2010 Richmond Marathon – MTT Volunteer Report

My Richmond Marathon volunteer experience was different from previous years. I got the same sense of satisfaction for helping the runners, but this year I gained a new perspective on what running is really about.

Spending a few hours with 3 amazing coaches from the Marathon Training Team will do that.

While an injured hamstring prevented me from running the 2010 Richmond Marathon, my love for the sport could not keep me on the sideline.

I’ve been a course marshall the past 2 years. Today’s marathon, however, was much more exciting than standing on a street corner, telling 10,000 runners to go exactly where they already knew they had to go. Since I missed out on the Marathon Training Team (MTT) fun all summer, this was my last chance to see what all the hype was about. I was assigned to drive 3 amazing MTT coaches all over the course to meet up with runners — Vicki, Donnie & Q.

Marathon Training Team coaches are da bomb

When I arrived at mile 5 to meet the coaches, I instantly knew I was in the right place. 25 yellow shirts, a tall green hat, a few pairs of striped socks & a viking helmet. Yup. These were the guys I was looking for.

  • Donnie has been involved in with the Marathon Training Team for 8 years, but this was his first as a coach
  • Vicki has been a coach for about 5 years
  • Q has been there since the beginning. He has also been seen dressed in drag. The guy is just in-it-to-win-it, and that’s all there is to it.

The epitome of running

Fun. The MTT coaches have figured it out. These guys love running, and their joyful energy is contagious. They were all over the course, at every turn, beside every MTT runner. Crazy shirts, hats & socks. Smiling at every runner, until the last one crossed the finish line.

The journey. Running is about the journey towards a goal. A personal goal. A life change. A complete 180°. Or maybe just a new hobby. Whatever the journey is… it’s yours. Own it. Be proud of it.

Friendship. Most people see running as an individual sport, but running is meant to be shared. Although I didn’t have a chance to share it with the Marathon Training Team this year, I witnessed it first hand in the 3 hours I was out there. It’s magical. And not in a Disney World kind of way. In a goosebumps, happy tears, genuinely joyful kind of way.

Energy. Rejuvenated.

Typically, when I volunteer for a race, it’s all about the runners. While my reason for volunteering still had the runner’s best interests at heart, this experience was an exciting one for me.

My energy & excitement for running has been rejuvenated. Dealing with a nagging injury for 5 months had a negative effect on me.

Being out there today helped me forget about 5 crappy months of no running, and once again look to the future – a future full of fun, friendship & incredible journeys.

It’s not until you share your running with others that you truly experience what the sport has to offer.

2010 Napier Realtors Sprint Triathlon – Volunteer Report

After speaking up about my dissatisfaction on 2 different occasions volunteering at RMS events, I had a chance to do something about it. Here’s my report on being the Volunteer Coordinator for the Napier Realtors Sprint Triathlon in Midlothian, VA on Oct 10, 2010.

After writing a letter to the former Richmond Multisports (RMS) volunteer coordinator, the owner of RMS, Laurie Mehler, gave me a chance to coordinate all volunteers at the Napier Realtors Sprint Triathlon on Sunday, Oct 10th.

Now that I have seen first hand what it’s like behind-the-scenes of a triathlon, I have a different perspective. While I still believe I did a better job than the 2 previous races I volunteered for, I was far from perfect. Here’s a recap of how the day went.

Race day setup & check-in

I arrived at 5:30am & began setting up the volunteer check-in tent. I got t-shirts, water, Clif Bars, etc. ready. Double-checked that I had everything I would need. And to my surprise, the first high schoolers started arriving at 6am (15 minutes early).

Mistake

I had different groups of volunteers checking in at different times. I did this so they wouldn’t be standing around with nothing to do, however, it was way too difficult to keep track of.

Next time

I’ll ask all volunteers to check-in 2 hours before the race starts, and I’ll run a 15-minute orientation session & walk-through of the transition area. I’ll also have one of my course captains (either run or bike captain) to man the check-in tent while I’m meeting with the volunteers.

Volunteer assignments. Why bother?

