This weekend I volunteered at the Biggest Loser Half Marathon with my gym. I volunteered last year at this race on my own during packet pick-up and it such an awful first experience that I vowed to never do it again at a race held by this group. This year’s experience was a bit better, but mostly since I didn’t have to deal with any race organizers. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t still chaotic.
Members of the gym have volunteered for a couple races so far (Buffalo Half Marathon and Ironman Lake Placid) and we hoped to have a water stop like we did during the Buffalo Half, but ended up being placed on traffic control. I wasn’t crazy about it, but keeping cars from turning into runners is just as important, if not more important, than the water stops. They gave us such a large section of road that we had just enough people to cover the streets. Unfortunately that meant we were manning our stations solo.
The course was mostly an out and back down one of the main roads in Buffalo. The road is four lanes (two each way) and traffic was allowed only northbound as the runners were traveling in the southbound lane. While this is a main road, there are three others that run both north and southbound, and an additional one way that runs northbound — all parallel to each other. If you get anything out of that, understand that there are at least three other ways to get to your destination of this road is blocked in one direction. But of course, people panic and become irate when their plans need to be adjusted.
I was stationed at the intersection near mile 4.5 and mile 10. I loved being able to see everyone twice, especially some people still on their way out as the leaders were on their way back. Unfortunately for a race like this where there’s a lot of beginners and walkers — it makes holding the course open really difficult. We had the traffic closed for just over 3 hours and heard that people were being turned around because they were taking too long. Honestly, I don’t know what they expected during a half marathon that is geared towards beginners and they have a wave start. I think it took a good 90 minutes before the last walkers came through my station at mile 4.5.
The beginning of volunteering wasn’t too bad. Most people saw the runners coming through and recognized quickly they weren’t getting by. I just held my sign up, people started turning around and quickly everyone else followed. The problems started when it was nearing 10am and church was starting. It’s ironic. The people who gave me the hardest time — yelled, swore, and actually gassed their car towards me — were the ones who asked me, “… but how am I supposed to get to church?” Yeah, you can treat everyone like dirt but it’s okay because you’re going to church. Sorry, I don’t think that’s how this works.
After that, things went south fast. One thing I learned was that everyone thinks their time is more important than anything else. In response to “I can’t let you turn here,” I had two people tell me “You don’t have to let me, I’m going to do it anyways.” From there, my options were to move out of the way or get hit. I stayed my ground the first time to an older gentleman (probably my grandparent’s age) and he actually nudged me with his car. I yelled, slammed my hands on his hood, and said I was grabbing his plate number. I have it and I wish I had the guts to file a claim against his insurance out of spite. Another favorite quote was from another older lady walking down the street, “Is this shut off all day? Great. I love being landlocked.” Ma’am, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.
Traffic control is… something I would not like to do again. One spectator walked by and said, “It’s a thankless job!” That’s an understatement. A runner that comes into our gym actually said he heard a cop say that out of his 28 years of law enforcement, drivers today were some of the worst. I guess anytime you volunteer, there’s going to be unhappy people. At packet pick-up I dealt with people’s bibs missing and getting yelled at for the long waits in line. At water stops, I hear runners complain about the flavor of Gatorade. As traffic control, you just get the rest of the city.
So if you don’t already, remember to thank your volunteers!