Tonight I attended a 5k as a volunteer, not a runner. And was inspired!
Total last-minute decision.
Right when I reported for duty, I was happy. After hunting down someone in charge I was told to cut open the bags of colored powder at a table. Kids who had just done a 1 mile color run were coming over to get two bags each, with a countdown to throw it all in the air following.
Their energy was more refreshing than sweet pink lemonade. I was definitely at the cool table– it was mobbed! All different ages, jostling each other and deciding which colors they wanted. I threw powder at them and they loved it.
They danced around, they egged me on. There were also clear plastic bottles full, usually intended for condiments. I squirted the powder on their bright white t-shirts and especially on their hair– they were delighted! Of course, I patted myself down generously as well.
My next assignment was to get dropped off at a spot on the course to help direct them toward a turn. I went inside and found a supervisor, who directed me to the corner of the gym by the back doors. There I found two gals from my running club, Diana and Terri! We all got to wear these dashing neon orange crossing guard vests, and Terri took a selfie of us in them! Then we loaded up into a van and Jody joined us. Dropped off at designated locations to direct the runners around corners or just encourage them.
The last woman I saw come around was followed by a car. She was an older woman, sweating and smiling all the way! I had talked to her as she was running toward my post the first time, and told her I liked her silly yellow headband. It had two yellow sprouty things on springs on it, waving as she shuffled on.
She had on a bright yellow tank top and thick, beautiful white hair.
“We’re fireflies,” she said. I cackled at their creativity. The race was named the Firefly 5k– perfect. She kept on, undeterred about being the last runner. I admired her. On July 4, I was the last runner in my race!
I was picked up in the same van less than 30 minutes later I believe, and then I was told which direction to walk back to the finish line.
But en route, I saw all the supporters of the runners and decided to stay and encourage people.
And I saw almost every person come up the hill. I gained a new perspective about racing. Instead of focusing on how I’m always “back of the pack,” I saw how hard EVERY runner was working. Some were full-on sprinting, seemingly dancing and barely touching the ground with the balls of their feet. Others were a steady pace, but still really labored. Some were walking. Some were wincing, favoring one leg — but determined.
I saw couples, kids, families. A boy who seemed to have been crying, but his dad was walking next to him, watching his son and encouraging him verbally to keep going. Maybe the kid wanted to quit. Maybe he was upset about something else. But you could see the love the father had for his son.
I saw racers going solo, as I often do.
One man seemed to be a giant— he looked to be nearly 7 feet tall! It was almost like watching a giraffe run. I was amazed he could be so coordinated. I realized that we all have our challenges. I am extraordinarily short. This man is astonishingly tall. And there he was, barreling along.
I did my best to constantly encourage them with claps, eye contact, pointing.
“You got this!”
“I like your shoes!”
“You’re doing AWESOME!”
And not just the ones struggling, but the ones KILLING it, too. Because running is hard, whatever your pace. And everyone out there is pushing themselves.
I am always so appreciative in races when I’m just slogging along and suddenly a volunteer is up ahead or around a corner– it inspires me to pick it up, get competitive again. To remember that I can do it.
Trying to beat a PR. Trying to support someone by running that race with them. Trying to block out the pain from injuries. Just trying to finish.
Toward the end, I made an effort to genuinely SMILE at runners. And a wonderful thing happened– it made ME happier to smile at them.
I’ve had a rough start to my weak. A panic attack Sunday night, must from general anxiety. Smiling and *meaning it truly made me feel more relaxed.
I was also happy to realize just how many runners I recognized. They saw me too and some haven’t seen me in months, since I haven’t done any group runs in awhile. We mainly interact on Facebook. They were surprised and genuinely waved and greeted me. One passing by, Laura, reached out to high-five me!
All the spectators were heading back to the finish line. The police left. I wasn’t sure if that last woman was still out there? I didn’t want to abandon her. It looked as if it may rain at any minute, so I headed back toward the finish. As I approached, I spied those same yellow firefly headbands. That woman had her own cheering section! I made small talk with them. They were closer to my age, 30’s or 40’s I’m guessing.
After 10 minutes or so I ventured back toward the street to look for her. And there she was! I ran up and she smiled at me with recognition. I ran back toward the finish line and joined her friends in cheering her on! I was on the opposite side, and we all cheered and yelled for her! Turns out her name is Lorrie.
“GO, LORRIE!” I chanted.
A race staff took her picture.
Lorrie was triumphant! And best of all, she medaled!
Just goes to prove it doesn’t matter your pace– don’t let that stop you from racing. She won 2nd in her AG– which running lingo for Age Group. You can be last in a race and still medal!!
Afterward I went to the after-party in a beer tent with some other peeps from our running club. We got free pizza, we took pictures. We bonded.
Robin told me, “You need to get back to running!”
Indeed, I do. I haven’t been on a run in a bit outside of a race.
Tonight I discovered five vital things:
1. Volunteering at races is almost as fun as running them! Sometimes more.
2. The people in my running club are welcoming, hilarious, good people.
3. I need to sign up for more local races and even some group runs to get to know them better.
4. If I don’t want to pay a race fee or don’t feel up to it, I can always volunteer. And still have a blast with my running peeps.
and most of all…
5. The running community is my tribe. They are energetic, generous and fit.
I may volunteer at a second race this weekend! Someone invited me.