Both Sides of the Water Stop

You know how I won’t shut up about my running-induced hip injury? Well, you should know that it hasn’t just led to me being a whiny, whiny cry baby. It has also led to volunteerism and giving back to the running community and forcing my family to suffer right along with me.

I had three races in a one-week period that I wanted to be involved with last month. I intended to run two of them and volunteer at another, but after my body rebelled, I knew I couldn’t run my originally planned 33 miles of racing–or even my plan B of 23 miles of racing–in a week.

The race that got the cut was the Parks Half Marathon, which I ran once and cheered at once, and fell at three times. I deferred my entry to next year (dammit, now I have to run it next year) and signed up instead to work at a water station.

I have benefited from very many water stations in my running career. There is rarely one that I pass without partaking. Sometimes I even take two cups. Water is gooooood. Yet I didn’t know what it was like on the other side of the table.

Photo of me standing in front of a row of tables with hundreds of small cups on them.

Yes, I realize in this photo that I am still on the runner side of the table, but to serve my metaphor, let’s pretend that I’m on the other side.

The great thing is that the woman who was in charge of the water stop had been doing it for years and totally had a plan and kept us organized and efficient and there were plenty of us there to keep everything moving smoothly. I’ve run past water stops where the volunteers were in a state of panic trying to fill up cups not quite keeping up with demand. It always looks like not a lot of fun when that happens. I’m happy to report that that was not us.

I helped pass out and pour the Gatorade. You know what word loses all its meaning after you say it sixteen thousand times? “Gatorade.”

The next race I was involved in was the Kensington 8K. I love that race. When I started running in 2012, it was the first race I ran. I was sooooo slow. And it was really hard. But I did it and I was so proud of myself and I have run it every year since then. This year I had signed up for a 20-mile race the day after the Kensington 8K, so I knew I couldn’t run it.

I decided to volunteer to course marshal the course during the race because that seemed like the most fun and easiest thing to do. Then I remembered that my kids are forced to do volunteer hours to graduate from high school, so I signed the whole family up to help with the night-before-the-race cone-drop. That entailed sitting in the back of a pickup truck and throwing cones out on the sidewalk at intersections along the course route for course marshals to set out the next morning.

The cone-delivery truck was late getting the cones to us, so my kids learned about how they could earn volunteer hours by swinging at the playground while waiting for other people to do their jobs.

Selfie of my family by a brick wall with a poster on it that says "Run the race." I've managed to cut off half of most of their faces.

Just because I cut much of each of them out of the photo doesn’t mean I don’t love them.

Finally the cones arrived and we set out. I sat in the front of the truck with a race director and shouted out how many cones Alex, my kids, and the race director’s kids needed to drop off the back of the truck.

Photo of Sam, Quinn, Jack, and Alex sitting in the back of a truck in front of a big pile of orange traffic cones.

Before. See how Alex doesn’t look even a little bit like he wanted to kill me? That would change.

I think the kids had a lot of fun. I don’t know if they’ve ever ridden in the back of a pickup truck, which is–let’s be honest here–one of the most fun things in the world. Plus we had flashing lights rotating on the top of the truck and they got to jump in and out of the vehicle. It was all kinds of great.

Alex, on the other hand, had all kinds of complaints: “That flashing light is really disorientating.” “That guy needs to stop accelerating so fast.” “That traffic cone distinctly smelled like shit.” “I might barf.”

There is really no pleasing the man.

The next day I sauntered off to claim my intersection, which was a really important intersection because I had to send the runners off in one direction toward a turn-around and then make sure they headed off in a third direction on their way back. This was complicated by the fact Ragnar DC took place that weekend and my intersection was where those two races collided–going opposite directions. It was exciting.

An empty intersection with traffic cones spread out.

My baby.

I really could have used a couple of extra cones though. Someone should have told the cone-droppers that. I had a cop with me as well because I was at the edge of the course and evidently they don’t want cars careening through the course. Prior to the race, I did have a couple of irate car drivers. I had a bunch of really nice car drivers who understood that the roads were closed and/or closing, but there were two who were visibly and verbally annoyed–both of them told me they had to get to a church. Ironic.

It was very enjoyable to point people to the right direction and cheer them on. At one point I was cheering on this kinda confused-looking kid who wandered off shortly thereafter only to be brought back to me by a nearby homeowner who was all, “So this guy was supposed to be running the 1K fun run and got lost.”

That kid was almost two miles into the race. I told him he pretty much won. I had a little interior discussion with myself (the mental equivalent of walking in confused circles) while I considered sending him back along the race course with instructions to go from course marshal to course marshal and whether this constituted an “emergency” that meant I could call the race directors like my instruction sheet told me. I finally decided to keep him with me and instructed him to cheer for the runners after I determined that, yes, a lost kid is an emergency and I called a race director and told her I had a lost kid.

(Yes, the instinct to avoid phone calls is strong in me.)

The race director tracked down his parents who eventually showed up after the last runners had passed. They were very grateful. Apparently they had moved to the area a couple of weeks ago and they were walking the fun run, but their kid wanted to run it so they told him to follow the other people and ZOOM! suddenly he’d run three fun runs.

I’m not going to lie; I felt a little bit like a hero.

After all of that, I finally got to run a race the next day. That race, Revenge of the Penguins, has a 20-mile version and a 10-mile version. I had originally signed up for the 20-miler, but stepped it back to ten miles after my injury. Even that was a little bit of a stretch. I hadn’t come close to running ten miles at one time in weeks. I was determined to get the race jacket that came with my registration though.

A red jacket with a round patch on it. The patch has the name of the race and a running penguin.

I love this jacket. That penguin is exactly what I’d look like running if I were a penguin.

I ran that race so goddamn slow. But I ran it. It was a beautiful canal-side course that was mostly flat. The last couple of miles super sucked, but I ran ’em. And I said thank you to every single person who handed me a cup of water or Gatorade.

Selfie of me post-run.

After. I was a little sweaty.

It was a super well-organized race in a beautiful location with super nice volunteers. If all goes as I hope, I intend to triumphantly return next year to do the 20-miler.

I also intend to continue volunteering at races. Because there’s nothing like getting to hang out at a race with other runners and not having to run. In fact, it may be the perfect solution.

That said, five days from now I have another race–the Army Ten Miler. I hope to run this one faster than snail speed. Wish me luck!

6 thoughts on “Both Sides of the Water Stop

  1. Can I just say that I am super impressed with your handling of that intersection, which gives me hives just looking at it. Also you look gorgeous and healthy and happy and woohoo running! But mostly the intersection thing.

  2. I love the Penguin race jacket. If I lived anywhere close to the race, it might just motivate me to become a runner. Unless there was no time limit on the race and I could just walk it.

    Good luck on the Army 10 Miler!

  3. oh and I almost didn’t recognize Jack with short(er) hair. And I love Sam’s blue and purple. Are you getting better with the dyes?

    • I’m getting super good with the dye. My big hurdle was learning to bleach hair. I was very afraid of that. But now that I’ve done that, I’m pretty good. Now I just have to figure out how to dye evenly through thick hair. Because Sam has THICK hair.

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