairs, water jugs, cups, trash bags, etc.), to the 8 stops located on the 5K and half marathon courses. Driving the UHaul through the dark streets of DeBary, we unloaded the supplies at each stop as detailed on our instruction sheet (kudos to race organizer Jennifer Florida for being so detail-oriented in her instructions, it made our job so easy). We made such a great team and were so efficient that we made it back to the start line before the race even started (the race was delayed because of participants still parking their cars). I got to see the race start and many finishers in the 5K before heading out on the road again. The next part of our assignment was to travel the course again and pick up all of the supplies we dropped off. We set out to do that but there were still walkers on the course who had not made it to the second water stop. This allowed us the opportunity to park at mile 8.5 and cheer on the runners. I happened to be standing next to a sign that said "FREE BEER 4.5 MILES AHEAD!" That was a very popular sign! I even saw a couple of people I know running by and tried to give them encouragement. How exciting to be able to cheer on people as they gave it their all in the drizzling rain! We then got back to "work" and made our rounds to pick up the supplies. The water stop volunteers were so great--they cleaned up all the trash (runners can be a bit messy through water stops--lots of cups and gel wrappers and other trash) and neatly piled up the supplies for us to pick up.
We stayed a bit at the final water stop to cheer on the final few runners and walkers who were finishing up. They were so determined, it was great to see. What an awesome experience to be on that side of a race, and more importantly, a local one put on by an area running group. I will definitely be joining the West Volusia Runners and doing some training runs with them after my marathon. Everyone I have met who is a part of that group is great, but that shouldn't surprise me. Runners usually are a supportive, positive, strong group of beer drinkers! What a great community to be a part of.