I’m very organized, and this race was no different. I had assignments for every volunteer. Everything was planned out… and of course, nothing went according to plan. There were positions I needed volunteers for that I had no idea about until 5 seconds before they needed to be in place. A spotter to ride with Jim Napier in the pace car. An outgoing person to sell merchandise. Extra swim volunteers.

Next time

I would still assign vols to the bike & run course. But for everything else, I’d just ask them to show up 2 hours before the race, and plan on being there for 5 hours.

Communication

This is basically all I did for 5 hours. Cell phone in one hand. Walkie talkie in the other. When I wasn’t talking to the RMS team, I was shifting around volunteers & instructing them on what to do.

I owe a lot of credit to Matt Kirkendall, David Kunnen, Patrick, Barbara & the rest of the RMS team. We worked together extremely well.

Lesson learned

You can’t over-communicate when you’re on the race production team. If you’re wondering whether you should repeat yourself… than you should.

Teamwork

I had 4 incredible course captains. Lori Perez, Tom McMahon, Laura Perry & Vicki Hottle surpassed even my highest expectations. I felt like the 5 of us had known each other for years, and you would’ve thought we’d all done this many times before. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

Summary

It was a long day & a lot of hard work, but I truly had a great time. To be part of a team of ~10 people who put on a successful triathlon with over 600 athletes, that’s something special. The RMS team is a great group of people who love the sport of triathlon, and love helping others achieve their goals.

I owe a huge thanks to the Tucker High School track team, and their coach, John Amoroso. They supplied 25+ volunteers for the event, and Coach Amoroso owned the mic as the race announcer. The James River XC team also supplied 15 volunteers.

Volunteer Coordinator responsibilities – before the race

Weeks before the race

  • I personally emailed every volunteer who signed up online
  • I created a spreadsheet with all the volunteer information
  • I secured 4 course captains: transition, swim, bike, run
  • I assigned each volunteer to a specific area (and many were assigned to multiple areas)
  • I dropped flyers off at REI & Starbucks to solicit more volunteers
  • I found 2 motorcycle marshalls & a PA announcer (not easy to find, btw)

One week prior to the race

  • I finalized race maps & spreadsheets for each of my 4 course captains
  • I attended a team meeting at ACAC Fitness Center to review the course setup

Saturday before the race

  • I helped with setup at ACAC, and got all final questions answered
  • I didn’t sleep but maybe 4 hours because my mind was in full-out race mode

You might enjoy my short list of tips for volunteer coordinators that I wrote before this experience. I’ll be sure to post a more in-depth checklist at some point.

2010 Patrick Henry Half Marathon – Volunteer Report

An amazing volunteer experience at the Patrick Henry Half Marathon in Ashland, VA. Big shout out to Richmond Road Runners Club & SportsBackers for coordinating an awesome race.

It’s obvious they’ve been putting on races for years because they nailed almost every aspect of the volunteer experience. Although, I did find 2 things they could do better…

Night. And. Day… compared to my previous two volunteer experiences (Rockett’s Landing TriPink Power Tri)

Volunteers for the Patrick Henry Half Marathon had a great experience, thanks to the Richmond Road Runner’s Club & the SportsBackers.

Pre-race email

In less than 24 hours from when I signed up to volunteer, I received a detailed email from the volunteer coordinator. This email contained the following:

  • the name of my specific aid station coordinator
  • the name & cell phone number of the overall aid station coordinator
  • directions to the aid station
  • instructions on parking
  • a brief description of what I’d be doing (filling cups, handing them out, cheering on runners)

I can’t say enough about great communication. My hat goes off to Lisa Randolph at the SportsBackers for a well-planned, well-executed pre-race email. (There was one thing she forgot, but I’ll detail that at the end.)

A common sense approach to race morning

The volunteers were extremely efficient on race morning. A few, key decisions contributed to our success:

  • We went directly to our assigned aid station. There was no check-in required at the S/F area.
  • We showed up at 6:30 for a race that started at 7:00. No need to get there super-early and stand around for an hour or two.

I know. That’s why I called it a “common sense” approach.

We had all the cups that we would need (for all 1400 runners) filled up & ready to go 10 minutes before the first runner came through.

