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Here's A View From The Other Side Of The Chute

Published August 11, 1997, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Running in Central New York owes its success in large part to the efforts of volunteer workers. These volunteers staff every race, as they seek to give back to the sport and to the community. They participate in every stage of planning a race. Volunteers design the race T-shirt, type the entry form, lay out the course, stuff and address envelopes, solicit awards, process entries, answer phones, bake cookies, and pray for good weather.

On race day, volunteers arrive early to set-up the start and finish areas. They work with the local authorities to control traffic on the course. They take last-minute registrations, locate misplaced entries, and hand-out race packets. Volunteers connect the computers, turn on the timing clocks and test the communication equipment. They assign responsibilities to the finish line crew, stock up the water stations, and transport athletes and workers to their positions. They coordinate with emergency personnel, and prepare for the onslaught of hungry, thirsty, grumpy and tired runners.

The minutes leading to the starter's gun can be tense. The starter checks the gun. The timers reset their watches. The photographer loads the camera. The rescue crews test their walkie-talkies. The water station crews fill-up their cups. The officials run across the finish line repeatedly to test the computer and the multiple-chute system.

The long-awaited starter's gun sends everyone scrambling. Timers ride their bikes towards the kilometer and mile markers to give splits. The lead vehicle clears the way and waves traffic around. Course marshals open and close intersections. The trail vehicle quietly follows the pack. In the meantime, the results director checks one last time that the main timer, the barcode reader and the printer can all talk to the computer. The finish line director repeats last minute reminders to the chute workers.

Anticipation weighs on the finish area as progress reports come from the course. The appearance of the lead vehicle sends the workers into a frenzy. Many have done this for years. For some, it is their first experience. "OK, guys, this is it." As runners cross the finish line, volunteers cheer, time, sort, tag, stamp, staple, push, hold, hustle, water, and feed, all in a matter of seconds. It can be an overwhelming experience for both runners and volunteers. Fortunately, few of them will remember much of it.

In the midst of all the excitement, the results director matches numbers to places, places to times, times to ages, ages to awards, and finally awards to names. In the mean time, runners indulge in the primary reasons for running: eating, drinking and bragging. Some celebrate running PR's, many celebrate finishing. The awards ceremony signals the end of the race and the start of planning next year's race.

Following the race, weary volunteers tackle the final task of cleaning up. They remove the chute. They dismantle the water stations. They pick up the paper cups. They collect the ice cream wrappers. They tie and haul away countless garbage bags. They post the results on the web and deliver a copy to the newspaper. They match the timing tapes to the official results and send a copy for rankings and records. They print and mail result booklets to the runners. They ship awards to those winners who left before the ceremony, possibly to run another race across town.

Every road race and track meet needs volunteers. Prior experience is seldom necessary, and on-the-job training is cheerfully provided. The rewards exceed the free T-shirt and refreshments that volunteers receive. These volunteers believe that running is the ounce of prevention that saves on pounds of treatment. They are the runners and their families, united in sweat to make their community a better place.

Since an average road race requires about one volunteer for every five participants, runners should consider helping once for every five races they run. The view is a lot different from the other end of the chute. Injured runners provide another resource for race directors. Finally, the children, the spouses and the parents of runners can become involved by volunteering. It sure beats waiting in the car or staying at home. Check the running calendar, and call a race director near you. You will be glad you did.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. His volunteer activities include The Syracuse Running Page. He receives email at

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