I have no voice, my whole body is sore, and I’m exhausted. I woke up yesterday with a slight hangover and a major urge to register for the next race I can find.
It is officially the week after the New York City Marathon.
Of course, I didn’t actually run the race this year. But still.
This year, I was honored to volunteer at the #Mile7 water station in Brooklyn with my November Project family. Last year, running through Mile 14 — the November Project-manned water station — was one of the best parts of my race. So I was excited to get to return the favor this year by being at our Mile 7 water station and screaming my face off while hydrating the runners.
The New York City Marathon is, as any New Yorker will tell you, the best day in New York City. It truly is the one day a year that the entire city seems to unite in the most magical, supportive way. The runners, the spectators, the volunteers, and especially the international visitors — everyone is so happy. It’s incredibly special.
I’ve lived in New York City for eight years now (whoa). I’ve spectated the race four times, I’ve not run it once (the year it was canceled because of Hurricane Sandy), and I’ve actually run it twice. Any way you can be a part of the marathon is wonderful. Running it is, of course, my favorite way to experience the race. Spectating is thrilling and fun, and even watching the coverage on TV is inspiring.
This year was my first year as a volunteer, though, and it was such a unique way to experience the marathon. Here’s what I learned during my day on the course.
You still have to get up really early. There are a lot of logistics involved in organizing and executing a 26.2-mile race for 50,000 runners across five boroughs. For runners, that means getting up early to get yourself to the start in Staten Island hours before you’ll actually start running. For volunteers — for us, at Mile 7 — it meant arriving at our set location at 6:30 AM. I was up at 4:30 to leave my apartment by 5:30 in order to get there on time (and I was still 10 minutes late).
There’s still a lot of “hurry up and wait.” Once we arrived and checked in with our station managers, we were given sassy green ponchos and rubber gloves and were given instructions on what needed to happen.
We busted ass and were super motivated to get going, setting up tables, taping labels to indicate whether the table would offer water or Gatorade, lining up cups, filling them with water, and then stacking them three levels high.
My group of five was so excited about the whole process that we powered through and finished setting up two tables in record time (OK, we may have made it a competition and not told anyone else and declared ourselves the winners). And then we were done. And the race hadn’t even started yet.
You have the best view in the house for when the elites come by. I love a good Meb Keflezighi and Buzunesh Deba sighting. We knew the elites wouldn’t take our water, but we held it out just in case. You never know when Meb will want to slam one third of a cup of Poland Springs agua!
You have the best view in the house for when your friend who is an elite comes by. This year I was extra excited to have a front row seat for the start of the race because my dear friend Gian was running his second marathon — as an elite. Like NBD. His first marathon was at the Olympic Trials. So I was extra excited to get to see the lead pack of men, knowing he would be right behind (and he was!).
The first person who takes your water cup will be your favorite person of the day. I made the mistake of standing behind my friend Owen, who is not only handsome and charming, but is also taller than I am. So once the race picked up and the crowds began to form, everyone was taking his water. He gave out like 20 cups before I even gave out one. And I was feeling so sad.
But then a runner locked eyes with me, pointed at me, and snatched the cup out of my hand as he whizzed by. I jumped up and down screaming because I was so excited. From there, with my ego soaring, the day was a whirlwind of water distribution.
You will miss a lot. Because you’re working. Our volunteer leaders were super cool about letting us be in positions where we would best see our runners, which I truly appreciated. But of our 50 or so NP runners plus additional non-NP friends, I only saw maybe 15 or so people I was hoping to catch.
You feel like you’re really making a difference to these racers. I got maybe a little too emotionally invested in every single runner with whom I made eye contact.
Like it went beyond, “Here, I have water for you,” and delved deep into, “OMG you’re doing so great and I love your outfit and how are you feeling and do you need anything other than water like do you want me to take your pic for Instagram real quick or maybe call your mom and tell her you’re doing fine?!”
You will get emotional. I cried 4+ times. I cried when my elite friend Gian zoomed by, heard me screaming and swooped over to give me a mid-race high five. I felt so cool and so proud. And I cried when Myles, our team leader and one of our fastest men, came through, fists pumping, setting the tone for all the NP runners to come.
Once it gets started, it will go by so fast. After the elites, the crowds got thick. When pace groups came through, especially, we were handing out water and refilling cups at rapid speed.
We were helping people refill their water bottles and helping them open their Gu packets. I thought we had been going at it for maybe 20 minutes — and then looked at the time to see it had been three hours. Best three hours ever.
You will get wet. And when you take off your shoes at the end of a very long day, you will maybe find a runner’s dried up snot rocket nestled between your shoelaces. So many runners failed to grab the cups we were holding out and just knocked them right into us. I had water thrown on my feet, on my legwarmers, all over my poncho, and occasionally on my face.
It will be one of The Best Days of Your Life. I didn’t think anything could compare to actually running the New York City Marathon. And while, yes, I am eager to get my booty back through those five boroughs, I am so grateful for this experience. I loved cheering for the runners and being right there to support them and show them so much love. I loved celebrating so many runners’ accomplishments, from the lead pack to the very back of the pack. Every runner was so grateful, so smiley, said thank you, and seemed genuinely pumped to be running the New York City Marathon.
I loved meeting so many people during the marathon and seriously geeked out every time someone recognized me. Now we are all best friends. Let’s do it again soon.
Congratulations to all of the finishers and thank you to all of the fellow volunteers and people who work tirelessly to make Marathon Day such a special day for so many people and their families.
Much love, New York City Marathon. I can’t wait for you to come back around next year!
Photo credit for pretty much all of these goes to NP photographer extraordinaire Ben Gross. Great documentation, Ben!
Thank you, thank you, thank you for volunteering. I ran my first Marathon on Sunday and you were all awesome!! So cool to have water HANDED to me so I did not have to veer off to the tables to grab a cup.
Volunteers make the race what it is. Bravo!
cant say as I blame you for crying 4 times I just cried reading this!
Love this post! Thanks for volunteering!
Thanks for volunteering! ran my 1st NYC and 6th marathon. All i can say is NOTHING compares to New York. Cant wait to do it again next year ! Love the blog too
What a fun day!! I try to help out at a few small races in our area and it’s always a good time. I can only imagine what it would be like at a huge race like this… or to see Meb go flying past!!
I don’t think I will ever run the marathon, but this makes me want to come and volunteer hard!!
Yes! I volunteered at the water station at Mile 22 in 2013 (when I saw you zoom by!) and it was so much fun. So so much harder than it seems from a runner’s perspective!
Thanks Ali for the blog! Love them. You are such an amazing writer. Thanks for sharing. I still love your honeymoon blog.
But…why don’t you like cats?
It looks like you had a blast. I should volunteer…but instead I just cheered 🙂
NYCM is an emotional day even when NOT racing! I may or may not have teared up a few times.
I wish I knew you were there! I would’ve said hi!! 🙂
Ali, NP sounds like a lot of fun and a great community but also intimidating – is it mostly pretty intense/in-shape people or is there a range?
Good job Ali! I ran my first 10 miler Sunday and the volunteers REALLY make all the difference in the world!! Enjoyed hearing your experience!
Ahh I made onto the blog! #famous
TOO MUCH FUN. Now let’s go run.
I love this and i feel the EXACT SAME WAY about the marathon. its so much love and emotion. I have guaranteed entry for next year and i just need to not sprain my ankle (again) and then im IN. but i freaking love spectating it.
It sounds like a complete blast. I’m glad it was fun. I’ve run it in the past and it was amazing..I think volunteering would be nearly as good. The energy is truly contagious.