A coordinator who coordinates

Our coordinator actually instructed us on what to do.

“For those of you who may not have done this before, spread out in a line, hold your cup at the top with your hand directly above the cup, let them know we only have water here, no powerade…”

A few more aid station tips

I previously posted a list of aid station tips for both volunteers & race coordinators. Here are a few more that could fall in either category:

  • The elites run fast. And they will not slow down for water. Therefore, have multiple people – spread far apart – with cups of water. This will give them multiple chances to grab a cup in case they drop the first couple.
  • Use pitchers to dip into the large gatorade jugs, and fill the individual cups. It’s quicker than using the nozzle on the gatorade jugs.
  • Use cardboard or posterboard to place on top of cups on the table. This allows you to stack cups in multiple layers, and potentially fill up all the cups you’ll need for the entire race… before the race even starts.

Clean up, pack up & call it a day

As soon as the last runner came through, the Richmond Road Runners truck was right behind them, ready to pick up our supplies.

We had our trash ready to go. We just emptied a few cups, broke down the tables & loaded up the truck.

The Diamond Springs truck was right behind the Road Runners. He picked up the extra (and the empty) water jugs.

Then some guy dropped off a few volunteer t-shirts for us, and we were done… at 8:30. Only 2 hours after we had arrived.

Big thanks to the RRRC & SportsBackers for 2 of the most efficient, well spent hours of my life. Well done, guys.

The 2 things they forgot

They did a great job, but what good is it if I don’t have any constructive criticism? Here are the two things they forgot:

  • Ice. They forgot about the Iceman. Never forget the Iceman.
  • Directions on how to get home, since many roads were blocked for the race.
    Since we were finished at 8:30, and many runners were still out on the course, most of the roads were blocked. We couldn’t take the same route that we used to get there. A map of the closed roads, or directions on how to get back to the interstate, would have been nice (especially for the directionally challenged, like myself).

RMS volunteer coordinator, you’re 0 for 2

A letter to the Richmond Multisports’ volunteer coordinator detailing my volunteer experience at the Pink Power Triathlon in Midlothian, VA. My one and only suggestion for improving the experience at your next race… Pick Me!

Dear Richmond Multisports volunteer coordinator,

Your run course captain has failed… again. You are now 0 for 2.

Based on the fact that you didn’t choose me to be a captain, I’m guessing you missed my volunteer report for Rockett’s Landing. And your run course captain clearly missed my tips for coordinating volunteers during a race, being that he failed to show up. I should have been more clear in stating that

“I like to sleep in on Sunday mornings” is not a highly sought after quality for volunteers of any kind.

My Pink Power Tri volunteer experience went a little something like this

I arrived promptly at 5:30 – just like you asked – ready to lend a helping hand. You promptly checked me in (which was appreciated), but immediately told me to “sit tight” until my captain arrived. I knew right away he wouldn’t show.

So I waited… more volunteers arrived… we waited… and waited. 50 minutes later (yeah, five-zero), at 6:20, one of your staff finally asked us why 20 volunteers were standing in the grass, doing nothing. Then you tasked the backup run captain with instructing us on what to do.

He wasn’t much of a backup. He had no map & very little idea what to do. He grabbed a large, laminated map, started pointing to random intersections and sending us off one by one. He said,

“We’ve got a small road here… uhh, looks like a sub-division… [pause] … someone raise their hand.”

That was my assignment.

Although, I’ll tell you, you owe that man a big thank you. Tom McMahon did a great job, all things considered. Before the runners were out on the course, he drove around making sure we had water, and gave us his cell phone number, just in case.

I don’t know what it is with the run course, but y’all just can’t seem to get it right. Mike West is 2 for 2 being the bike course captain. He did an excellent job at Rockett’s Landing, and again today at Pink Power.

I can’t tell you how to coordinate an event. I’ve never worn your shoes, so I don’t know what it’s like on race morning. But I can offer suggestions on how to make your events (more specifically, the volunteer experience) run more smoothly, and I sincerely hope you take them into consideration.

I’ll even make it simple. One suggestion. All that I ask.

