I woke up bright and early with no problem - just like a kid on Christmas morning. The truth is, I'd been looking forward to this day with great anticipation for one reason and one reason only: I had plotted a wonderful surprise for my dear friend Marcey, a.k.a Hot Mother Runner, a.k.a. HMR.
A few weeks ago we were having a happy hour together and I told her about my plan to hand out medals from 11 am - 3 pm. This time frame was well after her race would be finished - she was signed up for the 8k, which started at 7 am. She said, "That's awesome but geesh - I really am doing this all alone, aren't I??"
She was totally joking with me, but I couldn't stop thinking about what she had said. You see, HMR and I are often each other's "person" at races. We meet up before hand, we stretch, we get to the start, we psych each other up, we run together for the first mile or so, and at the end we are there for each other. Earlier this year when she accidentally locked her keys in her car and had to miss the Monument Avenue 10k, we met up a few weeks later to do our own personal Monument Avenue 10k together. On my first day back to work after I broke my foot, Marcey brought me a Starbucks Latte and commiserated with me.
We are just there for each other. It's what we do. So the thought of Marcey running the 8k by herself and having no one waiting for her at the finish line was breaking my heart.
As I drove home from our happy hour, I was already plotting my surprise. I laid the groundwork very carefully. We had another "date" two weeks before the race (at which I helped Marcey lose her Lululemon V-card). We talked about her race day plans (mainly her outfit). The night before the race I called her for a pep talk and to go through the next day: What time are you waking up? What time are you leaving? Where are you parking? Do you have your stuff laid out? Including your knee brace? How about gloves? Tissues?
I told her that if she needed a final pep talk in the morning to call me. She protested that it would be too early. "Don't worry about it!" I reassured her. "I'll answer the phone, give you your pep talk, and then roll over and go back to sleep in my warm bed while you go run 5 miles in the cold!"
The morning of the race, Marcey texted me a photo of her standing outside of her car with her key in her hand (she is now terrified that she'll lock herself out of the car again on a race morning). I texted back, "Excellent." Little did she know I was on my way to the finish line to meet her.
Because I was volunteering, I was able to park for free in a deck relatively close to the finish festival. I got there at 7:00 and hussled over to the finish line area, which was still very deserted. As I approached, the first 8k finishers were coming across the line. I was able to get a prime spot to along the barrier fencing to watch for Marcey. I was terrified that I would miss her, so I didn't take my eyes off the course for a minute. My grand plan included getting some great action shots or video of her as she came down the hill and across the finish line, so I had my iPhone in my hands, set to camera, waiting patiently for 25 minutes.
|Keeping my camera awake and scanning the 8k runners for HMR|
Then there she was! I was so frantic to get her attention that I ditched the idea of trying to get a picture and threw my phone in my pocket, taking an accidental photo of the ground and my foot in the process:
I leaned over the barrier and started flailing my arms and screaming "MARCEY!!!! MARCEY!!!!" at the top of my lungs. She looked my way but didn't seem to figure out that the crazy person nearly falling over the barrier was me and then the recognition swept over her face and she yelled "KBP!!!!" I took off running (yes, running!) along the chute so I could catch her.
She was so surprised. She really had no idea I was going to be there. It was the best feeling EVER.
We engaged in a quick photo session because the finish festival was in just a beautiful location and I wanted to indulge Marcey with some gorgeous photos.
|My favorite of the bunch.|
Mission 1: Give Marcey the surprise of her life - check.
So, having accomplished my first goal of the day, I headed back to the finisher area to start my volunteer shift. I had been looking forward to handing out medals almost as much as I had been looking forward to surprising HMR.
It turned out to be as rewarding and wonderful as I imagined. I think that handing out medals is by far the best job when it comes to volunteering at a race.
|Marathon Hardware, ready for distribution|
It was interesting to see all of the different emotions and reactions in the marathoners.
Some cried (though from exhaustion or emotions, I couldn't tell).
Some wanted to stage photos of the "medal ceremony" (who knows how many Facebook walls I showed up on that day).
Some were shocked that I was willing to put the medal over their head and touch their sweaty necks and hair.
Some smiled so big that it looked like their faces were going to crack.
I gave a medal to a man celebrating his 70th birthday by completing his 4th marathon.
I gave a medal to a 12 year old girl who had just completed the course with her mom.
And best of all, I got to give a medal to my running buddy Greg, who PR'd that day.
|Greg, rocking his medal and a new marathon PR!|
At the end of my shift, I felt uplifted and excited, if not a bit exhausted. I had been standing on my feet (namely, a certain just-healed-formerly-broken-foot) for 6 hours. The medals were surprisingly heavy and when my arms were full of them, it proved quite a workout to loop them around the runners' necks. And I had forgotten to put extra sunscreen on that morning, so I had some sunburn.
But I was happy.
It was a powerful and humbling experience. If you've never volunteered at a race, I would encourage you to do so... runner or not.