As I'd mentioned here, with less than 18 hours to go prior to the race start, I had not received my assigned location or any other information. I had followed up with the race organizers twice, both times only to be told that they would provide more information soon. The race organizers had indicated that they were short on volunteers. Even so, this wasn't a good sign.
- The race started at 7:30 AM on Saturday. I finally received my assigned intersection at about 2:15 PM on Friday afternoon. However, beyond my location and report time, I was given almost no guidance on what to do. I had to specifically ask where to park, and I asked several other logistical questions that were never answered.
- The course map on the ZOOMA website was not nearly detailed enough for me to be able to identify the location of my intersection. I was told that I would receive a course map and instructions, but I never did.
- Given the lack of instruction, I had to look up the location myself, try to figure it out, and cross my fingers that I was right. My spot was in a somewhat complex intersection, but nobody ever came by to check on me or make sure I was set. (Little do they know that the words "Walking compass" have never been used in the same sentence as me. Ever.)
- The website indicated that I would receive a goody bag, which I didn't. The only thing I received was a "race crew" t-shirt.
- I had no opportunity to go to the bathroom, no food, and no water. I basically ended up standing out in the cold for four hours with no reprieve. It got tough, especially towards the end. When you gotta go, you gotta go. But I couldn't and didn't go.
- The website also indicated that I could attend the post-race party. However, by the time the sag wagon cleared my spot, the post-race party had already shut down so I wasn't able to attend. (I did, however, arrive just in time to see them deflate the finish line balloon arch.)
|The white balloon arch looks much cooler when it's in a state of wrinkled semi-shrunkenness.|
I did email the race organizers afterwards to share with them my poor experience. To their credit, they responded quickly and apologized, said they were taking my feedback seriously, offered to mail me a goody bag, and indicated that things would be much different in the future. That helped.
OK - enough about those frustrations! Moving on to the actual course marshall experience itself - it was an eye-opening experience. I remembered my own experiences from being on a race course and tried to put into action what has worked best for me from the other side. I cheered all the passing runners as much as I could, give them high-fives, tried to give them the clearest directions that I could.
The half marathon and the 5K only had a combined total of about 600 participants, so it was a small and spread-out group of folks. Even so, it required a lot of energy to cheer everyone on and my voice was pretty hoarse afterwards. But, it was especially fun for me to look for all of the dozen-plus runners that I knew and personally cheer them on. A good number of folks expressed their thanks for me being out there, which made me feel good. It was also very intrinsically rewarding to see so many runners smile when they passed me.
|This was NOT taken at the ZOOMA Great Lakes race, but it epitomizes some of the great smiles I saw from runners passing by me on the course. How could you not feel good when you see something like this?|
There were some surprises, though:
- In general, I told everyone that they were awesome (which they all are) - and that I could see the finish line from where I was standing (which I could). However, quite a few runners told me, some quite emphatically, that I was a liar! Now, myself having been lied to many times during a race about the proximity of the finish line, I understand how they might be skeptical. But to yell this at me outright in passing? Ouch!
- A number of runners completely ignored my cheers and outstretched high-five hand. Some looked like they were just in a fog - which I completely understand, having been there myself many times. But there were several who purposely looked the other direction as they passed me and/or purposely distanced themselves from my high-five hand. Yikes!
- The roads were supposed to be closed off to cars, unless we motioned them to go through during a break in the runners. However, a few drivers completely disregarded the race and just drove right through, some without even slowing down. To quote Keyshawn Johnson (and with as much gusto as I can muster), "C'MON MAN!!!"
All in all, though, this experience really did give me a much bigger appreciation for all race volunteers. Now I understand first hand the very, very hard work they put forth to make sure a race runs smoothly. It takes a lot more effort than many would ever realize. You better believe that in my future races, I'll be high-fiving and thanking every single race spectator or race volunteer that I possibly can!!!