  1. Make me the run course captain for Napier Realtor’s Richmond Sprint Triathlon on October 10th

… and I’ll take it from there.

Just as John Fogerty said many years ago, I now say to you. “Put me in coach. I’m ready to play.”

Running Wild,
Dave

Tips for coordinating volunteers during a race

These are some ideas I came up with on how to better manage & coordinate volunteers during a race, particularly when managing aid stations on a run course. I’m not an expert, and have never coordinated a race myself, but if you’ve ever volunteered for a race before, I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Preface: I have never coordinated a race – or any part of a race.

I am simply a volunteer who has observed several coordinators, wasted countless hours going back-and-forth and been low on supplies numerous times throughout an event. I have no experience actually doing anything that I’m about to mention, but here are a few things I would try.

Most of these suggestions relate to aid station setup on a run course, as that is where most of my experience has occurred.

Multi-task & improvise

If you can’t do this, coordinating a race is not for you. If you think about one thing at a time, forget it. You’ll be late dropping off supplies, volunteers will be confused & frustrated, so on and so on.

Things never go exactly to plan. When they don’t, you need to improvise. If every minute of every day is planned out for you, please stay at home, pull out your planner, and proceed with your day… as scheduled.

Ice

Put one person (maybe two) solely in charge of ice. Especially on a hot day, you need truckloads of ice. And on a really hot day (95+), running out of it could mean heat stroke for a runner.

Scope out local 7-elevens, grocery stores, etc. that will be open during the race. Map them out. Give that map to your Iceman (that’s the designated person for ice. He’s the Iceman.). Have him do ice runs non-stop, for the first 1/2 of the race.

And everyone should have the Iceman’s phone number. He’s kind of a big deal. Speaking of phone numbers…

Create a spreadsheet with responsibilities, locations, phone numbers

I realize many volunteers sign up the night before, and some just show up the day of the race. I guess a good lesson there is to keep an open schedule the night before so you can make last minute arrangements. But I know you can do a better job than most of what I have seen.

Include phone numbers of important people.

  • You
  • The overall volunteer coordinator for the event
  • The Iceman (see above)

I would even ask the volunteers on race morning if some are comfortable sharing their number. Put one person in charge of each station, write their number on the spreadsheet, and give it to the head people of the other stations.

What else to include on the spreadsheet:

  • Names of volunteers, along with location where they will be
  • Approx. time of first runner arriving (underestimate to be safe)
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • Number of jugs, tables, cups, etc. at each station

Scout the course the day before… and morning of the race

Drive the course. Take notes.

  • Where is a good spot to setup the table? The tent?
  • Are there any abandoned cars (or other vehicles) that might obstruct the course?
  • Is there any shade? A place to escape the sun?
  • Is the course in good, runnable shape? If weather has been bad lately, there could be rough spots you could warn runners about before the race.
  • Is the course clearly marked?
  • Where’s the best place for a course marshall to stand?

Provide a course map to all volunteers

Runners will ask questions about the course, both before the race and during it. And volunteers will not have answers… unless you give them answers. A well-drawn map can be very helpful.

Go over a few specifics. Or print a handout.

Assume your volunteers have never done this before. Why? Because many of them haven’t. And the veteran volunteers won’t be offended when you go over the “basics.”

  • How much sports drink powder goes in here?
  • How many gallons are these jugs?
  • Do I hand them the cups or leave them on the table?
  • What do we do if we run out of cups?
  • Where do the runners turn once they come by here?
  • How far until the next aid station?
  • 1 jug of water? 2 jugs of Gatorade? 99 bottles of beer on the wall?
  • If someone is injured, what do I do?
  • How do we know when it’s over?

When to show up race morning

Three facts of life. Most races are on the weekend. Many races start early. Many volunteers like to sleep in on the weekends.

But if you have most of this stuff prepared beforehand, you don’t need them there at the buttcrack of dawn. Sure, you don’t want to try and time it exactly perfect. But don’t waste their time either. If they feel their time is wasted, they won’t come back next year.

Give volunteers a thank you gift

And no, the free t-shirt does not count.

