Last weekend I was given an opportunity to WORK at the Chicago Marathon. When I knew I wouldn’t be running this year I had reached out to a friend who works full-time with the race to see if there was any way I could help. I had envisioned filling some water or Gatorade cups, perhaps hanging medals around finishers necks as they celebrate their own personal win. While I knew it may be tough to just be standing there watching others enjoy one of my favorite moments I also knew I wanted to give it a shot being on the other side of the “magic”. But instead of a simple volunteer chore my buddy scored me a position in the Forward Command tent as a liaison to the Charity Villages throughout the day of the race, along with helping the charities load in & out of their tents. Work hours started about 6AM Saturday, then 2AM start on Sunday. I don’t drink coffee, so can you say “5 Hour Energy Shots”?
For those who aren’t familiar – many races have “charity runners” who are raising funds for various causes. If a charity is a partner with a race such as the Chicago Marathon, they will have a special tent offering their fundraisers extra amenities like snacks, changing areas & gear check. One even went as far as to provide a “Taste of Chicago” spread complete with a hot dog cart and deep dish pizza.
My job basically meant I’d be listening to a walkie-talkie channel of the charity group during race day & if there were any emergencies to handle I could relay information back & forth. I was warned that if everything went well (i.e. no tornadoes requiring an evacuation, etc) then the day might be kind of boring. I had my fingers crossed for a “boring” day, and while it was a bit, I still found it fascinating to be watching how a show like that runs. If you ever get a chance to watch how a 37,000 participant race is produced, go for it. There is constant communication coming in from the course regarding racers pace, course & weather conditions, and crowd & traffic control. At no point throughout the day did the fact that there were tens of thousands of people swarming around the city and throughout Grant Park in the name of their event seem to faze anyone, and they all seemed prepared for whatever the day threw down. It’s a remarkable organization.
The only thing that drove my nuts throughout the day was my voracious appetite. It’s amazing how sitting on your ass for much of the day can make you so hungry (I guess lack of sleep was a factor). Let me tell you, when a COLD bacon, egg & cheese on a cinnamon raisin bagel tastes GOOD, you know you’re hungry.
As my day was blessedly lacking of any major excitement to handle, I found myself watching the live web cam showing the finish line. Watching runners faces fill with looks of joy, relief & sometimes tears did make me want to be out there, not necessarily running but at least to high-five and congratulate them. On this race day, I was merely a little cog in the wheel of production. On this race day, it was about THEM.