Over the weekend, I volunteered at my first race. I have participated in 27 races, yet this was the first where I stepped to the other side and facilitated the runners.
At 38 weeks pregnant, that was really the only option.
Under normal circumstances, I would have just declined the race. The point for me is to run it. However, this particular race had ulterior motivations.
Ever since I returned from my short civilian deployment to Iraq in 2009, I have donated and supported in small ways here and there. Once I started running, I made it a goal to run a race that would benefit a charity like Wounded Warrior Project. I made several attempts at this goal, yet they all failed. So when the Wounded Warrior 8K came through, I resolved to participate–running or not.
It was definitely strange to be on the other side. I have been to my share of races and am familiar with all involved from the registration tent to the water station. However, I have never unloaded the truck with the bagels for the finish line or set up the cones marking the course. It changed the experience, the way working at a place always does.
Admittedly, I was envious of the runners the whole time. I caught myself peeking at their shirts and packets, evaluating the grade of the course and temperature of the morning, gauging where I would have fallen in the (back of) the pack. My body, my muscle memory wanted to be running the course instead of directing it, hearing the cheers instead of calling them out.
Yet if I couldn’t do what I wanted, it felt good to still be involved, still be part of it. I channeled my own memories of running. As the red-faced, panting runners came across the bridge into the final stretch, I yelled out phrases I loved to hear:
“Straight down the hill!”
“You can do it!”
I stood out there until the last family made their way toward the finish line; then I (very awkwardly) bent down to collect discarded water cups. And I was happy.
I paid dearly for standing for four hours while so pregnant. My hips and back were a mess for the rest of the day, but it was worth it. I was exhausted and inappropriately sore, but I had done something more than donate money.
I don’t think I would ever volunteer for just any run, just to be part of it. For me, it will always be cause specific. I may run for gimmicks, but I volunteer and fundraise for actual causes.