I realize this might not be in the budget. Check with sponsors. What do the racers get in their race packets? Could you spare an extra 50 or 100 gift certificates or 20% off coupons? What about the racer no-shows? Give away their free stuff.

At the very least, you better be sending them a thank you note of some kind when the race is over. The sooner the better. Heck, type it up the day before. Have it ready to go. Just add a few things about the specifics of race day, and send it later that night.

In closing

I’m sure I left out some things. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Aid station tips for race volunteers

Here is a list of tips when working an aid station or water stop on a run course. I cover some general tips, races in the heat & dealing with elite runners. I’ve also included a checklist for volunteers on what to bring.

Here are some aid station tips for race volunteers that I learned while working the aid station at mile 3 of the 10k run during the Rockett’s Landing Triathlon.

General aid station tips for volunteers

  • If you can’t fill the cups fast enough to keep up with runners, take the lid off the gatorade jug and just start scooping
  • If you can’t hand runners cups, it’s better to make sure they are filled. Put the table in a spot where they can grab it. They would rather have to pick up their own full cup than have you hand them an empty one.
  • If a runner is not responding when you ask them what you can get them, and they look out of it, they could be deaf/mute. Don’t just assume they are suffering from the heat. But of course, when in doubt, air on the side of caution.
  • If a runner is holding out her water bottle, please ask her what she wants, and offer to fill it for her
  • Don’t fill the cups to the top. 3/4 or halfway is fine. They will only knock half the water out of the cup if you fill it to the top.
  • If you have Gatorade in your cup, yell “Gatorade.” If you have water, yell “Water.”
  • Keep the sports drink at one end of the table, and the water at the other.
  • Create your own tasks. You won’t always be told what to do. So look around, see what needs done, and do it.

Aid station tips for handing out water in the heat

  • For a really hot, humid race, water is more popular than the sports drink. You can never have too much water or ice.
  • During a hot race, be prepared to pour water down someone’s back, or ice into their tri suit. Someone will probably ask for it.
  • If you can spare it, keep some ice separate in a cooler by itself. Some people will ask for ice only to put in their hat and/or shirts, shorts… basically anywhere it will fit.
  • Volunteers… REMEMBER TO DRINK. It’s easy to hand out cup after cup, and forget about yourself. Please remember to stay hydrated.
  • If you have a tent providing shade, offer it to the runners. They might not think to stop, but once you offer it, they realize it’s a great idea.

Aid station tips for handing out water to the elite runners

  • Practice your cup handoff  before the elites get there. They expect (and have earned) water to be handed to them. They will be traveling very fast. And they will not stop or slow down to get it. Handoff is crucial.
  • For many of the first runners you see, only fill the cups halfway. They will knock half the water out of the cup when they grab it from you.
  • For the faster runners, all volunteers should offer up water, 15-20 ft. apart. If the first handoff is dropped, and even the 2nd and 3rd handoffs are dropped, the runner could still be able to grab a drink.

Volunteers. What should you bring with you?

  • Shorts/Pants with pockets
  • A copy of the course map and/or transition area (you are likely to get questions)
  • Dry clothes/shirts to change into, especially if it’s hot
  • Sunscreen
  • Folding chairs (you won’t use them once the runners start coming through, but you might have 30 minutes to an hour to wait before they do)
  • Refillable water bottle (so you don’t have to use the cups)
  • Snacks. Most races will have bottled water for you, but don’t count on any food.
  • Towel. Keep in the car. Use to dry off and/or lay over the seat.
  • A semi-empty trunk and/or backseat. You may be asked to transport supplies.
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat/visor
  • Hand sanitizer (…especially if you are having the post-race finger foods. You will get nasty dirty.)
  • Swiss Army knife (or even a simple pocket knife)

Volunteer for a race when injured

I know it sucks to be injured. And you probably don’t want to watch hundreds of people doing the thing you love, but are unable to do because of your injury. But you owe it to your sport. And more importantly, you owe it to your fellow athletes who I’m sure have volunteered (and maybe even saved your ass a few times) for races that you have run.

Here’s a recap of my volunteer experience for the Rockett’s Landing Tri in Richmond, VA.

