Sunday, July 10, 2011

Good Job! (If you can get it)

I once had a flat mate who said that if he were ever to have a child, he would name it 'Plus One'. Working in the music business, he claimed that such a moniker would get his kid on any guest list for any gig in town. I was only 50 % sure he was joking.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I attempted to earn my own plus one, although thankfully this had nothing to do with childbearing. Instead, I worked as a volunteer for the New York Road Runners (NYRR) in order to earn the '+1' I need to complete the 9+1 guaranteed entry program and qualify for the 2012 NYC marathon. If you're new to this blog, you can read about this program and my attempts to complete it here.

I'd chosen to volunteer as a course marshall at the Boomer's Cystic Fibrosis Run To Breathe 10K in Central Park, a race which supports life-saving research into Cystic Fibrosis. After a 4.15am start (ouch), I made it to Central Park for 6.30am to meet with the other volunteers and the NYRR volunteer coordinator. The meeting point was the NYRR kiosk, right behind the Fred Lebow statue at the East 90th St Entrance to the Park.

It was an absolutely beautiful morning, and while we milled about waiting for everyone to arrive, I watched jealously as runners made the most of the trails and running paths Central Park has to offer.

I mean, who wouldn't want to run through scenery like this?

By around 7am, everyone had arrived and we all got decked out in our dashing (geddit?) NYRR orange volunteer jackets. You like?

And then it was time for our orientation talk. Basically, as course marshalls, it was our job to make sure that the runners stayed on the right course and didn't veer into the part of the loop reserved for recreational walkers, runners and cyclists. In addition, we needed to keep members of the general public out of the racing lanes whilst the race was on. Lastly, we were expected to perform the most important task of all. Cheering. Easy, eh?

I was asked to work, with two other volunteers near the East 72 Street section of the course, which meant that the runners would pass us twice, once just after the start of the race, and again just before the finish.

Once the race started it was only a matter of a few minutes before the first runners came flying around the corner towards us. It was fantastic to see the front runners speeding past, running at a pace that most of us mortals could only sustain for a minute. When I've run in races before, I never get to see the front runners in action, so it was both exciting and jaw dropping to witness.

Within what seemed like seconds the course was teeming with runners, and we got on with the job in hand, which mostly involved making exaggerated waving motions and shouting 'STAY IN!' whenever someone looked like they were going to veer off in the wrong direction. It was pretty uneventful, except when a crazy woman insisted on crossing the course with her baby in a push chair, nearly tripping up multiple runners in the process. Oh, and there was the pink gorilla. He was cool.

The majority of runners passed us within the first 15 minutes of the race and then all was quiet until they made a full loop and broke for the finish. It was incredible to see the winning runners coming past, running full pelt after over 6 miles. The runners were much more spread out as they began to filter into the finishing lane. While those in the first wave looked confident to finish, as the runners started to look more and more fatigued, our cheering became more and more animated.

And this is where I had a little sticking point. I was half of a two-person cheering squad with a lovely volunteer I'd met called Jennifer. She was a great cheerer, and being American, everything she cheered sounded great.

'Good Job!'
'Nice Kick!'
'You've got it!'

All of this trickled off her tongue in an effortless and effort inspiring flow. Me, on the other hand, well I'm sorry but shouting 'Good Job!' just is not right when you've got an English accent. It just sounds plain stupid. In fact, quite a lot of things sound stupid when you come to think of it. That didn't stop me from shouting, very self consciously, the following heap of nonsense:

'You're almost there!'
'Nice run!'
'Nice socks!' (well, they were nice socks)
'Looking good!' (that's a really American one too, and I did sound pretty idiotic uttering it),
'You've got it!' (I know, all wrong, unless you pronounce got as 'gaat' rather than to rhyme with yacht).

Well I think you get the picture. I was the most self-conscious cheerer you could get, but frankly, most of the people running past us didn't look like they needed much encouragement. They all looked really strong, so you felt like a bit of a lemon yelling 'you can do it!' at them.

But then the crowd thinned out further, and we started to see the people that did need encouragement. The older runners (and I'm talking upwards of 70 here), the runners with oxygen tanks on their backs (amazing), the runners weighing in at upwards of 280lbs, the runner with a prosthetic leg, the runners who were really struggling to finish. It was when these runners came by that I started to cheer instinctively and stopped needing to search for the appropriate thing to say. I was no longer self-conscious but just plain excited for these men and women who were about to finish. You could see that for many of these runners, completing this race was a really. big. deal. And so it should be. Because when you see so many people making a 10K look like a walk in the park, you forget that 10K is a really long way to run. How many of you reading this have ever run a 10K? Was it easy?

The runners we saw in the back of the pack put their heart and soul into this race. When we cheered for them they made eye contact with us and we could see that they took strength from our encouragement. I found it incredibly moving to see them run and honoured to have helped them on their way to the finish line. I hope that every one of them is full of pride for what they achieved yesterday because they did an AMAZING thing.

Before long, the last runners were through to the finish and it was time to pack up. I made my way to the check out station, collected my free race t-shirt, said my goodbyes and headed for home.

Plus one in the bag, memories of a wonderful morning in my heart.


Anonymous said...

well down. And thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

Meant to say Well done, not well!

jillconyers said...

I'm not the best at not-running during races and I"m definitely not a good spectator. I spend the whole time wishing I was running. But, I do volunteer when needed and spectate when my husband or son is running. It is cool to see the start line. Looks like a great place to run.

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mkg said...

who on earth would cross a run with a baby (or 2) in a pushchair...?? some people... (!) xxx

Lindsay Owen said...

I know, mkg, who would ever even consider crossing a race with a push chair?! And imagine if they were to cross a MARATHON with a push chair and 2 children - what sort of nincompoop would attempt something as crazy as that? ;-) x