I might come off as a jerk for saying this... and some of you may not like it, but I'm gonna say it anyway.
Some parts of the race planning process should not be left in the hands of volunteers.
There. I said it. And before you get all angry with me, let me explain.
First of all, I want to say that I appreciate the efforts of volunteers. I really do! You have to be one kind and generous human being to wake up that early and stand on your feet to serve a bunch of sweaty people for hours on end. And on top of that, they always have a smile on their face. That takes a special kind of compassion, generosity of time, and willfulness that some of us runners could probably learn from.
Now on the other side of this exchange is the runner. I sat down recently and actually counted the number of races I've participated in this year. I honestly had no clue that I registered for and ran in TEN races this year, not including the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon. Holy cow! And as I sit here now, I'm counting my race bibs dating back to my very first 5k, and the grand total is...24. Since October 2010, I've run in 24 races. So I think that length of experience gives me the reference material needed to write on this topic.
I've reached a point in my racing life where I operate on autopilot when it comes to showing up to run in a race. And as I go through this process, I will notate some of the pet peeves that I've encountered. I'm a pretty easy going person and I don't let a lot of things get to me, but these things do.
On a typical race day, I arrive at the race site and check in my bag at baggage claim. Never really had any bad incidents there. Many races do it differently. I personally think Marine Corps Marathon and 10k do it the best! Nice to know your belongings will be kept safe,and dry inside of a UPS truck. I rarely ever have to stand in the mile long potty line but when I do, I really love the inclusion of volunteers here to direct traffic when a porta-potty becomes available. I believe the Baltimore Women's Classic 5k employs this method to make sure there's fair and steady movement of all of the lines.
Next, I usually move to the corral area and that's never been a problem. I've never ran into a corral marm hell bent on keeping people in one corral and out of the others. I hear that they typically do that at the NYC Marathon but I've never experienced it. So to me, it's just a rumor.
POW! The race starts and we're off! Around mile 3 or 4, there's a water stop that's well stocked... no problem. But around mile 6 or 7 or for the full marathoners in last week's Baltimore Marathon, mile 19, the quality of the water stops began to deteriorate. When I looked to see what was causing the issue, it seemed that the volunteers were falling behind on filling cups. In a mad dash to provide water, they were rushing, sometimes knocking down cups, picking them back up and refilling them... mmmm hygienic. There was a point where the uncapped water jugs that were being used to refill the cups were being picked up by runners and yes, I witnessed every single one of them drink behind the other. When the volunteer COULD get in to grab the jug, they proceeded with filling the cups with that SAME jug of water!
You have thousands of people from all over the country and in some cases, from different countries coming together to run. There are so many infections and illnesses that can be transmitted in this kind of environment. Let's not aggravate the situation by having volunteers handle food and beverage services during a race that people pay money for. Do you really want a random person walking off of the street, going into the kitchen of your favorite restaurant and cooking your meal? No? Ok. Well I suggest race directors think of the handling of beverages with the same level of seriousness as food service in any other venue.
Knowing how important it is to provide fresh and clean food and water to a runner, I'd have a SERIOUS problem with this practice that typically takes place in panicked situations if I was volunteering. I don't knock the volunteers for the ingenuity but I don't agree with the logic of a "non-athlete" serving an athlete.
Look at what happened in Vegas.
Crossing the finish line! What a wonderful race! Time to celebrate! But first, let's calm our breathing.. and get some water! But how easy is that when people are being sandwiched together, told they must move forward and away from the finish line when we really have no place to go? Just a block of sweaty people clustered together....waiting....waiting...waiting...WAITING ON WHAT?! Now, you can call me impatient, but I seriously hate standing and waiting and feeling claustrophobic after running 13.1 miles (+ or -). And the stuffiness caused by being surrounded by intense body heat from others doesn't help one to calm their breathing at all. I know it sends me into a coughing fit. Not fun for me or anyone surrounding me. At one race, I finally got to the area that was holding up the process. I saw boxes and boxes of medals in our 10 ft wide finisher's chute area and also found 3 little people, about 6 or 7, handing out medals... medals to a CLUSTER of marathoners, half marathoners, and relay teams, each denoted by the color of their bib. This task of quickly handing out medals to the corresponding runner was left in the hands of 2nd graders. I'm sorry, but what if someone in the crowd needed medical attention due to the conditions of standing in such a closed in space after crossing the finish line? How easy would it be for medical personnel to get to that person? Not so easy with this dense block of people in the area. And some of us really wanted to start the recovery process but couldn't because we were waiting to receive our medals.
When I finally got my medal (that I had to point out to the bearer), I said "So they have kids giving out the medals?" to a lady reaching for hers. She responded by saying "But they're doing their best." I guess that's the comment that made me think and made me feel compelled to write this post. I've received my medal from several volunteers from all ages but I think that 7 is just a little too young for such a daunting task....even if they are doing their best.