Tag Archives: Volunteering

NYC Half Marathon Volunteer – Tunnel Vision

This was my view for 7 hours.  Except it was a little less blurry in real life.

This was my view for 7 hours, except it was a little less blurry in real life.

One week ago I volunteered at the NYRR United Airlines NYC Half Marathon as an EMT.  I keep forgetting to post about it, and there’s not much to say, so here it is in a nutshell:  It was a cold day and very windy in the tunnel, and it was a long shift without breaks, but I survived and so did everyone else, so it was a good day.  I also got to spend time with some other awesome medical volunteers, and I look forward to seeing them again at future races.


If you’re an EMT and volunteering for that particular race, do note that they’ll probably stick you in the tunnel (because we’re tough and can handle it?), so be prepared to have no resources nearby (there were no ambulances or anything in the tunnel), so bring anything you might want (hot drinks, snacks, etc.) and dress in layers that will protect you from the cold and wind (e.g. long underwear, thick-soled shoes, balaclava/scarf and hat, etc.), and expect to get a little dirty from the dirty walls.  I got windburn on my chin, but at least I didn’t get sunburned!


There was a gorgeous sunrise right before I headed into the tunnel for the day.

There was a gorgeous sunrise right before I headed into the tunnel for the day.


In other running news, there isn’t much!  I’m still really good at procrastinating runs, my right knee has been tweaking a bit again, but I’m looking forward to the warmer weather and to all the many races I have coming up, as they’re really effective in forcing me to get out there.


Happy Easter, everybody!


What’s your favorite Easter Candy?  Did you go running this weekend?  Are you excited for all the candy on sale tomorrow?  Share in the comments!

Volunteer Recap – TCS NYC Marathon, Nov 1, 2015

And this is only half the tent!

And this is only half the tent!

The 45th NYC Marathon was this past Sunday and I was lucky enough to work in the first medical tent after the finish.  I had a great time, learned some medicine, and also learned that I really enjoy doing this kind of thing.  Of course, helping fit, motivated runners who are not very sick and grateful to boot is pretty easy compared to most medicine (I imagine) – but I’d never complain about that!


They divided the tent by “boroughs” using colored tape on the floor – Manhattan was near the entrance, then Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.  I was stationed in Staten Island which was right in the middle of the tent, directly across from the critical care area (which had curtains for privacy) and adjacent to the resupply station (convenient!).  The tent itself was 60 feet by 160 feet, with soaring ceilings and huge industrial lights that were so bright I had no idea night had fallen by the end of my shift.  I’d estimate that we had about 125 cots, give or take, plus an area with chairs for podiatric patients.


There were several hundred volunteers, enough so that when they asked for 100 people to work the finish line, you could barely tell anyone had left.  I was initially bummed I was in the tent instead of at the finish, but by the end of the day I realized I had dodged a bullet, since those people had to transport well over 1,000 patients from the finish line area to the tent, wiping down the wheelchairs in-between transfers, and repeating the process all over again.  Those people did their own marathon that day.


Upon check-in every volunteer picked up an identifying bib with their medical designation – e.g. Attending Physician, Resident Physician, RN, EMT, PT (Physical Therapist), LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist), DPM (Doctor of Podiatric Medicine), Student, Spotter (catching people at the finish), and others.  I’d estimate about 30 to 40% of the volunteers were students of some sort (either med student, nursing, or PT).  Oddly enough, I was the only EMT in the “Staten Island” section, and in general there weren’t many EMTs in the tent.  Our team leader broke our “borough” down into smaller teams, with one or two people of each designation on each mini-team, so there would be someone of each speciality available.  However, when the runners started pouring in, people seemed to just go where they were needed, although we did stay within our “borough.”

The med tent! (Located just after the finish, on the northern side of Sheep Meadow).

The med tent! (Located just after the finish, on the northern side of Sheep Meadow).


