It seems like way more than a week ago that I was sitting here putting together my photos from from the Cambridge Half Marathon- click if you missed my photodiary for my first ever half marathon!
Whilst I'm bringing you another half marathon photodiary, this one comes from an entirely different perspective. Since it was only one week after the Cambridge Half and I'd long since been signed up for that, I decided to get involved with my local half marathon event by signing up as a volunteer when I saw a plea for extra help about a month ago. I've volunteered a couple of times at parkrun, but never at a large event, so here's what a major race looks like from the other side...
If you're volunteering at a large scale event, you may be asked to apply for a specific role on a specific part of a course or a specific venue. This was certainly the case for me- so before the big day, I already new I'd a marshal and that I'd be based at Allianz Park stadium, which includes the half way marker on the course.
The night before...
Much like race day when you're running, alarms are an essential...
The North London Half is an early 030 start for the runners, we needed to be in place before roadblocks came into force at 0630 and there was plenty of setting up to do on site- barriers to assemble, water to unpackage, getting tooled up with radios & understanding where we all needed to be... Because I'm a bit twitchy about being on time, we were super early at 0615 and got stuck in as soon as we were issued our radios and briefed by the management team on site
Yeah... we were still a touch sleepy at this stage.
The forecast for Sunday was grim- pouring rain all day, all over North London. But aside a few drops, it stayed miraculously dry despite those dark skies at the stadium...
With barriers up, water stations ready, it's time to get into place and go through a final briefing on the course. It's really exciting to prepare a part of the course whilst you can here the entire race network preparing for the start in your ear as the whole team across a handful of different locations is on the same radio channel.
Although I was originally manning a stretch of the track around the stadium, the wet surface of some boarding was quickly identified as a slip hazard and I was move around to make sure runners received plenty of warning. So if you remember someone asking you to be careful on the slippery corners coming out of Allianz Park, you high fived me or joined my cheers, yes, that was me!
Hearing a 10s countdown is pretty cool, and sent me right back to waiting to start my own race last week!
Meanwhile we were making sure we were properly kitted out...
Did someone say free t-shirt?!
We started to get excited for the first runner to arrive. With the radio network, we had regular updates, and when he reached mile 5, it really did become thrilling. Unfortunately, it's also around the time someone handed me a megaphone to start using, meaning both hands were occupied and I didn't get a single picture of he 6000 amazing runners who passed me in the next 2 hours.
I remember this lady coming past, Team Bex is a local club to my own in Cambridgeshire and Bex, the force of nature police officer who faced cancer head on sadly died last year. They're an incredible club with an incredible cause.
I have run my fair share of races in the last 2 years, and there are several things that really make or break a race experience- the number of toilets at the start line and the finisher's goodies are part of it, but how well (or not as the case may be) organised a race event is and how excited and encouraging volunteers & marshals are is another factor. A good course marshal who is encouraging, someone who tells you 'You've GOT this' when you're flagging, when they're having a party as well, it can keep you going when you want to give up, make you run faster and put a massive smile on your tired little face. I tried to be everything I love about the volunteers who make my races and to every runner who cheered with me, high-fived me, tried a cheeky chat up line- yes you in the Macmillan vest... Thank you!
Can you tell we got up early?!
The final runners had been through our section, and for the record, we stayed properly put to cheer on Every. Last. One. Then it was time for a clear down- hunting down discarded gel packets, cups from the Lucozade station and any other debris along the way. As the saying goes, many hands make light work, and it only took around 45 minutes to litter pick the area as the road blocks began to come down and we were on our way home to a slow cooker pork joint and all the Sunday roast trimmings.
Would we do it again? Hands down, hell yes. We had so much fun. I went in trying to bring everything I love about race-day volunteers and I hope for the runners I succeeded because we were basically having a party on the sidelines. This particular event aso rewards volunteers with free entries to the following year's race, which is a major incentive for me as many runners will know, race entries and events can soon add up and lead to tough choices and compromises.
If you're a runner and you've never volunteered before, consider giving it a go- it's a great way to get involved in an event that maybe you fancied running but is too close to another race or perhaps if you're injured and still want to be involved. If you go with the attitude of having a good time, I think it would be hard not to enjoy it. Even with the hella early start...
And a quick plug (not a paid link, just something I think is worthwhile)- I'm not sure if I'll be there too, but the Hackney Half are currently looking for a variety of volunteer roles for events running across the day.... Check it out HERE