Volunteering at Marathon Weekend

So my blog somewhat seems to have stagnated since I moved to Orlando.  The primary reason being that now that I go to Disney so often, the idea of writing “trip reports” no longer quite works.  I mean, no one wants to read “Went to Magic Kingdom after work.  Rode Space Mountain and Haunted Mansion.  Came home.” 3 or 4 times a week, right?  So I didn’t know really what to write about.  But I think I will now make an effort to update my blog on random musings and happenings that I discover, as well as make entries about special events that take place in Walt Disney World.  This entry is the first of the latter category.

I volunteered at the 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  It was an incredible experience, and one that I hope to duplicate on several more occasions.  Deb Wills, of AllEars.net, asked me to give her some information about my experience volunteering, and my response to her turned out to be significantly closer  in length to Trip Report than it was to a survey response.  With that in mind, I figured it might be something others would enjoy reading, so I’ve decided to copy/paste it here:

I decided on volunteering for Marathon Weekend in mid-September, about a month or so after moving down to Florida.  At the time, I’d completed six runDisney events, and considered myself done with running (I’ve since completely reversed that position, and completed two more events since than, and am registered for several more).  I thought I should “give back”, however, as I was always immensely grateful to all the volunteers who made those previous events such a success, most especially the ones giving out water and powerade along the race course.  I had never volunteered for any event before, but it felt like the “right” thing to do, not to mention something that I certainly *could* do with my new home location and work schedule.
I registered as a volunteer by following the links from runDisney.com, which led me to http://www.disneysportsenthusiast.com.  From there, registering as a volunteer follows roughly the same procedure as registering as a participant – choose your event, sign in to active.com, and complete the waivers and forms.  As part of the registration process, you can select one or more shifts that you are able to volunteer at.  The two I selected were an Expo volunteer from 1:30pm-8:30pm on Friday, and a Half Marathon volunteer from 1:30am-11:00am on Saturday.  I should point out that already by September, the half-marathon volunteer registration was denoted with a “WAITLIST” tag.  There were no options available to select *what* you wanted to volunteer for specifically, only the event and day/time.
About 3 weeks before Marathon weekend, I got a letter in the mail from Disney Sports, confirming my registration and saying which shifts I’d been selected for.  I was to work the Expo from 1:30pm-7:30pm, and the Half Marathon from 4am-10am at Powerade station #7.  The letter also instructed me to pick up my volunteer packet at the Expo, much the same as the actual race participants.  It also instructed me to go online and print out the volunteer waiver and fill it out, and bring it to the Expo with me.
On the Thursday of Marathon weekend, I went to the Expo and checked in both for the Family Fun Run (in which I’d decided to participate), as well as at the volunteer booth.  The volunteer working the volunteer booth gave me my volunteer credentials for Saturday morning (a green hard plastic badge and lanyard), and told me that nothing additional was needed for my Friday shift, just show up a bit before my scheduled shift at the Expo.
On Friday, I ran the Family Fiesta 5k (and bumped into Deb herself!), then went home to shower and change.  Then I headed back to the Expo and checked in for my volunteer shift.  I was directed to the volunteer lounge on the lower floor of the HP Field House, where I signed in and was given my red volunteer shirt and a paper bagged lunch.  I was then asked what in the Expo I’d like to do, with options such as packet pickup, crowd control, goody bag distribution, etc.  I chose Packet Pickup.  I went and ate the lunch until a Team Leader arrived looking for available volunteers.  At that point, I was escorted to the runDisney Travel booth, where tourgroups who’d registered for the races as a group would pick up their packets (rather than each member of the group going individually to the numerically-assigned booths.  I believe this was done because many of the groups were international, and this way the group translator could work with everyone in the group at once, rather than having to go from booth to booth to booth several times).
I was introduced to the Cast Member assigned to that booth, and he explained the overall process of checking runners in.  Having competed in several runDisney events before, this was familiar to me from the opposite direction.  Ask for the participant’s last name, check the id, get the waiver, have them sign & initial the book, and give them their bib and race instructions.  I worked the booth with two other volunteers, both of whom had done this before.  Most of the tour groups had checked in the previous day, so there honestly wasn’t a whole lot for us to do, but when groups or individuals did check in, it was great being able to assist them and explain the procedure.  Also, several people randomly stopped by our booth asking questions – apparently under the impression that we actually worked for runDisney and knew everything about the events.  For most of these folks, I simply directed them to the Runner Relations or Information booths, as I didn’t want to give faulty information.  When my shift was over at 7:30, I thanked the CM for his time, and checked out.
On Saturday morning, I woke up and left my apartment bright and early, around 3am.  There was a huge grass parking lot set up for race day volunteers at the WWoS.  I checked in at the volunteer tent, and picked up a snack bag (granola, fruit, and the like), and a volunteer jacket.  I then boarded the bus assigned to me on my volunteer credential.  Around 4:15am, we took off for our assigned position, near the Grand Floridian.  It was a short walk from where the bus parked to our actual water stop location.  There were shrinkwrapped pallets in a pile, containing about 40 tables, mountains of bottled water, 10gallon jugs, paddles (to serve as mixing spoons), powdered powerade, etc.  It was very dark, with only a single street light available to us, so many of us were using our phones to make sure we didn’t trip and fall as we set up the tables along the stop.  Also, at this point the road had not actually yet been closed, so we also needed to dodge traffic.
