Marathon day in NYC is one of my favorite days of the whole year.
Ever since I moved to the city in 2009, I’ve spent the day either running, cheering, or volunteering (whether for the race itself or for post-Sandy cleanup in 2012). This year it was mostly option c, with a little bit of b thrown in.
My running group, South Central Brooklyn Runners, had elected a group water stop at mile 7 on the course. Honest to God, volunteering at a water stop is a race unto itself. As Joel– a TNT coach, multiple marathoner and Ironman triathlete, and co-organizer of the whole thing– said, “I gotta say, volunteering for 7+ hours, setting up, handing out hydration, fighting the wind, trying to keep up with the volume of runners, and cleaning up was exhausting. I think it was harder than some of the marathons I’ve run.”
So here is how you spend your day when you volunteer at a water station in NYC:
5:45 AM: Wake up earlier than you did when you ran the damn race.
6:20 AM: Make way to water station from public transit. Get blown by headwind so hard that you can barely walk.
6:35 AM: Arrive at water station, check in with leaders. Start helping to unload the truck of supplies.
6:45 AM: Assist with distributing supplies (tables, water, Gatorade, cups, etc.) to the various sides of the streets.
7:10 AM: Realize that once the runners come, you will have no time for a break. Accordingly, run to the nearest cafe and buy breakfast. Add bacon and extra coffee. You will need it.
7:30 AM: Well fed and caffeinated, return to the table where others are mixing Gatorade in huge trash bins.
7:40 AM: Once Gatorade is mixed, start pouring water cups. About halfway full, one after the other. It helps if there is one person setting up cups and one person pouring. You cannot set out cups in advance with this wind.
7:55 AM: Give side eye to volunteer with backpack knocking over your carefully placed water cups every time she turns around.
8:00 AM: Stand in cold and wait for first racers to come by. Receive uber-glam NYRR poncho, which does nothing for the cold.
8:10 AM: One leader announces: wheelchair athletes are starting at mile 3, after the Verrazzano, due to the wind. Surely this means they will come quicker!
8:30 AM: They do not come quicker. Speculate on what could be taking so long and learn about every other marathon that your tablemate has run.
8:45 AM: Finally. First wheelchair athletes come whizzing by.
8:50 AM: Gosh, these guys are drafting like whoa.
9:15 AM: Wait with your hood pulled up for the elite runners to go by. Watch the first set of cups get knocked over in the wind.
9:20 AM: Think to yourself: At least there is no hurricane.
9:45 AM: Lady elites! Scream loudly for Burunesh Deba, the hometown favorite. Glimpse Kara Goucher, a head above the shorter runners. Catch Deena Kastor from the back– WOW, is she ripped.
10:05 AM: Wait some more. Compare NYC Marathon war stories with other volunteers.
10:10 AM: And here come the pro men! Witness four seconds of pure physical grace as Meb Keflezighi charges forward as leader of the pack.
10:12 AM: Everyone: MEB!
10:20 AM: More cups get knocked over as the sub-elites and Achilles wheelchair athletes go by. Witness your first flying cardboard tray.
10:25 AM: The wave 1 crowd has arrived. And thus follows hours of non-stop water maintenance. In the beginning with the fast people, this requires nearly as much concentration as would nailing your mile split times at mile 24. The first runners are packed so tightly, and running so fast, that if you absentmindedly take the cup and hold your arm out, they will rip it off your torso as they run by. SO: you must make eye contact. You must quickly and confidently thrust the cup into their hands, allowing your arm to travel at the same pace so that they don’t slosh water all over themselves. You must replenish rapidly, and guard against the people who randomly cross the entire roadway to get to your cup, or the ones who messed up their grip and drop the water cups everywhere, OR the ones who bolt straight through the rapidly closing corridor between you and your target, causing a collision if you cannot step back in time. Splash, bang, boom.
And don’t forget your friends who are running! You have cheer for them too!
1:00 PM: The runners start to thin out. It is easier with the run/walkers to hand them the hydration, tell them You look great, keep it up, and flap your arms in excitement when your teammates go by.
1:20 PM: Whole row of water cups goes flying away in the wind. Hear the clacka clacka clacka sound of hundreds of discarded empty cups blustering across the street and around the feet of runners. Fortunately, no one trips.
1:25 PM: The police cars and sweeper truck drive by. That marks the official end of runners. Unofficially, there are still dozens of people walking. You are mildly concerned: if they are behind the sweeper truck before mile 8…then how are they going to be by mile 23?!
1:30 PM: Start striking the water station. This is quite depressing. You poured ALL those water cups and…..nothing? No more runners need to hydrate? That makes several gallons of water going to waste (not to mention several, uh, minutes spent carefully pouring all those cups).
1:40 PM: It gets less depressing when you get to FLIP THE TABLES.
1:50 PM: Most supplies are loaded into the truck. The sanitation guys will come by soon to scoop up the rest of the trash and disintegrated cups. Hear horror stories from other volunteers about an entire table being toppled by the wind. Of Gatorade, at that! They’ll be sticky for days!
1:55 PM: Finally peel off the NYRR-provided green poncho (less warm and stylish than the finishers’ poncho by far). Feel the matted rat’s nest of your hair under your hood. You have been out on the street longer than it would have taken to run the whole marathon.
1:56 PM: That means LUNCH.