August 11, 2008

Spectator’s Report: Nike NYC Half Marathon

In order to get guaranteed entry to the 2009 NYC Marathon, I’m required to run nine races and (new this year) volunteer at one. So far I’ve done:
1. Manhattan Half Marathon
2. Gridiron Classic
3. Bronx Half Marathon
4. Colon Cancer Challenge 15K
5. Central Park Challenge
6. Brooklyn Half Marathon
7. New York Mini 10K
I’m still planning to do the Queens and Staten Island Half Marathons (September 14 and October 12, respectively), so all that was left was volunteering! The Nike NYC Half Marathon was a much-hyped race with a lottery system and a hefty price tag ($70 for a HALF marathon?? What the heck is up with that?!), and I decided it would be a great one at which to volunteer so I could still be part of the excitement.

Unfortunately, volunteering entailed reporting to NYRR at 4:30 AM. You heard that right – FOUR THIRTY on a Sunday morning. So no Saturday night drinking for me – I stayed in, knocked out some weekend work, and tried to go to bed early (around 10). My alarm went off at 4 and I dragged myself out of bed and got my “uniform” (khakis, with a tank top over which I could throw the t-shirt they promised to provide) on. Hey, if the runners don’t have to shower before they race, I’m not going to shower to cheer them on! Besides, I had showered on Sat at 3 PM so it wasn’t even 24 hours – this wasn’t showering camp.

I didn’t leave my apartment until 4:25. Panicking about being late and having my volunteering not count, I opted to take a cab to NYRR instead of walk (it’s about a mile). I got there at 4:35, and found a line of volunteers standing outside – they weren’t even letting volunteers inside! At 4:45 they let us in to get our t-shirts and bag lunches, and disorganizedly sent us out to find our course marshal captains. I was told to go to the start, but upon arrival, a captain rudely told me that since I wasn’t a start marshal, I didn’t belong there. Providing no further instructions on where to go, I wandered around to the different groups assembling, and found mine on the second try. For clarifications sake, it wasn’t that I hadn’t paid attention; everyone was wandering around in the same manner, and a lot of the captains were even trying to steal volunteers because they thought their areas wouldn’t have enough!

Around 5:15, our captain started explaining our job. Our main role was to watch for sick/injured runners and then call a series of emergency numbers if necessary. The woman next to me didn’t have a cell phone with her, and they told her that she would be staffed with another volunteer who DID have one, thereby negating most of the point of having her volunteer. It seems like NYRR could have instructed volunteers to please bring their phones! I guess it’s assumed in this day and age, and I certainly never go anywhere without mine, but when people are running a lot don’t bring phones, so I could maybe see someone just getting in the habit of not bringing it to races.

The explanation only took about 10 minutes, and we spent the next 20 minutes standing around in our ponchos, trying to stay dry and also trying not to get struck by lightning. That’s right, it was thunderstorming, and the lightning was pretty bright – a lot of people were getting freaked out, and our captain warned us not to stand under a tree. Good thing we were staffed in Central Park! I wondered what it would take for NYRR to cancel the race, as it did seem kind of dangerous, but this was such a big deal event that I figured it would probably take a lot. I also wondered if I’d still get volunteer credit if they cancelled it and I got to go home and go back to bed 🙂

Finally at 5:45, we headed off to our posts. We walked as a group, and when we hit the mile 1 / 7 mark (at 65th on the East side) and our captain asked for a volunteer there, I was quick to say “I’ll do it.” I was excited to not only be at a mile marker, but also to be at a part of the course where the runners would go by twice! I was cautioned to make sure the back of the pack runners/walkers stayed to the right so that the elites could pass. The next hour was spent huddled under my poncho on a park bench, eating an apple, listening to my iPod, hoping the rain would stop, and hoping that I wouldn’t get struck by lightning and end up with an iPod-wire-shaped burn on my body.

Around 6:20, my prayers were answered – the storm stopped! I cautiously removed my poncho and then headed back across the road to my station. Spectators were starting to assemble, and a lot of them had questions for me, mainly surrounding where we were and what the course was like. NYRR had provided me with a course map, but unfortunately it only showed the park – nothing from mile 8. I tried to advise people as best as I could about which subway to take to get to the finish.

Finally, at 6:45 (thank you Garmin – at least your watch function is good!) I knew that the wheelchairs had started. Our captain had made a big point about this early start and that we had to have the race cleared because they would go so fast they would mow anyone down in their path. It turned out to be just two wheelchairs, hardly the pack I was expecting, and while they were certainly faster than most of the runners, they weren’t speeding by or anything. Bit of a letdown.

