Last year, I ran 20in24 with several of my running friends, all whilst raising money for Back on My Feet, a charitable group that uses running as a vehicle to help the homeless restructure their lives and retrain themselves for work.
The experience impacted me so much, particularly from the volunteers that I’ve decided to go back and volunteer for this race. Additionally I’ve wanted to volunteer my time for a race and support my fellow runners after my long race haul. After 3 years and 2 5Ks, 3 5-milers, a 10-miler, 11 half marathons and a full, I was way overdue for this. My work for grad school is also a bit light this semester, so I wanted to see what it was like. I would like to volunteer for a group such as Students Run Philly Style, inspiring others to run and set goals for themselves on and off the pavement.
Even last night, I began to see what effects I could have on others, even though I’m not fast myself, there’s always someone new joining up. I trained with City Sports’ run club as I do weekly and we had a new runner Nancy who was even slower than myself, but to her credit, she had just taken up running. She was clearly nervous about her speed…which reminded me of myself 3 years ago. “Everyone has to start somewhere,” I told her. It was the same mantra I told myself when I was doing the rounds at Washington Square West. Continuous loops around the square. It wasn’t going to come overnight and I was candid on that point with her, but I told her to keep coming out, the coaches and leaders would never leave anyone behind.
Volunteering though has been hard for me balancing a full-time job with part-time graduate school. Most people have told me that I’m insane for pursuing this schedule, and it has taken a severe toll on my personal life, but now I’m starting to think that I just might be all the better for it. I’m more focused on the things I can have and have earned and aside from professional ambitions, outside of work, running is right up there. It has given me a lot of what I had lost over the years. And it truly moves me that it’s helped me find a way to help others through something I’m very passionate about.
The race had been originally scheduled for mid-July, but due to excessive heat, the city issued an ordinance to the race organisers to have it moved to September, not just this year, but later as I would understand, from this year forward.
I opted to serve an evening shift mainly because it was what they needed most and second, it was the best time available for me. I had been busy all day, enough said.
When I arrived, it was getting dark, but easily spotted the main area and the start and finish line. I made my way to the volunteer line and gave my name and station. I was handed a tech shirt that designated me as a volunteer with the Back on my Feet logo (wow another shirt to run in!), slipped it on and was corralled with other volunteers coming in for the evening. We gathered a load of food for one of the outposts on the course and all got together in a large van used to transport food, supplies, and volunteers.
I was placed at Station 2 on the course, or approximately at Mile 3 on the 8-mile loop that all runners ran. We were stocked with loads of food: bananas, chips, Gatorade chews, water, Gatorade, gummi bears, pound cake, pizza, pretzels and soup, which of course, by the time I arrived, the station had unwittingly run out of hot water. The two volunteers – Sue and Helen – who were already there, had been volunteering at the station all day long (from 7am) as Helen’s husband was one of the ultramarathoners. Many of them stopped at our station to gather any number of the goodies we had.
Around 8pm though, it got a LOT darker and unfortunately that’s when the rain kept pouring down. The downpour definitely stopped a lot of people in their tracks and many of the ultras ultimately packed up their tents and went home. Rainwater causes more severe chafing issues and if blisters pop, infections can set in. But some others did come prepared with extra tape or special bandages and kept on running. Others also walked. Gold relay runners (each person approx 24 miles) also kept going and walked if they had to.
Our station as we were told by the roving crew, was the driest of them all with two tarp panels up to protect us. Even then it wasn’t enough as the rainwater seeped through the ground and the three of us huddled in a single corner on slightly higher ground
Around 10 or 11pm our relief showed up though the three of us were on until midnight. I saw all the volunteers on bike that had escorted me last year, including the biker who mentioned he had seen a random guy perched on a bridge above our course at 4am. He had escorted me on my second loop for our silver relay team (16.4 miles a piece) at around 4am. (We started later in the day, this year, all teams were required to start in the morning.)
We managed to survive into the end of our shifts, although I needed a ride home (and thankfully got it) as the rain continued to persist. Next year I definitely plan on volunteering for this effort assuming that I won’t be travelling around although this go, I will attempt to make myself available for the day shifts so I can interact with more people. It was definitely a worthwhile effort with many runners and bikers using their efforts to give back. And similarly grateful that I was able to carve out the time to come out here – I rarely go out on Saturday nights anymore.
Aside from learning because of severe weather in the Philadelphia summer, that this race would permanently be held now in September as opposed to July, I also learnt that Back on my Feet had opened such a race like this in Austin, TX, called IN24, holding essentially identical races. I also learnt that because 24-hour races are so rare, many people who normally participated in such an event were actually from out of town which explained the smaller than usual field amongst the ultras this year as many who planned for vacation time simply could not return in September.
We were lucky last year that the rain held off, and I am hoping for the events sake as well as all participants and volunteers that it holds off in the years to come!
If you are a runner in the Philadelphia area, I strongly encourage you to put a shift in (anywhere from 4-8 hours depending on the duty and you can do as many as you wish). It is truly worthwhile giving back and the relaxed atmosphere amongst the volunteers allows for more meaningful interaction with the ultramarathoners who often stop by and chat as opposed to most road races where it’s grab and go.