The worst part was the waiting.  Our call time for the finish line tent was 9 am, and they claimed we’d see our first patients at 10 am, but that makes no sense considering the starting time for the wheelchair athletes was 8:30, professional women were 9:20, and professional men at 9:50 (the last wave started at 11 am!).  We all actually ate our lunches (ham, tuna, or mozzarella sandwiches) before we saw any patients, since we didn’t see our first patient until almost noon.  It did get incredibly busy from about 1 pm until about 4 pm.  We had every cot filled with a waiting line in wheelchairs!  Over the course of the day, our single tent saw about 1400 patients, 8 of whom went to the hospital for further treatment.  We administered more IVs than any previous NYC Marathon (I think – don’t quote me on that), and I heard that in general we were a lot busier than recent years (possibly due to high temps – it reached 65 that day, which means it felt like 85 for the runners).


We saw a lot of Exercise-Associated Collapse (aka postural hypotension – basically running dilates the blood vessels in your legs, which temporarily remain dilated after you stop running, and when you stop you lose the “pumping action” of the muscles that help return blood to your heart, so your blood pools in your legs and you can faint – that’s why most races make you keep walking after the finish line).  We also saw a lot of cramping and gave out a lot of salt (just poured from the packet right into their mouths, washed down with a bit of Gatorade).  The magicians in the tent were the PTs, as I saw some of them stretch and massage away the most gnarly of muscle spasms.  The most helpful item I would not have predicted turned out to be old race t-shirts – swapping out a runner’s wet shirt with a dry one helped tremendously.


I heard a lot of complaints about how disorganized the tent was during set up, although it didn’t strike me as particularly chaotic, but I’m not used to well-organized hospitals and such.  We did run out of some materials, most notably the iStat stuff, which meant we couldn’t run some of the blood tests we wanted.  Overall, though, it seemed to go pretty well, with most of the patients I saw visibly getting better in a matter of minutes.  And everyone I worked with was really great – quite inspiring to see so many talented and friendly medical professionals!

Walking past the finish line after my shift ended at 6 pm.  Sunset at 4:52 pm meant a lot of nighttime finishers.

Walking past the finish line after my shift ended at 6 pm. Sunset at 4:52 pm meant a lot of nighttime finishers.


I don’t know what it was like in the other tents, and we haven’t gotten any final emails from NYRR yet.  I 100% want to do this again, and it made me more interested in running the NYC Marathon again, too (although I won’t be able to do both at the same time!).  Next time I’d bring more snacks, especially snacks to share (one woman brought a big bag of homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and a sack of apples – she was a saint!).  I also wish I had gotten the info of one of the PTs on my team, as I’m still suffering from my tendonitis and am sure to suffer other injuries in the future.  For more info about the NYC medical tents, you can check out this article.  And if you want to volunteer for next year, sign ups are already available here.


How was your Sunday?  Are you still eating endless Halloween candy like I am?  Have you ever fainted after a race?  Share in the comments!

Gearing up for the 2015 NYC Marathon

Really nice jacket, unfortunately it's enormous.

Really nice jacket, unfortunately it’s yooge.


Oh, no, I’m not running the NYC Marathon this year.  I’m gearing up to be one of the many medical volunteers that day!  Last night the Medical Director (Dr. Stuart Weiss) held an orientation session which, I have to say, was pretty great.  It covered some basics about the race, some common injuries we were likely to see, procedures and record-keeping, and what to do in case the race needs to be stopped for whatever reason (basically pull flags across the course and have runners stop so they don’t all start crashing into each other).


We also got a Medical Manual (a booklet of info and maps) plus our bright red medical volunteer t-shirts and jackets.  Overall, it was incredibly well-organized and infinitely more structured than the way the medical volunteering went for the 18-miler.  Dr. Weiss mentioned that supplies in the tents reflected what volunteers in the past had requested, and that he pushed hard this year to have red jackets made for all the medical volunteers so they were easily identifiable.  The one big thing we haven’t gotten yet is our assignments for race day, which they said would come in an email later, so I don’t know where I’ll be along the course yet.  I do know that if I get my finish line request, I’ll have a 12-hour shift!


