Global Running Day: Finish Line Feelings

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.


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13 Responses to Global Running Day: Finish Line Feelings

  1. runeatralph says:

    I really hope that you’re healthy and back at it soon. I know it’s been such a long and frustrating struggle and you really deserve to be done with it. It’s so awesome that you’ve found joy and inspiration from other aspects of running. The examples that you give are great ones! 🙂

    • Amy Lauren says:

      The thing is, they’re not just examples. They’re people- they’re my friends. If they can come back, I can too.

      But honestly, I’ve stopped “wishing a for a speedy recovery” or ever making plans of when I’ll run or train again. When it’s been months of dull pain, you just take it day by day.

      It’s times like that night at Race the Landing that remind me that it’s not “If” I come back, but “when”.

  2. Angela says:

    Aww, what a great sentiment. I keep meaning to volunteer at a finish line some day but it never works out. :-/

    • Amy Lauren says:

      We have an abundance of local 5Ks here and they’re always in need. I’m volunteering at a race tonight and at one tomorrow night. A friend asked if I could help at one Saturday, but I need *some* time to myself, and I’d already committed to the other two.

  3. Virjinia says:

    Wow, this is so good! Hearing other people’s stories always ignites such a fire in me. I know that by surrounding yourself with these amazing people, you will become much stronger. When your body does heal, you will be a force to be reckoned with!

  4. Volunteering is work! But, quite rewarding. It gives one a fresh perspective…a torn hamstring just sounds so painful. But, I like how you see others’ stories and find the encouragement in the overcoming of trials! We all fight unique battles emotionally and physically. Doesn’t make any one more or less. But, it does offer hope when we share with each other. I think about how sad and frustrated I feel often…this baby has taken up my entire life and my coaching and running are way behind…as in my career isn’t really a career any more…but no matter how desperate I feel there are so many women who would trade career/running in a heart beat to hear a tiny heart beat.

    • Amy Lauren says:

      It’s really not painful. It’s kind of a dull ache and worse when I wake up in the morning. Of course, it is a “partial, low-grade” tear. I can’t imagine what those full tears/aversions are like and I hope I never have to find out.

      Everyone out there has a battle. I know there were more battles than that on the race course that night, and tonight, and every night- because most battles are things you can’t see.

  5. This was just beautiful, Amy. So many of the stories of the people you know and saw are touching and sad and hard and triumphant and had me with tears in my eyes! I am so glad you’ve found a way to give back within the running community!

    • Amy Lauren says:

      It is a community- and people have to be around, give back, show up, etc, to keep a community going. I feel like so many runners just look at things like times or distances, and it’s so much more than that. Don’t get me wrong- running your fastest 5K or longest run ever is pretty amazing, but it’s not everything.

  6. Elizabeth C. says:

    Beautiful post, Amy. You have such a wonderful outlook on running and life.

    • Amy Lauren says:

      I try. It’s often easier in a blog post that I can write along and along and edit, or let sit for awhile before posting, than it is in everyday life, though. We all have our share of struggles.

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