Volunteering at races changes your outlook on running.
In 2014, a foot injury took me out of running for over a month. I was registered for the Race the Landing 5K series, and since I couldn’t participate as a run, I participated by volunteering at the finish line.
I was hooked. Even when I recovered, I continued to volunteer at races. After all, races are held every weekend but no one could possibly stay healthy running them all. Some of us can’t even stay healthy to begin with…
When a runner gets injured, often the last thing she wants to do is stand on the sidelines and watch others do what she can’t. I’m not a fan of “spectating”, but as a volunteer, you work hard- and just like running (and life), you reap the benefits of hard work.
A few weeks ago, I showed up to volunteer for the summer’s first Race the Landing 5K. Months ago, I’d planned to run the whole series, but we all know what happens to the best laid plans. Bodies heal, but they don’t always heal according to our race schedules.
Around sixteen minutes into the 5K, our male winner came through the finish, and I got to work handing out water. When you run, your time is super important to you, but volunteers don’t know anyone’s time. I can look at my watch and have a rough estimate, but often race timing doesn’t start at exactly 7:00:00, and with a 5K, results matter down to the second. In other words, I can’t see the finish clock or what your time is- but I can see your facial expression and often, that tells the story of how your run went.
As a writer, I believe everyone has a story. As a prolific volunteer and member of the Charleston running community, I know many of those stories.
Looking around, I saw:
- A race director who survived a bike accident, recovered quicker because of her running, had the courage to run again (even running Boston) and now bravely cycles on the roads.
- An runner who is a lung transplant recipient, sponsors almost every local race and runs many of them, including the one in memory of the young man whose lungs he received.
- A runner whose life partner was killed in a tragic car accident in September. They were training for a marathon that November, and even though he had every excuse not to, he ran that marathon carrying her bib.
- A runner who lost over 100 pounds and now pushes his 2-year-old in a jogging stroller across finish lines. He once crossed those finish lines running with his son who passed away in 2013, and he now directs a race in memory of him.
- A runner who had pneumonia, was hospitalized for sepsis, and recovered to be one of the fastest grand masters runners in the state.
- A runner who later posted on Instagram that was her first 5K after losing a child two months ago, who started running again to cope with the grief.
- Several cancer survivors who have certainly spent more time in MRI machines than my quick 20-minute scan of my pelvis.
- Several heart attack and heart surgery survivors. Yes, this happens to healthy, active people too, so you need to be aware of the signs and symptoms.
I’m grateful for those who have overcame their struggles and share them publicly so that others- including myself- can learn from them. While my injury and mental battle are tough, all of these obstacles are much larger and much more life-changing than the low-grade (8mm), partially torn hamstring that keeps me from running.
At that finish line, I didn’t see runners doing something I can’t.
I saw my friends, my training partners- some of the most inspiring people I know- doing something I’ll do again.