When you’re injured, volunteering for a race is a great way to spend your weekend. With a bum hamstring, I decided to put in some serious hours this weekend with the Rockett’s Landing Triathlon in Richmond, VA. It always feels good to volunteer, but this time I learned quite a few lessons along the way… and am very motivated now to be a race coordinator next time.

Big shout out to Ginny for keeping me company for 7 hours on Sunday morning. It wouldn’t have been half the fun without someone to share it with.

Below, you can read about my experience this weekend at the Rockett’s Landing Triathlon, or jump on over to my separate entries about tips for volunteers at an aid station & tips for coordinating volunteers during a race.

Saturday before the Rockett’s Landing Triathlon

I was assigned to ride with the bike coordinator, Mike, while he drove the bike course Saturday morning. We marked the course with spray paint. Mike took down some notes on where to place volunteers with flags, and noted where he could get away with fewer than the recommend amount of volunteers (because we were running low in that department). We even swept the course with a broom.

Sweeping the bike course before a triathlon

I had no idea someone was actually responsible for doing this. In theory, it’s a great thing to do. However, for the detail-oriented, anal-retentive people, it’s probably not the best job. I think Mike and I swept many more pebbles than what was necessary. The course was clean, but it took us 2 hours to ride 26 miles… in a car.

Sunday at the Rockett’s Landing Triathlon

We arrived just before 5:30am. Of course, we were ready to go. But you can’t always count on having something to do right away. We waited around for 20 minutes before anyone really told us what was going on.

The rest of the day was a blur. We drove around for a while and helped setup the other stations. Then we arrived at our station, got it setup, and waited. Once the first runner came through, chaos ensued, and 5 hours went by in a flash.

How volunteering made me a more conscientious runner

  • It’s easier to pick up cups that aren’t smashed, so if you must throw them on the ground, do it away from the running area
  • You never know if/when the aid station might run out of cups, so if you can, refill the same one instead of using 3 or 4. The runners behind you will love you for it, especially on a hot day.

I’ll leave you with my favorite comment of the day…

Said a woman somewhere near the middle of the pack, and I quote, “I’ve never put a sponge in so many inappropriate places in my entire life.” Yeah. It was that hot.

Don’t forget about tips for volunteers at an aid station & tips for coordinating volunteers during a race.

    Running with a stranger at Old Dominion

    A complete stranger asked me to run 11 miles with him, at night, through the mountains, for 4 hours… and I seized the opportunity. I learned a few things in the process, and I now call him my friend.

    Today I did something I don’t often do: I ran with someone else. His name is Ryan Foster, and he was attempting his first ever 100 mile race, the Old Dominion 100 in Woodstock, VA.

    How it happened

    I’ve never met Ryan before. He was going to run the same 50 mile race as me back in Sept. ’08, but the race got cancelled. Ryan had my email address, along with about 50 others, and he emailed us all looking for a pacer. I told him I might be interested, and a week before the race, he emailed me back, “Dave, are you still interested?”

    Meeting up in no man’s land

    We met up at mile 75 at 7pm. I briefly introduced myself. We shook hands. I helped him take his shoes off. 8 minutes later he smiled at me and said, “You ready to go for a run?”

    Little did we know it would be a hike/climb… not a run. This was the toughest 11 mile stretch that either of us had ever faced. But it turned out to be a pleasure spending it together.

    The experience

    We talked about running, work, grad school, his 1-yr-old son, future plans, and even the invisible mice he thought he spotted around mile 80 (apparently these hallucinations common). We also went 10-15 minutes without saying a word. I helped him up off the ground a few times after falling. I tied his shoe, and even re-pinned his bib to his shorts. Needless to say, we got close.

    Two complete strangers to one another, acting like we’d been running buddies since high school. 4 hours later, I dropped him off at an aid station to find his wife waiting there to surprise him.

    The lesson

    If you haven’t run with someone lately, you should. If you’ve never talked to a stranger, I recommend it. If you get the chance to run with a stranger, at night, in the dark, through the mountains, for 4 hours… don’t pass it up.

    Ryan finished in 21:53:47, 6th place overall, easily achieving his goal of under 24 hours.