December 2, 2013

Aid station volunteering: all the fun of racing without needing to vomit

Do y'all remember Ruben Studdard? You know, the American Idol contestant, possibly winner (I can't remember and am too lazy to Google it), who's from Alabama plus was recently on Biggest Loser. Well, he started a half marathon here in Magic City (nickname for Birmingham) that just finished its third year. 

I really like that this race tours a historic part of Birmingham that is usually left out by other races because it's too "rough." I'm sure somebody reading this can point out how this area statistically has more crime, but when I first moved here, I used to run this route safely all the time with my brother. Now that I've moved on to running trails and the Saturday morning long run with the Birmingham Track Club, I don't see this side of town as much, and I miss it. It's a cool area with sites like Birmingham Southern College, Legion Field, and Rickwood Field, and the people were always friendly to us. 

The bad part to me is that there aren't as many built-in water stops in the area (like playgrounds with public restrooms), so it makes doing long runs there difficult unless you plant water stops in advance. 

But on race day, the runners don't have to worry about water because this truck dude had a bed full of jugs for the water stops, one at which I was volunteering. 

I've volunteered for some trail race aid stations, but somehow, I've never signed up to work a road race before now. There is definitely a different water strategy at road races, and it was fun trying to figure out how to accommodate a) the really speedy runners who grab cups on the go and b) the giant throng of runners that you have being the first water stop of a race. We were at mile 2, so probably they didn't have as much of a problem with the giant runner cloud as things spread out along the course. 

Our aid station was organized by Resolute Running (my coach's team!), so I knew most of the folks volunteering. But we had some extra helpers too. 

The best extra helper was the tiny baby zipped into my brother's jacket. She brought the panache. 

The best parts of our water stop:

A dancing Santa Claus.

Kids to hold signs like this. These signs lose some of their power when adults are holding them. 

Mega wigs. Oh, and yes, that's me in the background rocking the baby tee over the puffy jacket (the temps were in the 10s, or at least that's how it felt), Spice Girl platforms, and a side ponytail. The official theme of the water stop: being awesome.

Diane, my gym buddy who is married to the dancing Santa, didn't leave me hanging on the side ponytail. It's actually more comfortable to have a side ponytail than I thought it would be, and it works better if you are trying to do sit-ups or shavasana, both of which I was not doing at the water stop. I'm going to start the Bring Back the Side Ponytail campaign. Except I think the hipsters are already on that. 

One thing that worked for handing out water: holding your hand out flat, palm up, so that runners can just quickly grab the cup off the top of your hand.

One thing that didn't work: getting so into your own dance moves that you accidentally dance too far away from the table to get replacement cups quickly.

Do not even try to beat us in a dance battle!

Because we were the first water stop, we finished the job in less than an hour after the race start and still had time to go back and cheer on runners. So I would highly recommend working aid station numero uno at any race. Also, if in general you love the energy of races but sometimes don't want to run until you feel like vomiting, water stop volunteering is the perfect fit for you. All of the excitement of racing, but you don't feel like dung afterwards.

This was a far cry from sitting in the woods for hours at a trail race station where you will maybe see five runners simultaneously. We were bombarded by hundreds of runners for a 20-minute frenzied stretch, with a trickle of runners before and after the madness. At trail races, runners usually stop at aid stations, at least to grab a quick drink. No one is standing there handing you a cup as you fly by, usually. Typically you only run through a trail aid station if you have already packed all of your own supplies (e.g. you are Joel Maxwell, local friend who packed like he was trekking west at our last 50K).

At a road race, I try and run through all the aid stations, and it can get messy. At Savannah, I knocked about five GUs off of a table trying to grab one at race speed.

Do you run through aid stations at races? 

Describe your dream aid station. Mine has hip hop music (preferably Snoop Dogg) blasting, homemade almond butter energy balls (no, I've never seen these at a race, but it is my dream), Steaz energy drinks, and some people dance battling.

If you could pick one person to go head to head with in a dance battle, who would it be? My pick would be Justin Timberlake, all the way. He's got skills.

Side note: first day officially back to running after Thanksgiving, and my legs felt like bricks! Seven miles on the schedule tomorrow.


  1. In the few races that I have run, I usually walk through the aid station. Yes, it aids a few seconds to my time, but it helps me to not joke or drown :) I would have a head to head dance battle with Kid President... he's got some moves and is ridiculously adorable if you haven't seen him. He would probably win because I wouldn't be focusing because he's so darn cute.

    1. Yes! I had to really work on running and drinking at the same time. I still choke about three times per marathon.:) Kid President would make an awesome dance battler!

  2. That race sign is AWESOME! I totally pinned it for next time I need to make a sign for the twins to hold! And I may need to make one to go beside my treadmill...though just the act of me getting on a 'mill requires I employ my own superpowers...

    My Doodle decided a couple of months ago that she is all about the side pony...4 years old and rockin' it like it was 1985. Her twin has been feeling peer pressure now and has started requesting one on the opposite side.

    1. Your twins are perfect for that sign! People really got into it with the kids cheering and holding it.

      And mad respect for your 4 year old starting her own side pony campaign!

  3. Good pick with the JT dance battle, but you've got your work cut out for you against him. I mean, heck, he pulled off dancing in a taco costume on SNL.

    Volunteering is lots of fun. I've it at trail, road, and ultra races. My favorite spot to be is handing out medals at the finish line. Everyone is super excited to see you and wants you to take their pic.

    1. Totally setting myself up for a lose on the dance battle, but I really want to see JT dance in person. He's got moves!

      Ok, now I really want to volunteer at the finish line!

  4. I take the reference in this article as the biggest compliment ever. Im honored I made the blog.

    1. And I forgot to mention that you totally beat me.:)

  5. I ran the race... and you had the best water station by far (Santa was my favorite). I touched the sign for super powers, but they must've been all gone by the time I got there because this run almost killed me!

  6. I always run through aid stations. Dream aid station: Franz Ferdinand playing live. Lots of people cheering. Tropical GU roctane drink. Salted Caramel GU and Reese Peanut Butter cups.
    I'm totally with you on JT. He's got mad skillz.

  7. Race volunteering is fun! Loved that you wore the T Outside of the puffy jacket :)
    I would be scared to put the cup on top of my hand for fear of spillage.. o_O
    I try to wear my own aid these days so I don't have to fuss with a stop during a race, since i am the world's worst cup drinker. ;)


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