Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Volunteering at the Boston Marathon

I was so excited for this day! I knew it would be full of new experiences and interesting people. Plus I was just so excited for Deb. She had worked so hard for this race.

It was another early morning for us. We had to get to "our" water stop before they closed the roads. We were stationed at Mile 13.2 in Wellesley. It was a beautiful little town. We had scoped it out the night before to make sure we knew where we were going. We arrived early enough to wander downtown for a coffee. By the time we returned the water stop organizers had arrived and other volunteers were filtering in. It was a little chilly, but I thought it was perfect running weather!

We were handed our jackets and hats. The jackets were made by adidas. They were green with black stripes - the opposite of the marathoners' finishers jackets, which were black with green stripes. I really liked them. And kinda felt bad that the marathoners had to pay $85.00 for theirs. I certainly wasn't working as hard as they were. (At least that's what I thought at this point.)

There were about 30 of us scurrying around setting up tables, coolers, and big ole jugs o water. We had 18 tables. Nine on each side of the street. The first three on each side were Gatorade and the others were water. We chose the very last water stop. We knew that's where all the cool kids were coming.

It took a couple hours to set up. There was lots of cups, lots of pouring, and lots of wind to battle. But I couldn't get over the beauty of our location and the near perfect weather. (Other than the wind, of course. Which, apparently was working to the runners' advantage. Just not helpful if you're setting up 100s of paper cups and plastic banners.)

Here are some pics before the runners started coming through.

And there is me and Lynda in our stylin' orange Liver Foundation hats and "matching" green jackets.

And I seriously loved these signs that were along the route.

We got a last minute pep talk from the organizers telling us how hard these next few hours would be and giving us some pointers. They handed out some great pins that were replicas of the medals all the finishers would receive. We also got tickets for the post race party at the House of Blues later that night. I know I've said this before, but it was all very exciting.

Here is Lynda demonstrating the proper way to execute the two-finger pinch-and-release technique. No one warned us that by the end of the day we'd have to do this while holding four cups in the other hand.

We saw the wheelchair participants first. They don't stop for water, so we just got to join in with the rest of the crowd cheering and taking pictures.

We also saw some of these guys. They were walking the marathon course in full gear and looked seriously hot and miserable. I didn't see any of them take water, but maybe they did. They kept to the other side of the street.

Soon the elite runners started coming through. We didn't need all the water stop folks since there was usually just a few runners at a time, so I took the opportunity to take more pictures.

I love this one because it shows a great action shot of the lady at the table in front of me.
After a few pics I joined in on the fun. I did take another short break to update my Facebook status to: "handed water to a Kenyan at the Boston Marathon". In a life of normally un Facebook-worthy events, I needed to take advantage of the coolness of it all. It was one of those days where you are just living life. No worries, no mundane tasks vying for your attention - just the pure bliss of doing some exciting, and maybe even a wee bit meaningful.

After the elite athletes came through everyone was totally pumped up. It was a great sense of community. But I was oblivious as to what was about to happen. The wave of runners passing by grew and grew with each passing minute. It is all a blur as to how it happened or when it happened. But there were thousands of runners reaching for cups on both sides of us. We were running back and forth to the table trying to keep up with the demand. A runner would catch my eye or give me a nod to signal they were eyeballing the small little cup of relief I was holding. Some would point to one of us as they approached so there was no confusion. It was actually a little stressful trying to make sure the paper cup went from my hand to theirs without hitting the ground. These were still very fast runners and no one was slowing down for drinks. Every second counted.

The hoards of people never stopped. It was a constant stream for hours. I have never seen that many people in all my life. And I was stationed smack dab in the middle of them all. There were times when I couldn't move for fear of being run over. Everyone was super appreciative. There were lots of thank-yous and friendly smiles. I still remember some of those faces. The determination and perseverance. I knew each one of them had their own story.

At one point this guy stopped next to me and said, "Hey, watergirl."

Umm...hi. (Really, in my head, it was more of a Joey-esque How YOU doin'? But a meek little umm..hi was all I could conjure up in the real world.)

He was a good looking, tall, ray of sunshine. He was waiting for his wife and friend who were using the porta-potties. He was just beaming and you would've never guessed the man had just run 13.2 miles. He joked, "How 'bout those Kenyans? Are they very far ahead? You think I can catch them?"

"Ya know, they did pass through here awhile ago. But you might be able to catch them if you have a little kick left in ya."

We exchanged witty banter and he helped me hand out water. It was hysterical. He stopped running the Boston freakin' marathon and started handing out water to the other runners with me. He was selling it too, with calls of "Get your water here! Best water on the course!" Once his wife showed up she got in on the action too. She was equally as good-looking and as charismatic as her husband. At one point I left them both out on the course while I refilled cups at our table. I don't know if they were famous or not. But there was a photographer who ran up and started snapping all sorts of pics. They were certainly celebrities in my eyes though. They brought a nice dose of humor and humility to the middle of the day. As they ran away I looked up from our table and I saw him waving above the crowd and screaming, "Bye water lady!!!!!"

Lynda was watching all of this from behind me and not sure what was going on. I filled her in inbetween trips to refill with more cups.

I did not at all expect this volunteer gig to be as difficult as it was. It truly was almost nonstop work. Lynda was surprised too. Those big jugs of water don't lift themselves. And trying to keep on top of the water and cup supply for hours on end really didn't seem like it would be so exhausting. I have a WHOLE new appreciation for those race volunteers. There were over 20,000 runners who ran past us that Monday. I'm not sure how many I handed water to, but I do know there were at least that many cups to clean up!
I thought there would be street sweepers or something. Nope. We picked all those cups up with rakes, shovels, and garbage bags. Whew!

I had left my water post to get a little head start on the cleanup since things were dying down a little. Soon I heard Deb yelling my name. I was so happy to see her!

Lynda got a picture of me........

taking this picture of Deb.

I'm glad it wasn't as busy so we could chat a little and get some more photo ops.

After Deb left to run another 13 miles Lynda and I worked on the monumental clean-up job. Then we raced to the finish line ourselves in order to see Deb finish. I'll finish the day up in another post. This one is getting a little long.


  1. LOVE this post!!! Great photos and stories - and jacket!

    That had to be a very unique experience, and now you having me wanting to do it some time! Love the runner stopping to help you out. I bet it was fun for him as well - break up the monotony of left, right, left, right ....

    Fun times!

  2. Love it!!! Now I'm totally convinced this is what I need to do when my friend Robin gets into Boston.

  3. RR - Thanks! You should totally do it sometime. You would appreciate everything about the experience. And I'm sure it would make for some pretty good stories on your blog. It was definitly fun times!

    Lesley - Maybe we should all get together and have a bloggy water stop. How much fun would that be? Of course there would probably be entirely too much picture-taking and not enough handing out of the water.....you know how those bloggers are :)

  4. I love it - yes, we can all man a water stop together! We might be the most popular stop on the course!