When I realized that I had nothing at all planned for the first weekend in December, I quickly signed up for this home-town race. Usually the Tom Walker Half Marathon is held earlier in the fall when I am traveling to distant marathons, so this December date seemed like a good opportunity to race in one of my favorite half marathons. Six years ago,this race was my very FIRST race of any kind and initiated my current obsession with racing. As a result, I have a host of positive memories about the Tom Walker Half. The race used to be held in Micanopy, a small town about 10 miles south of Gainesville, but it was moved to Bouleware Springs Park in southeast Gainesville several years ago and is now run on bike paths free from car traffic and noise.
After returning from the Seattle Marathon the week before and having completed 120 miles at the UltraCentric in Grapevine the week prior, , I was still very fatigued. The simple thought of doing a half marathon exhausted me, especially with an upcoming 50k set for the following weekend. Instead of participating in this race, I decided to volunteer instead. That turned out to be a good, practical, and extremely fulfilling idea.
I emailed the race director, Mark Ou, about my desire to volunteer instead of race. Mark is a Marathon Maniac and has been a member of the Florida Track Club for quite a while. He promptly assigned me to an aid station and sent out complete instructions with accurate and helpful maps. On race morning, instead of worrying compulsively over the weather and what to wear, I dressed in layers, packed some essentials in a small backpack, and drove to the race site at 6:45 am for the pre-race volunteer meeting. Dozens of eager individuals helped Mark unpack supplies, set up tables, and arrange registration must-haves. Although my primary assignment was at aid station #2, it was too early to begin my duties there so I made myself useful as a liaison, taking day-of-race applications and bib numbers to the timing coordinator who was set up at the start/finish line. Once the race began at 8 am, I drove to my aid station and joined the 4 other ladies who were already filling up cups with water and Gatoraid and setting up snacks of pretzels and candy.
This race is an out and back course, so runners and walkers passed our aid station around miles 4 and 9. It was quite a change to be on the giving side of a race instead of always taking. While I appreciate volunteers, at aid stations and elsewhere, and always thank them as well as police, it was good for me to experience the other side for a change. It made me appreciate volunteers even more! I also realized that standing in the cold weather, making sure needs were met and runners and walkers had whatever they needed, was a LOT of hard work. The women I worked with – Amy, Jayne, Rebecca, and Amy’s friend (who’s name escapes me at the moment) – helping the time go by quickly as we chatted about all kinds of things but races in particular. Several of them were involved in an organization called Girls on the Run, a 12-week afterschool program for pre-teen girls that works on building self-esteem and healthy living skills and culminates with participation in a 5K. It sounds like a worthwhile project and one I might pursue with the idea of perhaps volunteering as a coach or assistant.
It turns out that there were 236 finishers, an excellent turnout. Quite a few finishers were walkers and it was great to encourage them as they passed our station. I definitely will add volunteering at races to my ‘to-do’ list for the future.