Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Chicago Marathon: Volunteer and Spectator Edition

Last year I had the great experience of running through the streets of Chicago during the Chicago Marathon.  It was something I wanted to do for a very long time, and was so happy and proud when I crossed that finish line.  Back in February, when registration for Chicago opens, I decided not to run it. At that time, I was training for the Illinois Marathon and hoped to BQ there.  I've wanted to volunteer at a big race for the past year, so I decided it would make the most sense to do it at Chicago.

My alarm clock went off at the ungodly hour of 2:35 AM so my friend and I could leave at 3:00 and make it into the city by 3:30, when the key volunteers (us) had to be there.  Surprisingly, I actually felt awake at that hour...without coffee.  We made the quick, easy drive and got to work unpacking the truck, and manning the volunteer check-in station, handing out the jackets and hats and giving people their official volunteer tag.  I can't tell you how many times I said, "Would you like to hand out water or Gatorade?" before 7 AM.  We had 300 people at our aid station (#2), which was located at the 5k.

After a brief discussion, the race started and all the wheelchair racers went by.  I never realized how many different types of wheel chairs there are for racing until today.  Some of the guys were flying.  I also noticed that there were quite a few people on road bikes riding along the route.  I'm not exactly sure what their job is, but I want it next year.  It would be awesome to ride my bike through the marathon course, next to the wheel chair participants and ahead of the other runners.  Do you know how people get that job?

Before I knew it, the elites came sprinting through the water stop.  It was interesting to see who was in the lead pack, which people were trying to keep up with the elites but just couldn't, and then look at their faces.  A face speaks more than anything.  Some were calm and relaxed, while others looked like they were in great distress already at mile 3.

After the elites passed, the elite development wave came by, followed by tons and tons and tons of runners.  It was neat to hand out water to a variety of runners - some thankful, others upset about the quantity of water in the cup (too much or too little), some disgruntled that they missed the Gatorade and we only had water, but a lot purely happy at that point in the race.  I passed out water for a long time and shouted encouragement to the runners while doing so.  I saw a few of my running club teammates, one of whom stopped to talk for a brief moment and we took a picture together.  The energy and excitement of the runners made me wish I was running.  The weather was absolutely perfect - cool and cloudy, not a drop of rain or a sign of wind.

When the last runner finally passed, we hopped on the red line and made our way to mile 21 to cheer.  We were standing on the street, just as the runners were going up a slight incline.  The first person we saw was actually a guy I run track with, who was doing great.  After copious amounts of cheering for him, we crossed the street and were there for the next few hours.  We saw more teammates, and cheered as much as we could.  I don't think I've ever said the words "Good job" or "Keep going" more in my life.  At this point in the race, some runners looked great while others were hurting a great deal.  It broke my heart to see the look of pain across one of my friend's faces.  He had such high hopes to BQ, but it just wasn't his day.

After a few hours of cheering, I was exhausted.  I am so happy I got to experience a different side of the Chicago Marathon this year.  Will I run Chicago again?  I am not sure.  I could see myself doing it in a few years, but not in the near future.  For now, I'll just be a volunteer and cheerleader.


  1. Being a cheerleader is so much fun! And major props to you for volunteering! That is an ungodly hour ;) I wonder how you get the bike escort job. I bet you have to know the race director for that one! :)

  2. I looked for you, but aid stations are crazy! Thank you so much for being out there...I am amazed that people were cranky with you. I'm always so appreciative of all the hard work volunteers do.

    Not sure I'll ever run Chicago again, but i would LOVE to work it or play spectator :)