As I said earlier, I was assigned to the powerade half of the stop.  The Team Leader asked me to be one of the mixers.  We had four tables set back from the road for mixing (two on each side of the street), and about 16 set up for distributing (8 on each side of the street).  Myself and another volunteer got to work pouring the liter bottles of water into the 10gallon jugs, adding the powdered powerade, and mixing.  Each mixing table had 3 of these 10gallon jugs.  As soon as we were able to get a jug of powerade ready, we started pouring it back into the now-empty water bottles and some provided pitchers, which the distributing volunteers then used to fill up as many cups on their tables as they could, generally stacking them 3 or four high.  I should point out that sanitation and cleanliness was very important – all volunteer were wearing medical gloves, the paddles used for mixing had been sanitized and were shrinkwrapped, and were not allowed to be placed on the tables at any time after they were unwrapped, even the white pieces of cardboard used to separate layers of cups on the distribution tables had to be wiped down with sanitizer before they could be used.
About an hour after we arrived, we saw the first wheelchair participant go by us.  We were honestly not yet really ready for the race, but he only wanted water so it wasn’t a problem.  We kept mixing and pouring as fast as we could, and from that point on, it was just a constant stream of trying to get powerade mixed, poured, and served as quickly as possible.  I estimate that my one little table (again, out of four at the stop, which was one of about 10 stops) made about 120 gallons of powerade that morning. By the time we got to the folks who were mostly walking the race, we slowed down production of the powerade, and I adjusted my role to be that of middle man between the mixing table and the distribution tables, carrying bottles and pitchers of powerade to the tables that had depleted their cups.  By the time we got to the folks who were only walking, I adjusted again to be one of the people handing out powerade on the street.  The number of runners and walkers who, while huffing and puffing, thanked us for volunteering was just incredible.  It 100% made the entire experience worthwhile.  I did my best to call out words of encouragement to everyone, using their names as listed on their bibs.  I called out “Go Team!” to everyone with a purple Team in Training shirt, I shouted out to all the Team AllEars and WDWRadio Running Team members I saw, it was just fantastic.
When the last walker passed our position (being followed by the security personnel on their bikes), we started cleaning up our position.  A small army of Disney workers followed her – raking all the discarded cups up to the street, sweeping the street, re-palletizing the left over water, picking up all the trash we’d bagged, etc.  The only thing we had left to do was return the tables to their original piles.  About 10-15 minutes after that last walker passed us, you’d never have known we were there at all.
We then walked back to our bus.  Because of the road closures still in effect, it took a good 40 minutes to get from there back to the WWoS.  Once we did arrive, we checked out, and I learned that we were to be compensated for this volunteer experience with a complimentary 1-day base theme park ticket.  I had not previously been aware that we were going to be given anything for volunteering, but it was a nice discovery to be sure!
Would I do this again?  In a heart beat.  I am registered for the Princess Half Marathon and the Expedition Everest challenge later this year, but as soon as there is an event open that I’m not actually participating in, you can be sure I’m going to volunteer for it.  It was a very rewarding experience, knowing that you were helping some 26,000 runners complete a remarkable achievement.  And the looks of gratitude on their faces was better than anything I could describe.  I saw everyone from teenagers, to disabled runners (one woman actually running with a orthopedic boot!) to senior citizens, all trying to accomplish the same goal.  That I could help them in that goal, even in a tiny way?  Outstanding.
As for what I would say to someone considering volunteering?  “Do it”.  Yes, the hours are early, yes, the pacing got to be a little stressful.  But the rewards were worth it.  I was surrounded by like-minded people all wanting to do their part, and we were all very appreciated.  It’s worth it.
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3 Responses to Volunteering at Marathon Weekend

  1. TsuKata says:

    Thanks for writing this! I’m excited about volunteering for the upcoming marathon weekend and wanted to read about what to expect.

    • Paul Lalli says:

      You’re quite welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed the article, and have fun volunteering. I’ll be at the Expo center on Saturday and somewhere along the marathon course on Sunday…

  2. Although I have entered a number of running events of various sizes, the first water stop for this event was my first experience in a wholly unprepared aid station. The station, in an event that drew roughly 15,000 participants, was staffed by no more than a couple of volunteers. Whatever pre-filled cups that had been neatly laid out on the tables had long since disappeared, replaced by two-liter bottles of partially filled water and stacks of Dixie cups. Joggers didn’t know whether they were supposed to take swigs from these huge bottles or stop to pour the water out themselves; many simply looked at the mess and kept running. Behind the table was a single man, trying desperately to help but succeeding only in laying out more stacks of Dixie cups.

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