Last night I was surprised by two things – just how freaking many med volunteers there were (we filled the NYU Skirball Center, which holds about 900 people, and this was just one of two orientation nights) and how freaking young they were!  As an Old, everyone looks young to me these days, but I also overheard some nurses in the line behind me saying that most of the volunteers were med students (not sure how they knew that, but since they’re nurses I assume they know everything).  I also had to laugh when they covered scene safety in the presentation, since that’s drilled so hard in EMT training, but I realized a lot most of the people there we not emergency medicine folks but had other specialties, so scene safety would be a good reminder to them when they’re used to an examining room instead of the side of a road.


While there will be hundreds of professional EMTs and paramedics along the course in their ambulances, past statistics indicate those ambulances are mercifully mostly unused.  Of the approximately 50,000 runners, about 5,000 will stop at some point for medical care, but only about 20 people out of that 5,000 end up needing to go to the hospital.  The finishing rate of the NYC Marathon is also incredibly high, as 99.2% of those that start will finish.  See, finishing a marathon is easier than eating a Cinnabon!*


If you are running NYC this year, good luck and have fun, and I hope to see you happy and healthy at the finish!


*I don’t have any statistics on what percent of people finish an entire Cinnabon, but I can’t imagine it’s anywhere close to over 99%.


Are you running a fall marathon this year?  Have you ever visited the medical tent during or after a race?  When’s the last time you ate a Cinnabon?  Share in the comments!

Race Recap (sorta) – Volunteering is the New Black

And they're off - for 18 miles!

And they’re off – for 18 miles!

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).


  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Front and back of the free volunteer shirt - technical fabric in a woman's cut!

Front and back of the free volunteer shirt – technical fabric in a woman’s cut!

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!

The Volunteer t-shirt for the NYC Marathon 2013, with Boston support ribbon

Volunteering at the NYC Marathon Expo

Volunteers waiting for instructions at the NYC Marathon Expo

Volunteers waiting for instructions at the NYC Marathon Expo

For Halloween I spent the day volunteering at the NYC Marathon Expo!  It was my first time volunteering for the marathon but it certainly won’t be my last.


The morning was a bit disorganized – from my personal difficulty finding the volunteer check-in area to many of us missing instructions on how to do our jobs (way too many t-shirt distribution people and too few bib distribution people meant a lot of last minute switches), we finally got into a groove after a bit.  The most exciting part was when Dean Karnazes checked in at my station.  He used his phone to find his bib number, and as his name quickly flashed on the screen, I exclaimed, “You’re Dean Karnazes!” like a giant dork.  He smiled and said yes, in fact he was.  Whether or not you’re a Dean Karnazes fan, if you’re a runner, you probably know who he is (actually, none of the other marathon-running volunteers near me knew who he was – how is that possible?!).  Handing a race bib to Dean Karnazes is like handing a baseball bat to Derek Jeter.  (He’s a baseball player, right?)


I was surprised how many volunteers were running the marathon this year – I expected a lot of 9+1’ers (NYRR’s program for guaranteed entry into the marathon – run 9 qualifying races plus do 1 volunteer job means the following year you get guaranteed entry), but I didn’t expect so many people who were actually running this Sunday to be volunteering all day on Thursday.  I was also surprised how busy it was – there were definite lulls, but for a Thursday morning/afternoon, there were a ton of people there.  I can only imagine how crowded it gets when it’s really busy.


The Volunteer t-shirt for the NYC Marathon 2013, with Boston support ribbon

The volunteer t-shirt for the NYC Marathon 2013, with Boston support ribbon

After volunteering I wandered the expo and bought practical running socks plus a flouncy silver running skirt I totally don’t need but definitely love.  All expo volunteers got a bright orange t-shirt to wear as well as $14 credit to use at the food court downstairs (more than enough for a giant chicken parm pasta lunch).  But of course the real reward was meeting and greeting all the excited runners (many of whom had travelled halfway around the world for this race), and getting to meet and chat with other volunteers.  I had a great time today and I’m even more excited to cheer on Sunday.  I hope my new volunteer marathoner friends spot me between miles 21 and 22.  While I was horrified to find the CVS completely empty of Halloween candy tonight, I promise to find candy somehow, somewhere, and have a big bowl of sugary encouragement for the NYC Marathon runners.


Are you running NYC this week?  Share in the comments!  Candy requests will be noted, but not guaranteed.