Sunday, January 13, 2008

Disney Marathon Volunteer

I signed up to volunteer at the Disney Marathon, with my running club. We have the mile 24 water stop, the last one on the course. That is good since we can get there relatively later (6:30 am), but bad in that we are there until the last runner/walker passes us.

Disney gives very nice perks for volunteering: a pretty nice windbreaker, a snack breakfast and lunch, and a free ticket to any theme park, good for one year. As a result, the volunteer spots disappear quickly.

I got there about 6:15 am, found the volunteer sign-in tent, and got onto the "mile 24 bus", which pulled out around 7:00 am to drop us off at our aid station. Of course, the aid station didn't really exist, we had to build it up from the tables and four giant palettes of water that were sitting in the parking lot. Thus, the first task was to carry 15+ tables and line them up next to the sidewalk. This was followed by lugging an enormous amount of water around - each box held 12 one liter bottles of water (e.g. 12 kg each) and we had to carry them over to the tables. I lost count of how many boxes I carried, probably 10 or 12 or maybe more.

I found myself on Powerade mixing duty, along with 2 or 3 others. We had four large coolers (50 gallons each I think) and started opening the bags of Powerade and pouring in water. This was tough, after opening about 100 bottles of water I wished we had a water truck with a hose instead! Anyway, after setting up and preparing for an hour or more, we had nothing to do except wait for the lead runners to show up. The eventual winner, Adriano Bastos from Brazil, passed by a few minutes after 8 am, around 2 hours after the race began. He went on to finish at 2:20:56 (!!).

Ten more minutes went by until the next runner passed us, so Bastos had clearly secured his victory. A few more runners arrived, and by 9 am, 3 hours into the race, there was a steady crowd. The steady crowd turned into a massive onslaught by 10 am - we were mixing a 50 gallon drum of Powerade about as fast as another was consumed. We juggled at our station, having one or two coolers available while we mixed a third and sometimes fourth. For a while everybody shifted to pouring duty: lining up cups to be partially filled. But eventually the demand for more sports drink required three or four of us the return to mixing duty.

Around noon, or 6 hours into the event, it slowed down and by 1 pm, just a handful were still on the course.

My friend Amy took water dispensing duty instead: holding out cups for the masses of thirsty participants. She payed attention to how various groups looked, and decided that the runners that appeared to enjoy the event the most were the 3:20 to 3:50 crowd. Faster than that and the event was very demanding. Slower than that and the people looked more beat and stretched to their personal limit. We theorized the 3:20 to 3:50 pace was reachable by experienced runners doing steady workouts, and race-day execution of that pace was less demanding relative to ability. It still sounds pretty fast to me!

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