A story of going from being a non-runner to planning for a marathon in three years...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Chicago Shamrock Shuffle 8K: Volunteer Report

Nice view, huh? That's what it looked like yesterday morning in Grant Park about an hour before the start of the Shamrock Shuffle 8K race. I woke up Sunday morning around 6 AM to what was practically a blizzard. I've never been more glad that I decided to run the day before instead of after I was done volunteering.

I wasn't running in this race. Instead, I was volunteering to help man gear check. When a race is expecting 30,000+ participants, lots of gear check volunteers is a necessity. All those runners need somewhere to put their bags while they're running. And yesterday, even though apparently less than half the registered runners showed up, plenty of people had bags full of stuff to check. As the runners arrived and stripped down out of their outerwear, they handed it over. My job was to take their bag check number (that matched their bib number), zip-tie or safety-pin it to their bag, and put it in the appropriate box. After the race the runners just had to show us their bib and we would retrieve their bag.

When I first arrived at the tent, the boxes were in chaos. Apparently they had been set up the night before but then the tent had been pummeled with rain and snow and wind. Some boxes were soaked and had to be discarded. Others had been blown from one end of the tent to the other. Our first task was to put them in order by bib number range. When we were finished, there were probably 600 cardboard boxes lined up. We had a short period of down time before runners started arriving and during that time we laughed about how the race organizers were still classifying the race conditions as "Moderate".

Does that look moderate to you? If so, we said, we'd hate to see extreme!

As we got closer to race start time, runners started arriving in droves. Some runners already had their check number attached to their bag. I wanted to hug those runners. Others needed my help figuring out what to do. After an hour of taking my gloves on and off to pin, tie, tear, label, and sort, my hands were officially numb. I'll be honest, I think they were on the verge of frostbite. No one was quite prepared for this weather and although the race organizers gave us food, there was no coffee or hot chocolate in the tent nor were there any heaters. We were COLD.

The stream of runners slowed down as the race started. However, we all stayed in the tent to stay out of the still-falling snow and to eat our "lunch." I guess technically it was brunch since we ate around 9:45 AM. About 20 minutes later runners started straggling back to the gear check to get their warm clothes. Most were soaked, red-faced, and glad to be done. Some stopped by the beer tent first and showed up beer in hand. I watched runners walk by in shorts and tanktops. I watched runners hobbling in the cold. I heard more than one wish for warm socks and dry shoes. I saw runners with cold and tired legs try to navigate the foot tall berm of snow that had accumulated in front of the gear check after falling off the roof of the tent. And yet I still heard lots and lots of thank yous. I've run several races and I have to say that one of the things I'm bad at is thanking the volunteers. However, after yesterday, I'll try my hardest to do so.

There was a steady stream of runners until around 11:15. Afterward I stayed for another 45 minutes helping break down empty boxes. We went from those 600 to probably 10.

When I left to head back home around noon, I noticed an unusual sight:

I hope there's not a runner under there!

Finally, I want to leave you with this video that one of the runners made yesterday while running. It captures the day from a runner's point of view perfectly. Yes, runners and those who come out to support them are a little crazy. But, in the end, it's so much fun.


Running Through Life said...

I ran the Shuffle yesterday and it was brutal. Thank you for being a volunteer. It was just as cold for you as it was for us, with the exception of the slush and water we had to endure. I have never run in such extreme conditions and they called that moderate.

Anonymous said...

What an awesome blog! As one of the foolish warriors who ran yesterdays Shuffle, I have to say the volunteers were awesome and, other than the horrendous weather, the race was a blast. Thanks for posting - I enjoyed that video tremendously! Good luck at the half-marathon!!!

RunningLaur said...

Wow, what dedication to stay and help - I'm sure all of the runners really appreciated having their warm clothes back!

Bayjb said...

Wow that is dedication. You are such a good person to go down there. It was NASTY!

kristen said...

Harsh conditions. Good for you for volunteering. I always try to thank the volunteers because I know they are working just as hard - only in different ways.

At least that guy seemed to have fun.

kilax said...

That's so awesome that you volunteered! I cannot believe ALL OF THOSE boxes! Wow! Can you imagine if everyone had run it?

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