If you are a runner in NYC there are always many ways to get busy. There is a race in every corner, for any reason, for whatever price and distance length you’d like. There is always a 5K, a 10K, or a half around the corner any given day. But, if you can’t run every day, OR race every day, there is always many opportunities to volunteer.
Some races series, such as NYC Runs, give you a race entry as pay for your volunteering. Others, like NYRR, require a volunteering credit as part of a process to get an entry to the marathon, which is genius. And, really, until you don’t volunteer at a race, you don’t know how much work (and how many people) it takes to make a race happen.
I volunteer at NYRR’s races as often as my schedule permits and it has certainly made me learn how much work it takes and appreciate the great job they do. Also, the volunteers help out a lot come race day and it is great to feel like you’re such an important part of a huge and well-oiled machine.
A month ago, I signed up to be part of NYRR’s Volunteers Roster for their Youth Programs. This means, I can help out as much and as little as I can/want every day. We don’t get paid or volunteer credit in this program.
Once a month I get a list of all the places/times they’ll need us and you sign up. Given my insane schedule, I could only sign up for weekend stuff and this Sunday’s race was the only one I hadn’t registered to run on; it was the Run for Israel 4 miler, in Central Park. There were a lot of positions, course marshalls, etc, but I signed up to be a Race Buddy for their “Young Runners” program, which seemed pretty exciting…
Basically, the schools that are part of the program, bring the kids to the race, get a bib, and need someone to run with them, just in case something happens! Having done Girls on the Run last year, getting the CPR certification, and many races, I felt like I was ready. Hmm, okay…
Sunday morning I had to be there at 6:30 am, as the race started at 8 am. Got up early (very early), jogged very slowly to the start, a 1.5 very slow jog as I had done 12 miles the day before in some hot weather… Eeeek, I was slow! And the park was deserted so early!
It was so early, they were still building the Start!
I got there, shirted up, get emergency phone numbers, instructions, etc. I got a race bib and a shoetag. I had no idea I would be a Runner with a shoetag in the race.
Should I wear the shoe tag? This might be a bit off my last 2 four milers at 7:20 pace… well, I put it on and figured I’d decide later. And who cares if I have a 10 minute mile on my record? Really, who cares?
In a bit my high school kids arrive. There were two coaches with them, and around 15 kids. I asked the coaches about pacing, what they needed me to do, and special instructions. They decided (as they assumed I was “fast”), that I would take the fast kids (8-9 minute miles), and they would take the rest.
Okay, let’s do this. They pin up their numbers, I help witht the shoetags and soon we are in the corral. The last corral.
We all line up, I have a group of 5 with me, all super eager to go and already weaving in the corral, ay.
Now, I had never ever run a race with kids, I was really not prepared to how different it would be!
Bear with me, it took me a little bit adjust.
Kids don’t know anything, ANYTHING, about race strategy, about pacing, about tangents, about inclines, about when to slow and when to rip it, about when they need water, or ANY of it. My attempts to get them organized were futile so after a quarter mile I just kept them company and told them they looked good: I had to forget ALL I knew about racing.
Their version of race pace: Sprint and Walk. Or surge, go around people, and slow down a lot. Take a water every mile. Breathe hard, push, let anyone make you push your pace, whatever. It was pure animal instintc.
Then I remembered a paragraph I had read the day before from Tread Lightly, a book I am LOVING:
That was EXACTLY what they were doing: following their DNA!!! What WE do is not normal. Yes, we have brains and so we use them for efficiency and all that. But you know, when they say we’ve forgotten how to run, and how kids’ form is perfect… not just their biomechanics are better, also their race-strategy-virgin brains know what they’re doing more than we do. These kids deserved their big animal on a stick. Instead, they got a t-shirt and ice cream. But I am sure they were ok with that too.
I am not sure I was prepared to know how to deal with their racing brains, but I definitely learned a lot during the race. And I obviously had a great time. I run 4 miles like a kid would, at a 9:30 pace, which was comfortable for me —and forever in my record 😉 while keeping these kids some company. I know I helped them push a bit harder and feel better our there. They thought I was a “professional runner” and felt very important for being escorted. Nice way to start a Sunday, right?