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Giving Back To Running

August 10, 2011

At every race we see them.  People in flouro vests, pointing the way, handing out drinks, cheering us on, setting up, clearing up, handing out medals, etc.  We just expect that they will be there. When the race is over we leave and sometimes criticize aspects of the race.  We often never consider what has had to happen in order for us to participate.  We often never stop to consider just how much that guy in the flouro vest has sacrificed for us.  Here’s the story of one marshall’s day last Sunday at the Brisbane Marathon Festival:

I get a lot out of running and I make a point every year of giving something back to the running community in the best way I can. Over the last couple of years I have been a key marshal at this event and I thought I would document my weekend as an unpaid volunteer so you guys know what goes on behind the scene. My area was along the Kangaroo Point cliffs.

Edit :- there where so many stories, this blew out to many pages, this is now an abridged version.

Saturday – 7.30 am start to meet up with team to collect hire vehicles. I am a one car family and the youngest has football that morning so I have to cycle in to the meeting point. I am a regular at Saturday morning football so need to rearrange that as well. Get to the hire place and there are some issues, I forgot my license (don’t really think about it when you jump on the bike) and one of the other guys is on P’s. So we take some time sorting all that out. Get back and load 5 vans full of stuff, the start finish area is a whole other set of officials so there is a great deal of activity going on. For me that means moving something like 50 portable tables, thousands of signs and so many traffic cones I lost count. Had a quick meeting around final details and done. I then had to go to my section and go over it again to find the km markers (the course marker had been up all Friday night marking them out). Got home at 3 pm.

Sunday – Alarm goes off at 2.00am. It would be such a luxury to set up the night or day before but sadly we are not allowed. Jump in the hire van and head to my section. Arrive at about 2.30am and start to put out the km markers. 2.30am along the Kangaroo Point cliffs armed only with plastic km markers is a scary place. Got them all out to discover I was missing two, so that is the first issue to sort this morning. Head back and start setting up the water station. This upset the people illegally sleeping in their Hi Ace van in the car park, first abuse for the morning but they then left in a cloud of fist and finger waving. This obviously attracted the attention of some drunks at the top of the cliffs who thought it would be fun to then throw beer bottles at me. So I took shelter under the drink station tables. After about 14 projectiles of beer bottles I figured they must be running out of ammo, two more and they were out. So I now I have to clean up the broken glass as I know some people will be running bare feet and I will have 20 screaming girls as volunteers in a couple of hours. It’s now approaching 3.30 am. Start getting the traffic cones and signs to direct runners out. This takes close to an hour mainly because I am not allowed to drive the van past the car park so they all have to be either walked out or somehow balanced on my bike. I then get my second abuse of the day when I plead with a driver not to park where runners are going to be but as the road is not closed yet I have no more power than to plead with the driver. Sadly my pleads are ignored and I know this is going to result into further narrowing of the course. I then go back and get the water station all set. Quick cycle around to check the course and get to where the 41km marker is and the sign is gone; I know I put it out. Look left towards the river and there it is in the bloody river, obviously thrown out there by some drunks. It’s a little bit out so I have to wait as the tide pushes it back to shore, then I climb down a disgusting bank and wade in to get the rotten thing. Then put it back in position, so now I am wet as well. Sort out the missing markers and we are looking good.

It’s now 5.00am so it’s time to go find my marshals. Head down to the meeting point, I need 8 marshals for my section, 4 show up. Not as bad as another section who needed 6 and 1 showed up and that was his wife’s friend!!. So I brief those guys and get them in position. It’s now pretty close to 6am. I then have to madly rearrange signs to make up for places I don’t have marshals. It’s now gone 6am the race has started and I head to the water station to find no one is there…. Aarrgh. Madly phone around, on the two way to find they are a bit lost, less than an hour before the leader comes through and no water station, as a contingency while trying to find the water station guys I start madly fitting hoses and filling cups just in case. 6.30am the water station guys find me, so I give them a quick brief on what to do and start helping them out. 6.45 15 minutes before the leader I jump on the bike for a final check, it really is the best I can do with what I have.

Race – 7.10am the police bike appears at the front, I cycle ahead of it just to tell the marshals and the drink station to be ready. All goes well, they find their way and the water stop is functioning.

