The Farragut Fall 5k was this past Saturday and I got a chance to work the finishing line as a volunteer. Actually, I had been told that there were enough people, but I knew that even though that was what was scheduled, come to race day, it would not be the case. Strike one up for the Terrster! Despite all the cancelations, we had just enough people to easily take care of the finish line of the race. I really hadn't volunteered much for races up to this point, so I knew nothing, other than me personally finishing races on how the finish line operated and knew nothing about how the finish line operated.
Typically when I finish the race, in the last 50-100 meters I am either in a full-blown sprint, or I am passing people to find my place in the finish line. Normally, I am so out of breath that when I finish, I pull off the tab off the bottom of the race number and hold it in the air, so that the person taking the numbers can get it and I can regain my breath. Typically there is a chute monitor to make sure that you stay in line as you crossed the line, this keeps the paper trail of bib numbers in order. There is also someone who is punching in the bib numbers as they come through the line as well. Maybe more, I don't know… I've only helped setting the chutes up not actually manage the race.
So I found the Finish Line director when I got to the race location (It's the closest 5k race to my house) to find my assignment. I was directed to Ed Leaver, who had all the equipment and could tell me how I could help out. We first started by making the chutes, what the runners enter after finishing to keep them in line, just with polls and cord. But, since we were finishing on a narrow greenway, we had to make the chute a lot longer, so that the bib numbers could be collected with creating a traffic jam. Apparently, there are often a couple of chutes to rotate to keep the numbers straight. Once we got the chute up and running, we were given what we would do during the race. I was paired up with a lady named Terri, easy enough to remember, and were given the little computer thingy that records times and bib numbers. I had never even held one of those things up to this point. In fact, I learned that there is another attachment (much the Jeopardy buzzer that the contestants have) that someone else uses to mark when the runner crosses the finish line.
I was actually afraid that I would be responsible for the timing of this certified course and that the official times of 150+ runners would be in my hands. After all, the runners pour their guts out on a non-so-easy course for 15-40 minutes and to have it all in the air due to some rookie, just made me nervous… one wrong entry and someone could lose an age group award. Thank goodness that they had another counter that was used for back-up, redundancy… it's a good good thing.
We walked up to the race start so that we could synchronize with the gun start for the official timing. For this race, and I do not know about others, we set the main big clock up after we got back, so that could potentially be off by a second or so. We made it back with a few minutes before the overall winner crossed the finish line. That was easy! He was also all by himself AND 2 minutes ahead of the next runner! His time was 15:53 and that is in minutes for 3.1 miles! The not so scary part of using the apparatus was that I did not need to record everyone's bib number, but just “selects.” Selects, as defined to me, were about every 3rd or 4th runner, or runners that would probably be an age group winner, etc. Such as the first female, or young runner, etc. The hardest part of the whole process was reading the bib numbers as they came into the finish line. We were lucky that the orientation of the finish line funneled the runners down to 1 or 2 way before the crossed the line. So, it's not rocket science, but it's a lot of responsibility because you always need to be looking for the next bib number and hope that you enter it in correctly. The other Terri was responsible for hitting the button when the runner crossed the line… so she had to make sure that she got EVERY runner. We ended up with 190 runners by the race end. It was then time to disassemble the finishing chute, pack stuff up and call it a race.
I had loads of fun, as everyone was nice and everything ran smoothly… ask me again when it's chaotic, I may have a different answer.