26 Strong cadet Alison Pellicci writes about her experience volunteering at the New York City Marathon for anothermotherrunner.com.
When my husband got into the NYC Marathon but I didn’t, I knew I still wanted to be a part of the day. I’ve heard being in the city on Marathon Sunday is like no other day in the Big Apple, but I didn’t see myself as the person who would be trying to get to different locales during the day to catch a quick glimpse of my husband running before I hurried on to the next spot. When I looked at the New York Road Runners (NYRR) marathon volunteer page, I was hoping to pass out heat shields or food bags but those positions, as well as medal givers, had requirements of having volunteered at three other NYRR races during 2014 and then those names were put into a lottery for selection. I registered to be a “Finish Zone 3 Ambassador;” it was inside Central Park about 10 blocks after the finish, and it didn’t require a foreign language, medical skills or detailed knowledge of the city.
When I arrived at the volunteer meet-up I was amazed by the security that was in place all around the park: large cinder block stanchions and garbage trucks blocked all side streets leading to Central Park West. I had to show my ID and confirmation email as well as get wanded for security. Once inside the building, I was directed to a small classroom where about 100 other volunteers were sitting. After checking in, getting my awesome NYRR TCS marathon jacket and identification, I settled in and started chatting with other volunteers. Surprisingly, many were not runners and couldn’t imagine running a marathon; they just wanted to be there to support runners! Finish Zone 3volunteers had two duties: to be cheerleaders and to connect runners and Red Cross workers, who were there to assist anyone in need of medical attention.
About two hours after the start, we headed to the park; it was an extremely windy and cold day. I tried my best to prepare for the cold by layering: compression knee socks and Saucony Ignite Capris under a pair of corduroys, UGGs, thermal tank, tech shirt, wool turtleneck sweater, cold weather running jacket, volunteer jacket and, of course, a hat, gloves and scarf. I had also rubbed Body Glide on my face to prevent windburn. The wind came in gusts (my husband, Anthony, later told me it took his breath away at one point). Even though I got to stand in the sun, I needed every piece of protection I was wearing!
Once in the park we received more directions from a NYRR representative: “SMILE!;” cheer on the runners, be as kind as possible (after running 26.2 miles, they then had to walk 10 to 20 blocks, and many just want to get out of the park!); and keep an eye out for anyone that may not be feeling well, then notify the medics. I was stationed in an area that needed someone with a big mouth (go figure!) to help separate runners into two lines—those with drop bags and those without.
As we got situated, our first runner slowly walked up, and we all started to cheer. The runners came in slowly at that point, just one or two at a time, but within half an hour, it was a steady stream of runners in all states of exhaustion and elation.
As I directed runners to the appropriate line with calls of, “wristbands to the left, no wristbands to the right,” I, of course, added in cheers of “congratulations,” “great job” and “you did it!” Many runners thanked me profusely for volunteering and standing in the cold and wind, to which I replied “my pleasure!” I spotted a few runners who may have needed assistance and asked as kindly as I could if they wanted help, as I didn’t want to offend anyone. Many accepted readily, while a few laughed it off with, “do I look that bad?”
A few runners offered me pretzels from their goody bags, worried I hadn’t eaten in a while. I got lots of compliments on my NY Rangers hat—many found the energy to yell out “Go Rangers!” and give me a high five. I was greeted with many big smiles, and a few odd requests: the Gatorade bottles were impossible to open, so I opened at least 50 of them; one man asked me very apologetically to untie his shoes. I told him I’m a kindergarten teacher so I’m used to tying, not untying. He laughed at that, and I yelled, “don’t trip on the laces!” as he hobbled away. One man from France had the biggest smile I saw on anyone that day: He told me it was his ninth marathon and his toughest one yet.
Two other people stand out in my mind. One gentleman in his late 50s or early 60s asked if I had the NYC Marathon app, and if I could check his time—his wife told him he came across in 4:00 exactly. I checked his time: It was 3:59:54! He and I both became emotional and shared high fives and a hug across the taped divide.
The second standout was a woman about the same age. When I commented “Great job, you did it!” she replied with a little dance step and a “Hell, yeah, I qualified for Boston!” Again, I found myself hugging a complete stranger and sharing her joy! Knowing the hard work she had put in, we both shed a happy tear as she continued down the line.
I felt so excited and delighted for all of the runners. Most of them made eye contact with me as I congratulated them on their effort, and I could see in their eyes how proud they were to have completed a truly difficult run on a crazy weather day. The vibe in the city was amazing; so many random people on the streets congratulated my husband and thanked me. A fruit stand worker even gave us a whole bag of bananas for a dollar, a “just for marathoners” deal.
The marathon truly brings everyone together for a day. I look forward to next year’s New York City Marathon because I know I will be there: I’m hoping I’ll be running it, but if not, you’ll find me in Zone 3!
For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.