I did my first stint as a medical volunteer for the NYRR 18 Mile Tune Up yesterday, and while it could have gone more smoothly (as you’ll see in my review below), it ended up being an interesting and enjoyable day and I’ll definitely keep volunteering in the future.
The worst part of volunteering for the 18 Miler is that you have to show up really early – like over an hour before the race begins. The best part of volunteering for the 18 Miler is that you don’t have to run 18 miles that day. I checked in before 6 (and before sunrise), grabbed some coffee and resisted the donuts (iron will!), found my way to the medical tent, and started filling an inordinate amount of Ziploc baggies with ice.
We had a few runners come in during the race asking for vaseline, Tylenol, ice, and a couple of runners who needed to get bandaged up from falls. But most of our work was done as the runners finished and poured into the tent asking for ice wraps (i.e. baggies of ice secured to their knees or ankles or wherever with plastic wrap). I wrapped more knees in ice than I can count, and I’m a pretty good counter.
I won’t bore you with all the details of the day, but one highlight was a runner who had just crossed the starting line asking us how many miles the 18 Mile Tune Up was (um… 18…). But from now on I really want to ask a volunteer at every marathon I run just how many miles the race is and then look flabbergasted when they say 26. (It would be better if the marathon were called a “26 Miler” but I’ll take what I can get.)
I have high expectations for any NYRR race – they do many, many races every year (70 in 2015!) and have been organizing races for 55 years. They are also rich (over $74,000,000 annual income in 2014) and have lots of technology and resources at their disposal. As such, all of their races should run like clockwork. So my nitpicks about the volunteer process are indeed nitpicks, but they’re also something I think NYRR can and should fix.
I debated even including the following as it could sound hypercritical, but in the spirit of doing a debrief after an incident and learning how to make the process go more smoothly in the future, I’m including it (not just for the zero NYRR staff who will read this but also for future me).
- There was no orientation/welcome/coordination at the start. From getting told three different things on how to bag ice (ugh), to having little to no instruction on anything, to simply being awkward and non-communicative with the professional medics, the morning did not kick off to a smooth start. It would have been HUGELY helpful to have someone make an announcement before the race started on what was expected of the various volunteers, a quick introduction of the various staff members, how we were to work with the professional medics (of which there at least 6 in a small tent – about the same number as medical volunteers), instructions on record-keeping, etc. It would have taken less than 5 minutes and yet ultimately saved much more time that was later wasted hesitating or correcting how things were done.
- We ran out of ice. This is the 18 Mile Tune Up – not only is that a lot of miles, but it’s specifically designed as a training race for the NYC Marathon — so these runners are going to want ice after the race! They should never run out of ice for any race, let alone an 18-miler they’ve been doing for years, regardless of whether it’s a hot day or not (Sunday was not even particularly hot nor sunny).
- We made runners “check in” before we allowed them into the tent. We had one volunteer with a clipboard writing down every runner’s full name, number, and chief complaint (i.e., where they wanted ice). First of all, why do we have to get their full name if we have their bib number? Everyone’s name is known from their bib number already, so it just added delay and complexity for no good reason. Second, I understand the importance of record-keeping (especially when it comes to doling out medications) but a volunteer told me that at the NYC Marathon they simply scanned the bibs and there was no line waiting for treatment. I understand we might not be able to eliminate having to wait in general – there are limited volunteers and all that – but making runners stand in a line waiting for medical help while we write down names seems silly at best and irresponsible at worst. After most of the volunteers were dismissed, I saw a staff member manually typing the names and numbers into a computer – a horribly tedious task. If NYRR has technology that can automate this, it should be used at every race.
- There was no easy way to identify the medical volunteers. We all wore the same yellow volunteer safety vest and lanyard that every volunteer everywhere wore, so proximity to the medical tent was the only way a runner would know we were the medical team. There were plenty of uniformed EMTs and Paramedics (as expected), but I noticed runners were hesitant to approach them. And since it was a relatively small tent and number of volunteers, I mostly figured out who had medical training and who did not, but since there were non-medical volunteers in the tent, it was confusing at times.
You do get a really nice technical shirt for volunteering, though.
Since I’ve become an EMT and signed up to volunteer, I’ve been saying to everyone that I hope I don’t see them in the med tent (at the NYC Marathon or any other race), but I realized on Sunday that if I see someone in the med tent it’s actually a pretty good sign. If you make it to the med tent, you’re probably ok – maybe you need ice or you’re chafing or you want a salt packet, but you have your wits about you and the strength to get the help you need. If you’re rescued on course, that means you had a serious problem. (I don’t know how many runners went down on Sunday – I only heard the radio saying “runner down” once, and I didn’t hear any follow up.)
So, I’ll now say that I do hope to see you at the med tent sometime, where I can promise to do a half-decent ice wrap on your knee and offer great sympathy as a continually injured fellow runner.
In other news – today I bought the most expensive pair of running shoes I’ve ever purchased, ever. I then ran the fastest mile I’ve run in years. Coincidence? Absolutely. But I’m keeping the shoes.
Have you ever volunteered at a race? What are your tips for volunteering? Did you watch the Emmy’s last night? Share in the comments!