Monday, May 12, 2014

Girls on the Run 5K (volunteer) race report

I LOVE Girls on the Run. It's my local children's charity of choice. One year I raised several thousand dollars for their New York City chapter in exchange for a New York City Marathon bib -- and became their top fundraiser nationwide that year. (Woot!) Another year I ran as a running buddy with a super cool girl named Morgan. I'd like to find a season where I can be an assistant coach, but my travel schedule gets a little weird. But this year I had the opportunity to not just volunteer… I signed up to be a Super Volunteer for the Girls on the Run 5K. 
I was assigned to be in charge of vendor relations. A few days ago we had a pre-race meeting, where Ilana, from the Run for Good Racing Company (who put on several great charity races), went over our assignments. 

Race morning I arrived at 5:30 -- EARLY! -- to an empty field and a truck loaded with gear. I *wish* I had taken before and after pictures, because it was astonishing how much we built out, and how quickly.

First we unloaded a bunch of tents, pulling them roughly into the shape on the planning map. Then I gathered a team of people and we started setting up the tents. A group of other Super Volunteers helped out as we raised tents and got things set up. 

I spent the early hours putting up signs, setting up tables, and talking to the various vendors and helping them get settled. It was alternatively boring and busy, but also slightly exhilarating.

Meanwhile, the girls started arriving -- and they immediately started going to the different tables and picking up the swag. (BTW, the swag was really nice -- I am still slightly coveting the "LifeWise" lunch bag, but oh well!)

From worrying that we had set the different vendors up too far apart to worrying that we hadn't left enough room around the stage -- that's what happens when 602 girls, 602 running buddies, and 100 or so coaches turn up! Pretty awesome. 

Once the vendors were all settled, I hunted down Suz…. She was looking for her school group, and we couldn't find them. Finally we headed over to the info table… and discovered that her school hadn't arrived yet. Oh. 

Some of the other running buddies had turned up and taken the school sign; we picked up the coaches' bag and tried to figure out where the girls were. Turns out they were all riding up on a bus together… except when the girls arrived, and there were no coaches!!! 

We asked another coach what to do, and we quickly got the girls names on their bibs, and their bibs pinned to them. It was only about 5 minutes before the start that any of their coaches arrived, which seemed a bit shameful. Still, the girls were giggly and helpful and excited. 

A bit of chaos before the start

shouldn't we have a coach?
Eventually it was time to head for the start, so off they went! I spent some time checking in on vendors, hunting down an extra medal for a coach, and just trying to make sure things were going smoothly. I visited Haley over at the Registration / Food tables as she got things switched over, and we were astounded as people tried to help themselves to the food. Eventually the volunteers made signs that said "FOOD FOR RUNNERS ONLY", which seemed to help. 

Meanwhile, I went over to cheer for the runners. I wish I had remembered to bring my cowbell! The first finishers were fast -- 25 minutes or so -- and then the rest of the field kept trickling in. I was a little sad that most of the spectators were only waiting for their girls to come by, but it's always like that. I just kept cheering, telling the girls congratulations, and that the finish was just around the corner. 

cheering from my spot on the course

Suz came by with her buddy, who looked a little tired. Still, she was smiling! I did some extra dancing and cheering for her. :)

Then eventually the last girls finished -- though I worried that, without an official sweeper crew, I didn't know if they WERE the last girls! Meanwhile, the party had started.

Random event highlight: before the race, they played "Let It Go" from Frozen. You haven't heard that song until you've heard it sung by 600 little girls at the tops of their lungs. Nice.

The DJ was playing "You Don't Know You're Beautiful" and "Happy" and a handful of other songs, seeming on a very short loop… the girls had jumped up on the stage and were dancing madly. The sun came out and things were nice.

But eventually it was time to start breaking things down. Vendors were packing up and heading out, so we started breaking down the tents and tables and just stacking them to the side. Here's a tip: if you lift up slightly on the tent, you'll be able to release the button more easily. Oh, and do the legs first…

It seemed like we'd get one tent down and discover that another vendor had packed up. So that kept us busy for a while. Three of us were still there working -- most of the other volunteers had long since gone -- and we were starting to get nervous that we'd end up staying till 2. But I checked in with Ilana and was told that, no, I and the others had gone above and beyond, so we were free to go. Phew.

Things I would change for next year:

  • Use balloons to indicate registration and info -- it was a little difficult to tell where the registration tent was since the signs were at eye level and not elevated.  
  • Combine the vendor requests (power, table, chairs, tents) with the map so that the vendor coordinator doesn't need to consult multiple sheets of paper. 
  • Have better parking organization -- AND traffic organizers on the way out.
  • Have a crew of sweepers -- even two people -- to make sure no one is left behind.
  • Make sure each "waste station" has a garbage, a compost, and a recycle bin.
STILL, despite it being a lot of hard work (my hands, wrists, and arms are still a bit achy from all the unloading and moving and tent wrangling), I'm super glad to have been able to be a part of it all. 

Mark you calendars now -- the Fall Girls on the Run 5K will be on December 6, 2014!


  1. Thanks so much for your help with my group!!! It was a beautiful course and a beautiful day. My running buddy, Tru, was super excited about the American Girl table and it looked like they had a nice swag bag for the runners.

  2. Glad I was there to help! And I'm so sorry that their coach was late.