According to race organisers, there were 10,451 runners who successfully crossed the finish line in last Sunday’s Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon, yours truly proudly among them. However, I can tell you for a fact that the population on, off and along course that day was easily double that official figure.
Firstly, there were the runners who, for whatever reason, did not finish. There is no shame in that. Indeed, it could happen to the best of them, due to injuries, cramps, hangovers from the previous night or some macho-dare between friends gone horribly wrong.
Secondly, there were the numerous spectators along the course. Some of them fanatically cheered on their family members and friends, often waving some amusing signs (“Hurry mum, I want breakfast. Dad’s still asleep!“) and some not so amusing ones (“My dad’s in front of you, and he’s 68!“).
Thirdly, there were the people who just stepped out of nearby all-night bars/clubs, wondering whether they are still tripping under the influence. I mean, what would you do if you drank and danced all night, stumbled out of the darkness into the light and were greeted with the sight of a thundering herd of half-naked runners pounding the pavement in 6 degree-Celsius temperature? You would just stare and hope the hallucination wears off soon, right?
Then, there were these angels called the volunteers.
These tough souls probably woke up earlier than most of the runners, preparing and managing the million things that we participants take for granted. Things such as organising the drink stations and handing out water/Gatorade to passing runners while getting ricocheted with the same for their trouble.
Or manning the baggage area and taking the wrath of crankies – ungrateful dimwits who are patient enough to endure 21km of running, but can’t wait for more than a couple of minutes for the volunteers to find their bags containing their crappy track suits.
There are also those whose job it is to give directions, and provide assistance with numerous stupid questions such as: “Is there a locker I can keep my purse in“?, “Are there anything other than porta-loos where I can do my business“?, “I lost my bib, can you get me another one“?
I have participated in many races and the thing that always amazes me is the grace and goodwill with which these volunteers always seem to perform their duties. Sure, some of them may be there for a free T shirt, a beer voucher or even a chance to get lucky with a fellow volunteer. However, given the things they do and the shit they put up with, such freebies are the very least they deserve.
Some of these volunteers also have a pretty gentle sense of humour, the kind that makes you feel good even though we all know it’s sugar-coated. For instance, after I completed the race, I was handed a shiny Finisher’s Medal – the only evidence I have to prove to my wife that I actually ran the race, rather than snuck off to an early-morning piss-up with friends. As the volunteer was handing me the medal, he said in a heavy jovial Aussie accent: “Well done, mate! Looks like you could go around one more time, you look so chipper“! Unless he was half-blind, that was clearly not the case, as I looked like I was ready to collapse in a heap. But those words somehow cheered me up nice and chipper, indeed!
And what about one of the volunteers who was manning the drinks and fruit stand near the finish area. As the girl handed me a banana, she said: “Hey, good run, champion! I also have Gatorade and oranges. I’d even peel one for you luv, if I had an extra hand“.
Perhaps some people are just like that. Perhaps kindness and community spirit just come so naturally to them that they don’t even think about any free T-shirts, beer vouchers or other quid pro quo’s. And that, I guess, is what drives these volunteers to do what they do at races all around the globe.
So this one’s for all of you volunteers. You peeps are (in heavy Aussie accent) “bloody awesome“, even if sometimes you take more than a couple of minutes to find my crappy track suits in the baggage area.
Keep on pounding.