Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
The ocean is a desert with its life underground
This was my first time working a water station, and a fascinating glimpse of the organization & hard work that goes on behind the scenes of a big race! I wasn’t going to be running this year, so when the email landed in my inbox at work I signed up for volunteer duty.
Our shift officially starts at 6:00, but the station captain wants us there at 5:30. I tumble out of bed at stupid o’clock and climb into my “Hawaiian” outfit: blue Fijiian shirt, batik pants and neck gaiter over long johns, and Nepali hoodie over the top. The weather’s cool and overcast, great for running, not as great for standing around handing out water!
I drive in the “back way” – fortunately coming from home I don’t need to deal with any of the street closures. There’s already a pile of people at the bus stop, and breakfast snacks and juice boxes are on hand. I’d somehow gotten the impression there was going to be coffee, but I make do with a donut. The UPS truck pulls up with our gear and we begin unloading tables. My employer is sponsoring the water station, so there are a bunch of engineers hanging out along with a group of teenagers who were getting some kind of school credit for volunteering. There’s not a lot of direction at first, but the people who’ve done this before take the lead and the rest of us follow. Garbage bins are fitted with plastic liners, to be filled from the nearest fire hydrant by green garden hoses hooked up in series (a few of the joins reinforced with duct tape). Meanwhile I find myself at a table setting out little paper cups 3 tiers high, filling them by dipping pitchers in the water bins. We’re short on pitchers – we have fewer pitchers than tables – and the whole operation takes on shades of Iron Chef or Cupcake Wars as we race to get all our cups filled before the start time.
In the midst of all this activity, a single runner with a motorcycle escort comes through running the wrong way and thanking us all for volunteering. Turns out this was Tempe’s Mayor, who ran the course backwards to the start, acted as official starter, and then re-ran it forwards with everyone else.
The sun’s risen now, though not really visible through the overcast. There’s a lull of activity, a few cups adjusted, a few hoses unkinked. 4.5 miles away in Tempe, the race has already started. We watch down the road – it that a movement? Yes, it’s the first – and only – wheelchair racer in the HM! We get our first go at cheering, then there’s another lull. And here come the elite runners, and then the front of the pack, and then 22,000 people!
My cheering settles into a pattern: “Woo hoo! Go runners! Way to go, lookin’ good! Keep it up, keep it up!” Sometimes throwing in a T-shirt shout-out: “Go Chicago! Go Vikings! Go Tuba City!” Tutus are big this season, and the occasional sequined skirt. The costumes get more prominent as we’re hit with the mid-pack, and more people start grabbing water too. “Team Dragon” runs by, bearing a long Chinese dragon overhead. I’m slightly damp around the sleeves and ankles from the inevitable splashes, and welcome the warmth when the sun peeks out from behind the clouds. As the mid pack becomes the back pack the runners start coming in clumps with long spaces inbetween – corral divisions maybe? A team of completely made-up Smurfs jogs by. As the water has been slowly depleted from the tables at the front of the line, the teams have been folding up and moving the tables off the road. My table is dismantled and I move further up the line. “Go runners!” sounds sarcastic now that we’re into the walkers, so I switch over to “Rock and Roll!” while another volunteer takes up the refrain “It’s a beautiful day for a marathon!” So many of these people look like they have a story – like the lady in the Vibrams, bravely shuffling along with two walking poles. The last walker is cheered through our station, followed by the sweep vehicle.
Two dump trucks and a street sweeper pull up. It was a cool day, so we have water to dump out and cups to collect, in addition to picking the trash up off the road. Thanks to so many hands it all gets done surprisingly quickly. Job done, I pick up my T-shirt and a juice box and head home. I’m amazed by the level of organization and how smoothly everything went – after X years, they really have this process down!