I slammed on the snooze button. It’s two-thirty in the morning. Why did I have to up so early on a Sunday? It was race day. The Chicago Marathon began in five hours. I thought I would never have to wake up unusually early for a race again but there I was peeling myself off of my bed. So many volunteers make large events like the Chicago Marathon happen. Volunteering was a way for me to give back and give forward to the running community. Last year I was a co-key volunteer with my friend VM to work the late finish line. This year, I woke up early to volunteer at the start corral.
When I arrived at the volunteer compound, they assigned me to the Jackson crosswalk. Runners started trickling in at around 5:30a. The morning remained peaceful. The push rim wheelchair athletes rolled by us with their race chairs in tow. The sun finally woke up and a flurry of people started coming in. We (the volunteers) had to answer a variety of questions as best as we can. The most frequently asked question was, “Where is the bathroom?”
One thing I learned that morning was that fast runners are just like the rest of us. A few marathoners in the American Development corral (AKA- the wicked fast corral that isn’t quite the elite professional corral) were coming in within minutes of the walkway and corrals. I would have thought they’d get there early to warm up, mentally prep, and make sure everything is order. Nope. Like many of us, they came in at the last minute. They raced to the gates to get to the race so they can get into their corrals to start the race.
We finally closed the crosswalk. The first wave marched towards the starting line. We started preparing for the second wave to start the Chicago Marathon. After moving the barriers and the discarded clothing, the crosswalk volunteers helped the Corral F volunteers. I jumped behind the Corral F rope to lead the second wave out. To my left was a fellow volunteer. To might right was a marathon that had a goal to run ten marathons in ten years. It’s an admirable goal and he was excited to complete it. As we slowly approached the starting line, I could feel the energy in the air behind me. We paused halfway down our walk. The wait felt like forever, the gentleman next to me decided it was time to shed his warm layers. I helped him remove his pants caught on his shoe. Once it was removed, I freed the pavement of his grey warmup pants and tossed it aside. I aimed to have it drape over the corral fence. I tossed and scored. I got cheers from runners around me. Remember, I’m a pro at the toss. I’ve participated in five Chicago Marathons. I’ve seen people do this before.
At the starting line, we pulled the rope in front of wave 2. The volunteers were instructed to enter a boxed off area for us to watch the second (and best!) wave start the race. The race officials released the runners. We gave them high fives, side fives, wished them good luck, and told them to run happy. Runners walked past us adjusting their gear. They checked and prepared their fitness monitors. Many of them let us know their appreciation by saying “Thank you volunteers! Thank you!” as they headed to the starting line. Hearing their appreciation and seeing their smiling faces reminded me why waking up at 2:30 in the morning was worth it.
It still felt weird being on the other side of the fence. I volunteered last year as the co-key volunteer at the late finish line. However, this year was different. I stood in front of the starting line. I witnessed the nervousness and excitement on the faces and body language of each runner next to me. I wanted to run with them. I was there to cheer them on.
The start corral emptied out. We tore down the starting line and prepared to give it back to the city of Chicago. We pulled down signs. We tore off the fabric fencing attached to the barriers. It was efficiently loaded onto trucks. The white barriers were pushed into groups for easy collection. Volunteers cleaned up the aftermath of a marathon start. Volunteers collected discarded clothing so it can be donated. We piled full garbage bags neatly into bags for garbage trucks to pick up.
During the start, I saw DS walk to the starting line. I called his name but he was so focused. I tapped his arm as he walked by. He looked back and I gave him the thumbs up. I was so happy to see him ready to kick some asphalt. Now that the corrals were cleared, it’s time for me to find Chris and DC.
Do I find Chris and DC during the race? Do I fall asleep under a tree and miss the entire marathon? Come back on Thursday to find out!