7.30am – dam I haven’t eaten or drunk a thing since 9.00pm last night, feeling light headed I get to the van and get a chicken sandwich down as the section is running smoothly.

7.40am – quick cycle round to check on things but I have an area of the course where it is very narrow and two way traffic and now the bulk of the field is now coming through runners are getting in each others way, spend the next 30 minutes yelling at runners to keep right, which is duly ignored by most with iPods resulting in some very near misses. If only that marshal had shown up.

8.10am – Bigger issue is it’s a nice day, hundreds of people are now trying to use the path for walking, kids birthdays, rock climbing and of course, cycling. It’s narrow anyway and trying to negotiate with these people to maybe consider runners rather than walk 8 abreast is tough. I reckon UN peace negotiations are easier. Lost count of the abuse by now.

8.30am – Head back to the water stop, there wasn’t time to explain to the water station guys about the second lap being different and they need to now mix Endura, a bit tricky as first I had to explain what Endura was let alone how strong to mix it. So that is done leaders are coming back through and while first , second and third have their own bikes clearing the way there is nothing for the lead female and the path in my area are now packed with public. I decide to lead her through my section trying the best I can to clear a path.

9.15am – Still continuing with people negotiation to maybe consider the runners coming through, I learned so many skills that morning. Work politics is a piece of cake

9.30am – The 10km , the paths are now packed with the public, oh and there is a vintage car display at the maritime museum so I have to get cars through the runners and the public to get in there but the 10km has my full attention, the busiest race with the fastest runners of the day. They are coming down a public footpath and then turning around at my spot about 3 km into the race. I am pretty lucky as I have some great help and we redeploy some marshals to get the job done. 5 minutes before they are due I start pleading with the public heading to the goodwill bridge that they will soon be faced with about 1000 people running flat out towards then and can they kindly use a different route or wait 10 minutes and enjoy the event. Obviously my negotiation skills need work as a good 75% of them just seemed to ignore me. The runners start coming , some more near misses and despite the use of 100 traffic cones runners still think the course goes a different way to the way we would like them to go. Anyway more yelling and about 15 minutes latter things are going well.

10.00am – My marshals inform me that they have music rehearsals and need to leave in 30 minutes. Luckily it’s the second lap for most people so we fix up some signs and they are on their way.

11.00am – The water station guys have to go, so for the next hour the water station becomes manned by a single guy, me.

11.30am – The part road we did manage to close is now being reopened, so I have to get all the cones and markers off the road, more importantly where the drink station is located is a very popular spot for parking so I have to get that cleaned up, remember we are down to one worker, me, who is also manning the drink station!!

12.00pm – Cut off time, some radio chat trying to locate the last competitor who we learn is at the 31km mark. We find him and a few others and let them know that they are free to finish but must use the paths instead of the roads. Leave some drinks out and start packing up.

12.00pm to 2.00pm – pack up, All the volunteers are gone, and if you think it was difficult running through my section try picking up cones, signs and markers with the lunch time crowd. Getting pretty tired by now. Pack the water station up and do a quick check to see if I have everything, hmm the 41 km marker is missing, go look for it and….. yep it’s in the bloody river again, fish it out. Pick up the remaining rubbish and it was like we were never there.

2.00pm – 3.00pm get back and unload the 5 vans, We then have to get them back to the hire company.

3.00pm – Still lots more to be done but I have had it, with a headache and tired muscles I get on the bike and head for home. 4.00pm arrive home but because I haven’t seen the family for most of the weekend the 4yo is keen to play football and tennis, so do that.

Sometime Sunday night – collapse with exhaustion.

This is just one tale, there are many with similar story….We can only hope you got some enjoyment from the run.

This story was posted by ‘Redclubbie’ in an online forum on http://www.coolrunning.com.au about the Brisbane Marathon.  You can find it here.  I recommend joining coolrunning.com.au (it’s free!) and becoming part of an extended online network of runners.  You can find out lots before each race, meet other coolrunners on the day and discuss the race afterwards.  You can get advice, encouragement and inspiration from other runners.

Let this story serve as a reminder of the kindness of others, and an inspiration to give back to running ourselves and helping whenever we can.

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