Monday, May 12, 2008

My Day as a Volunteer

Thanks to my Big Cat friend Runner aka La Lynx for (a) bringing Krispy Kreme donut and water after her 10M race and (b) taking action shots of my first day as a New York Road Runners race volunteer! That was an interesting experience and now let me tell you all about it.

A new rule stipulates that to get guaranteed entry into the ING New York City Marathon each November, one must not only run 9 qualified scored NYRR races in the previous calendar year, but now one also must volunteer for one NYRR event. So Sunday was mine: The NY Junior League Race to Erase Domestic Violence at Central Park. There were about 4500 runners for the co-ed 4-miler that started at 8 a.m. and another 2500 for the women-only 10-miler according to one of the senior start officials.

I had to report to the Bandshell area at 6:30 a.m. for volunteer check-in. There I was assigned to a group and I began right in front of the start line for the first 4M race. My job was to help keep the main crosswalk clear and point runners to registration/baggage check, and generally keep it safe. Then that race was started and I stood there and cheered for every runner taking off. Once they were gone, I rejoined our volunteer group, and we were taken over to the Finish area on the 72nd Street Transverse. This is where I made a fateful decision to raise my hand.

I wound up volunteering to man what I was told later was the toughest spot on the course for a volunteer. Trust me: After it was all over, I felt like I had been through a more intense battle than running an NYRR race. You can see the positioning in the pics above. That is right where Strawberry Fields -- and all the John Lennon fans/tour bus groups -- crosses the main West Drive right into the park at the Daniel Webster statue (pictured). As you also can see, there is a limited sight area to see elite bicyclists absolutely flying through on a downhill grade and not stopping for anything. It is the recipe for dozens of accidents and casualties including bikes thundering into babystrollers and wreaking devastating injury and despair. The worst possible chaos loomed as a foreseeable reality during those couple of hours.

By the time La Lynx took those pics, the race was basically over so the running crowd had thinned. But tour groups still came 50 at a time, and I had to communicate with each group leader so they knew we would let 5 people across at a time, and since they didn't speak English generally, they had to let people know of the danger and that I would be yelling at them a lot. Which I did. I felt like I yelled the whole morning. At first it had been yelling encouragement at runners. After that it was yelling at people to hurry across move fast rush please faster sir don't stand there ma'am please hurry omg get your ass across the street. In that second picture where I am smiling, picture the inside running lane (on the right) filled with a competitive pack, and picture the rest of the street wall to wall with speeding bikers and bladers, and picture those 2 pedestrians as part of a 50-person group that speaks another language ready to get across all of it no matter what it takes. Whew.

I really needed a chill pill after that one. I am just glad there were no accidents on my watch. It was kinda freaky. My favorite part was the old people who just wanted to complain to me about how bikers and runners were taking over their park. OK. Please notify your local alderman or Mayor Bloomberg. Because I don't care. I'm trying to make sure no baby gets killed by a 40-mph Olympic-caliber cyclist who wouldn't think of stopping for a baby stroller. My eyes hurt from having to use my peripheral vision constantly as I am doing in the third picture -- having to see bikers behind me while tracking pedestrians wanting to cross. I'm just really glad that part is over. Volunteering isn't always as easy as you think it is. Some other volunteers got to stand there and point their arm to the right for hours and say "turn left" "turn left" "turn left."

There. I volunteered. It was an experience. I will be happy to be back in my running gear and burning calories and crossing a finish line and then going for my treat of a slice of chocolate cake and a Starbucks.

Yours truly,

Mr. Chaos Crossing Guard

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