Saturday, April 2, 2011

Volunteering is hard work!

Today I had my first-ever race volunteer gig as run spotter for the Pawz Too Run 5K in Davidson. I figured it wouldn't be too tough a job since I live just 1.3 miles from the starting line. The race started at 8:00 a.m., and volunteers were expected to show up at 7:15. This was just enough time for the race director to explain the route and send us off to our stations. I would be handling the turnaround on Pine Road -- this was a pretty important spot, because if runners missed the turnaround, they could continue on for miles in the wrong direction.

I had run in from home, so I was wearing light running gear and was a bit worried about being cold, so at 7:30, when I was headed toward my station, I decided to grab a cup of coffee at Summit. Here's the race route:

As you can see, I was stationed about 1.7 miles from the start. I had to carry my coffee, a big "5K turnaround" sign, and a map of the course. As I strolled down South Street at 7:40, I realized that I probably wouldn't reach my station in time just by walking: If the frontrunners were running a sub-6-minute pace, they'd arrive at the turnaround around 8:10. Walking 3 miles per hour, I'd arrive at about 8:15! I needed to run. When I started to run, my coffee sloshed all over the place, so I had to stop every 50 meters or so to try to drink it down. On top of that, I was wearing an old (pre-30-pound-weight-loss) pair of sweats and they were starting to fall down -- and I didn't have a free hand to pull them up.

When I reached the 1-mile marker, I decided to ditch the coffee and run up Avinger carrying just the sign. I arrived at Pine road about 7:55 -- the race should be starting in just a few minutes. I told the spotters there what to expect, then turned down Pine and started to look for the turnaround. The race director had told me that it was marked in the road with "faint" spray paint, but also gave me a slip of paper on which he had scrawled the address of the house next to the turnaround. Did I still have the slip of paper? What was that address? I think it was 610 Pine Road. I passed what looked like a turnaround spot at around 430. Could that be it? I kept running down Pine. The street petered out before the address numbers reached 600, and I didn't see any markers. Maybe that earlier marker was the real spot...

I sprinted back up the road before realizing that I should probably check my pockets for that slip of paper. As I arrived back at the first turnaround, around 8:03, I finally found the address -- it was 560, not 610! I ran back down the road and finally found the very faintly painted turnaround marker in the street at about 8:08 a.m. Then I hiked my pants up, turned around and started looking for runners. Fortunately, no one had reached Pine Road yet.

At about 8:15, I began to worry. Shouldn't the leaders be here by now? Since the turnaround was before the 2-mile marker, that would be worse than a 7:30 pace. Surely someone would be faster than that. Had one of the spotters pointed the runners the wrong way? Of course, it was always possible that the race had started late. After a couple more tense moments, I finally saw the first runner charging towards me down Pine Road.

Now, for the next awkward moment: There was no physical turnaround marker. Most races I've been in use cones or some other physical marker to mark the course. This race had none, other than the mile markers. I decided that I'd have to serve as the turnaround marker. I yelled to the runner, who I now recognized as Bobby Aswell, a DARTer who I've interacted with on Facebook but never met in person, telling him to run around me and head back into town. He seemed a little confused but figured it out fairly quickly.

Next came Todd Hartung, another DARTer and a good friend of mine who'll be running with me in Big Sur. He was looking strong for second place (he did finish in second, with a 19:30 PR). Eventually I saw several more DARTers and others I recognized, including Mark Ippolito, who had just edged me out in the UNCC Homecoming 5K. Then, after the main pack of runners passed, I started to wonder how long I'd need to stay. Perhaps some walkers would be straggling in. Sure enough, I saw two groups of walkers make their way down Pine Road. Finally, about 35 minutes after the start, I was convinced that the last runner had passed. She had a determined, slow, steady jog, but this was clearly a difficult run for her. As she made her way back up Pine Road and the finish, I saw DARTer Tim Gruber and his Cannon School cross-country teammate Stephanie Schauder coming down the road on their cool down run. They turned around when they met up with this final runner, and accompanied her back into town, chatting with her and offering words of encouragement.

I decided to jog along the course back into town to see who had won. A glance at the leaderboard confirmed that Bobby had won and Todd was second. I ran into Bobby and decided to introduce myself. Then I found Todd and congratulated him on his PR. Finally I jogged back home. Overall I ran about 6 miles in the course of not running this race. I even got some speed work in! Unfortunately, I didn't carry my Garmin along, so there's no record of my mad dash as I searched for the turnaround marker.

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