Where's the Start Line and Other Questions You Get as a Marathon Volunteer

Last weekend I gave back to the running community by volunteering at a marathon up in Wisconsin. While I certainly have plenty of  race volunteering experience this was the first time I'd worked a marathon and half marathon packet pickup and then at the start/finish line for a 3700 person race. In fact, I actually worked at the Information Booth at the race. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

 Tuxedo shirts for the volunteers

 My awesome volunteer t-shirt

Starting at 8:30 AM on Friday morning we began setting up the expo area, laying out bibs, and (my job) organizing the t-shirt pickup station.

Marathon race shirts

Then, for the next 11 hours or so I handed out t-shirts. Following are the questions people asked me:

Q.  Can I get a different shirt size?

A. Yes, you may stop by the Information Booth on race day to exchange your shirt size.

Q. Where is the start line?

A. [show them the map and point out where they are currently standing in relation to the start line]

Q. Where do I park?

A. [show them the parking map]

Q. What time should I get here?

A. The race starts at 7:00 AM. Be here by 6:15 AM and definitely no later than 6:30 AM.

Q. What's the best way to get here from [insert city name]?

A. Good question. I don't live here! But from previous experience with running this race I can tell you to avoid Highway 50.

Q. What's the half marathon?

A. Half the distance of the full marathon. So, 13.1 miles.

Q. What if I want to run the full marathon?

A. Which race are you registered for? [Note: this person then said "I don't know."]

Probably over 1,000 people and 1,000 peanut M&Ms later, we were done for the day. Pack up the shirts, load up the cars, and take a few silly pictures and it was time for bed.


On race day our alarms went off at 3:45 AM and after breakfasts of bagels and bananas I drove my car full of stuff to the start line, onto the sidewalk, over the grass, and to home base for the day: the information tent.

Which I failed to get a picture of.

However, I did get a picture of the sun rising over Lake Michigan.

Sun rising over Lake Michigan

Race day brings new questions, new situations, and new sights. Here were some of my favorites.

"I left my race bib at home!"

[Don't worry, Lauren, it wasn't just you. And, yes, I was able to take care of everyone and get them new race bibs.]

"Where's gear check?"

[Point to the next tent over with the "Gear Check" banner]

"All the portapotties I checked were out of toilet paper! Aren't you going to call someone??"

[Considering the race ends in an hour and I'm pretty sure you didn't check all approximately 75 portapotties, no. Turns out there were plenty of portapotties with toilet paper. I know because I used one shortly after this exchange.]

Speaking of portapotties, can we just ponder for a moment the fact that there was one of those mylar space blankets they hand out post-race stuffed into the, uh, hole in the john? Just think about what had to transpire to make that happen. And then go wash your hands a million times. Blech.

Thankfully in between giving out information I was able to wander to the finish line to see my best friend Kim finish the half marathon with a PR and another friend finish third woman overall in the half marathon. I was also able to catch up with my other dozens of friends running this race after they finished and congratulate all of them on a great race.

Friday and Saturday were two VERY long days. But I wouldn't trade them for the world. Huge thanks to Bethany for offering me the opportunity to participate.

Race volunteering is a lot of hard work but it's also a lot of fun and very rewarding. If you are a runner or love a runner, you should take the time to volunteer. You'll feel awesome and, trust me, it will make you a better race participant in the future.

Filed under: Running

Tags: races, volunteering

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    Erin Vandenberg

    I'm a 30-something who decided to get off the elliptical and expand my fitness horizons. Since moving to Chicago in 2008 I've run marathons and biked miles. I've done group fitness classes and lifted weights on my own. And now I want to share my fitness finds with you!

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