If you’ve never worked or volunteered for a race, it is easy to be unaware of how many jobs there are to be done to pull off an event successfully. I am a frequent presence at Metro Run & Walk events (either at our own races, or the races we help manage), and I have done many of these jobs. Walking the course early in the morning to get the cones out, setting up packet pick up, setting up (and cooking) food, driving volunteers out to the course, being a monitor on course, working a water stop – there are LOTS of things to be done at a race. My absolute FAVORITE job, however, is sweeping.
Part of putting on a great event, is making sure everyone from the event is accounted for and finished before you start tearing down the finish line. You want to make sure you aren’t keeping your course volunteers out for longer than need be, and you want to make sure no one is lost or injured along the way. In major races (and long races) typically the sweeper has a fun name and a big machine – typically a bus. I’ve heard it called the sag wagon as well as the sweeper bus. At our events, however, you get someone like me!
On Sunday we hosted our annual Mother’s Day 5k/10k. My daughter and I were there at 7am, bright eyed and bushy tailed to help get tables and food set up. Then we made sure everyone was checked in and had their bibs. Exactly five minutes after the race began, I head out on the trail, leaving my own girl child to help make parfaits and hand out roses to the finishers.
Race sweeping means enjoying the course. It is not a race, it is an experience. I trotted out along the path, checking in with runners along the way in order to find the end of the 10k racers. I was impressed when I made it to the 5k turn around without encountering a single 10k runners. Our 10k runners were clearly working it!!
The weather was lovely, and the course took me out farther on the path than I had been before. When I found the last of our 10k runners I slowed down and took in the scenery. I stopped to take pictures, and when I started to see some 10k folks coming back down our out and back course, cheered them on. I would slow my pace down to a trot, occasionally just talking a brisk walk until the runners were out of sight, and then pick the pace back up to make sure everyone found their way to the turn around, where I would start releasing the staff working at water stops.
The closer I made it to the turn around, the more I started to enjoy the passing runners. People who were working hard, but had so many encouraging things to say to me! They kept telling me how close I was, and that I was doing great. I would smile and say thanks, and keep on in my direction. I got nice and muddy, and then ran my way back in with our last few finishers.
Very often I go to races in beautiful places and then ignore them. I look more at my garmin than at the woods around me. Deciding to be last – to make sure everyone else is having their race – offers an awesome opportunity to really take in the course, be inspired by the work and effort of others, and still get some totally decent exercise!!
If you’ve never volunteered a race, I strongly recommend it. Many big races offer free bibs or guaranteed entry to their races in future years in exchange for volunteering, and I think when you actually come to see how much work goes into an event so you can have your race, it will make you appreciate it all the more.