The good news was, it was only a ten minute wait until I knew the actual race would be starting, and then a five minute wait from then for the elites to come through! I got some videos of the frontrunners the men’s lead pack:

I also tried to snap as many shots as possible of the elites who weren’t quite in the lead packs. There are a lot, so I created a cool little album on Picasa that you can click through to see them all.

Nike NYC Half Marathon

Confident that I had gotten a shot of the winners, I then put my camera away and began cheering duty. At running camp, there was a joke about how this one guy said “good job, guys” over and over during our runs… there was even a video montage with the line constantly being repeated, which made for a good laugh for the rest of us. However, I found myself sucked into that trap with, “great work, everyone!” (Didn’t even need a thesaurus to come up with that one). I realized I was saying it over and over and that I should probably use some new lines, and on occasion I would throw in a “you all look fantastic” or something, but I was surprised to see how easily my mouth gravitated toward “great work everyone!”

Another big surprise: seeing someone I knew about 10 years ago and haven’t seen since! Molly was up with the 7:45 min milers, and I was totally shocked to see her, because I had no idea she was a) in the city b) a runner. I cheered for her both times she went by, so hopefully we’ll get back in touch. I also cheered for the runner guy that I met at the Brooklyn Half, but that wasn’t as much of a surprise because I knew he’d be there.

I was concerned about the back-of-the-packers, as we had been warned that the elites would probably start coming by before the last of the runners had gotten past the 1 mile mark, and that we would need to keep all the runners to the right side of the road so that the elites could pass. The motorcycles that preceded the leaders came by when there were still a TON of runners on the road, so I was running around screaming like a shrew “runners stay to the right! Stay to the right!” and throwing my arms out and trying to get them to go to the right of me. Everyone was giving me dirty looks, and I felt terrible, but it was my job to make sure that the elites could get through! Little did I know that the elites were actually WAY back… I don’t know why they sent the lead motorcycles so early! All the runners had cleared out by the time the elites circled back through, and I was even able to take some more video footage of both the male and the female leaders.

The second time through the rest of the pack wasn’t quite as fun as the first, but it was nice to be able to cheer for the runners and be able to say something encouraging like “you’re more than halfway done!” rather than “um… good job in the first mile?” Once the walkers started coming through, I really got into the encouragement, pointing out “I’m at the top of this hill! Just get to me and then it’s downhill to the water stop!” A lot of people smiled when I said that, but I have to say, I was kind of surprised how few runners bothered to thank me. It wasn’t that I expected a thank you, but I try to say thank you to as many volunteers as possible when I’m running, and I thought that was just something everyone (with the exception of the elites, maybe) did. I got six thank yous the entire time! That really surprised me.

I had been told that I could leave at about 8:45, or whenever the majority of the pack had gone by. I stayed a bit longer, because I didn’t want the back of the pack walkers to think I had completely abandoned them. One female Flyer came by and said she was giving up – had some kind of injury (not from the race) and just wasn’t going to be able to make it through the day. I gave her my water bottle and wished her luck – I was sorry that she had to get a DNF. To make sure that wouldn’t happen to another person, I found a woman who was walking up the hill about 200 feet behind the “official last finishers” (two people who were walking at the cutoff pace), and decided to walk with her to the park exit, where I needed to go to check out. She told me that she used to be a runner but hadn’t run in years, and she really hadn’ ttrained enough for it. She was going to give up once she hit the exit to the park. I was sorry to hear that, and while we walked, I tried to convince her to keep going, but didn’t want to push it too hard.

All in all, it was a really cool experience to see the runners from the front to the back of the pack! I’d definitely recommend volunteering for those of you who haven’t tried it – gives you some neat perspective on the people with whom you’re out there on the course 🙂

Now, just two more races to run and I’m guaranteed for the 2009 NYC Marathon!!!


11 thoughts on “Spectator’s Report: Nike NYC Half Marathon”

  1. Nice spectator report Laura! I’m jealous you got your volunteer requirement done with already. I still haven’t done mine yet so I’ll have to do one of the two races during the winter. How’s your knee?
    I’ll be at the Queens and Staten Island Half too so look for me!

  2. Sometimes I wonder about the thank-you’s, too. I try to say thanks but then sometimes get in such a zone that I’m not even hearing people anymore and only remember to thank the people that hand me water. I also wonder if it’s different in the south. I think sometimes it gets old to hear thank you as a volunteer, haha.

  3. good job getting your “plus 1” in 🙂 and thanks for helping out a fellow teammate (wonder who it was…)

    as for saying “thank you” to the volunteers during the race…i can understand, if someone is in the racing “zone” and working hard, they may not think-or be able to-say anything…i do think at the end of the day, it’s all appreciated…even if they don’t say it 🙂

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