My recent half marathon exploits meant that I was aiming for a relatively easy week training-wise in the run up to that event. Trying to ensure that a runner has an easy week is a tricky thing to do: we like to run, and think not running is bad!!
So, in an attempt not to run, I volunteered to marshal at the running club’s 5k race on the Tuesday evening before the half marathon, and the following Saturday’s Park Run.
I fell lucky with both events, as I was given marshalling points at the ends of both races. These were fantastic positions from which to see the runners at their very best and their very worst.
The Grand Prix 5k handicap
I was marshalling at the very last corner, which is also on the start line. This meant that I got to see everyone in the race set off. It was a fantastic way to put names to faces and see where, in the club speed hierarchy, they all were. It was also interesting to see the different approaches to the race. Some people warmed up, jogging up and down the small hill at the start, others stood around talking, some stretched and others just leant on the wall until their names were called.
When the starter told them could go, nearly all of them hit the button on their Garmin/Timex/Insert watch make here, and hared off. Some were sprinting for all they were worth, others seemed to gently push off and gradually build into their stride, others were waving to their friends and seeming not to care that it was a race at all. Many of the runners set off in small groups, collected together by virtue of their previous time, and nervously eyeing one another up like gladiators. Of course, the race was not against them, but against the clock!
As the slower runners sped off into the distance, the size of the group began to shrink until only the “elite” of the club were left. These guys, for they were all men, shrugged, strutted and eyeballed each other around the start line, until, suddenly, they had all left and the starter and the team went to set up the finish area.
I was only about 30 yards away at the first corner, and eagerly awaited the first runner. It seemed like a long time but it must have only have been 10 minutes or so and the first runner came around the corner. Eyed glazed like a hunted gazelle, he headed for the finish line.
Then it happened! Dozens of runners could be seen (and very often heard) heading towards the final corner. The stream seemed endless and this is what is so great about a handicap: the aim is for everyone to finish together, and it is quite a sight to see. A sea of white and fluorescent jackets and vests hurtling towards the finish line, all sizes, all shapes and all abilities, united in their common goal of reaching the finish line, beating their personal best and, most importantly of all, making the pain in their chest and/or legs stop. It was a fantastic finish, great to see so many people putting so much effort into a sport they love. Even if they managed to beat their time, it was only their time! No one else would be bothered, but to them it was a milestone, an achievement to celebrate and a story to tell their family when they got home. They could bask in the glory of a new PB for… oh, all of ten minutes. Then it was time to think of the next one.
The Park Run
The Park Run is an amazing event. Every Saturday, hundreds of runners gather to run 5k in parks across the country. It is free to enter: all you need to do is to register the first time and then just simply take your code along each time you go after that. The run is open to runners of all ages and abilities, and is run by volunteers.
I had volunteered and was stationed at the finish line, handing out the finish tokens so that runners could go and have them scanned and their time recorded.
It really is an amazing spectacle to see over 350 runners gather in the park. They come from all directions and use various modes of transport. Some cycle, others jog, some drive and some walk. All shapes, all sizes, all ages, Mums, Dads, kids, the young, the old, and even dogs!
The start is a fantastic sight: the horn blows and 350 runners are off! Some have been a little ambitious and set off too near the front and soon find themselves being passed by faster runners. Others have set off too far back down the field and got boxed in, and have to weave through the glut of runners to get up towards the front and run their race.
The finish line must be the best spot to be given to marshal. You have the opportunity to see the runners come in, sprinting for the finish, giving their all, racing themselves, their fellow club runners, their friends or anyone who happens to be around at the time! It is truly amazing to see the different conditions that runners are in when they cross the line. Some sprint for the finish and are so out of breath they cannot speak, some seem to glide over, some smile, others grimace. However, the worst ones, the stomach churning ones, are the snot monsters who arrive covered in unmentionable mucus. I had to fight the urge to be sick when some of them arrived, and I still gag thinking about it!
All in all, though, it is a great experience and one I would recommend.
Volunteering and marshalling at the Park Run or for your club is a great way to see the work put in when organising these events; it also allows you to meet new people and to put faces to names but, most importantly, to do your bit for the running community.
Go on: you know you want to!
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