Monday, July 20, 2015

Rock 'n' Role Half Marathon - Hydration Station #4

In the midst of setting up. Water tanker filling the last of the water buckets
Yesterday morning I got up bright and early and worked a hydration station for the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. This is one of those half marathons that always seems like it would be fun to run. They boast bands along the course and sometimes big name headliners at the finish. They host races in multiple cities even offering tour passes with discounted rates. Apparently Meb runs the races and was rumored to be pacing yesterday - but I failed to see him.

In fact, I failed to see anyone I knew running the race. Because, as I said, it seems like a race that would be fun to run, but it's always in July in Chicago and no matter how mild, or downright chilly our spring/summer has been, this race is always a scorcher and yesterday was no exception. So while I was certainly cheering on all the runners, I was too busy handing out cups of water and making sure there were cups of water to be handed out to be on the lookout for any specific runner.

Obviously I won't be able to tell you about the race from a runner's perspective (other than I'm sure it was hot). But manning an aide station does offer interesting insight.

The day starts early as the volunteers are charged with setting up, manning and tearing down everything. At 5 a.m. a truck full of supplies - tables, cups, Gatorade mix, gloves, t-shirts, hoses, pitchers, garbage cans, garbage bags etc. - pulls up and we start unloading. If you've ever run a race, you know what the stations look like. We put a bunch of tables on both sides of the street and then we start putting out cups and filling them up - Gatorade first, water second. We couldn't start filling them up right away because apparently the water truck was running behind causing some mild panic. Eventually, a big tanker and another truck pulls up, set up six water stations (basically big buckets on pedestals). Then all the volunteers (there were about 40 of us) start filling cups. Once all the tables have a layer of filled cups, we stacked pieces of cardboard on top and add another layer of cups.

We all had our systems for getting water into cups. Some of us used provided pitchers. Others used the hoses and spray nozzles to put water directly into the cups. This second method was faster, but had the downside of not reaching all the cups and making your hand cramp up. By about 7 a.m. we had everything set and ready to go. The race started at 6:30 and I'd say we had about 10 minutes between the time we finished setting up and the first runner went through.

As the first runners went through with their choice of outstretched hands holding cups of water, many of them plucked the cup from my hand (I think because I was near the end and they figured it was now or wait til the next stop). It was a bit funny how many runners picked me rather than the five other people on my side of the street handing out water. I think they started to get jealous. Eventually of course there were so many runners that ceased to be an issue.

Handing out water to runners who are doing a 10 minute pace is pretty easy. Handing out water to runners going by at a 6 minute pace, a little different. I quickly learned I needed to move my hand back as they took the cup lest I wanted my arm taken off with it (or it just went flying). I also learned that the beginning of the pack runners (a) will often look at you or signal to confirm they are about to take your water, this is nice and allows you to prepare (b) when it's creeping toward 80, they just want the water thrown in their faces, this is weird, but to each his own. As the not as fast runners come through you're basically just holding your hand out until someone plucks the water from it and replacing it with another cup as quickly as you can.

Other things I learned at the water stop:

  • You will get wet. My choice to be back at the water area rather than by the Gatorade was just happenstance. However, once runners started coming through and I started getting water on my legs, I was glad of that.
  • Despite all good intentions, you will screw up handing water to a person and feel really bad.
  • You will start picking up five cups of water at one time to save time.
  • Even though you started out with roughly 2,000 cups of water preset, you still have times toward the end where you are rushing to fill more cups of water.
  • You feel a little sense of pride when you hear runners tell you that your water stop is "the best one so far." We heard this from several runners. I learned later that some of the other stops didn't have quite enough volunteers and so weren't able to hand the water out quickly enough. 
  • You will hear "thank you" a lot. I try to say thanks to the volunteers when I race, and now I have a reminder of how great it is that people decide to give up a part of their day to stand alongside a road and hand out water to runners.  
All-in-all it was a fun morning. It seemed like RnR could have used a few more volunteers. Even though I think we were doing pretty well, we were supposed to have about 75 people. And other than the water not showing up until late (and us getting pretty darn close to running out of water), it seemed like the stop was well run. Of course, it helped that my husband was the lead volunteer as there were many CARA volunteers. I even managed to talk three of my co-workers to joining in who I am hoping won't hold this against me the next time I need something from them. 

I don't have any races coming up, so maybe I'll volunteer for another race next month.

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