After arriving in Baltimore, I immediately noticed something very cool. All around downtown there were banners everywhere announcing the running festival this weekend.
I started to get a case of race envy. Here I just happened to be in Baltimore at the same time as a running festival that the whole city was rallying around and I wanted to be a part of the fun too. Since I couldn’t participate as a runner, I decided to volunteer.
I went to the expo on Thursday night to sign up as a volunteer, and also check out the various booths. It was a fairly small expo and unfortunately there weren’t any really good samples or giveaways. I got another tiara from Disney and entered a couple contests, and that was about it. The set up of the expo was kind of weird. There were three steps to packet pick-up for the runners for bibs, shirts, and something else. The first step was in a tent outside. The second step was inside on the second level of M&T Bank Stadium, all the way on the very left of the expo. Then the third step was all the way on the right side. I figure it was set up this way so that the runners would have to pass every booth, but it seems like there would be a lot of traffic congestion during the busier times. I was there less than an hour before closing and it seemed crowded even then.
Anyway, this morning I woke up early and arrived at the site of the race just after 7am. After getting my volunteer t-shirt, I was sent over to work the bag check area. I started off collecting bags for the 5k which started at 8:30am.
Before today I never really thought much about bag check other than that it’s a nice convenience to have at a race. But now I have a whole new appreciation for what goes into the organizing just this area, which is only a small part of the whole event. Of course it’s probably a little different at each race, but the way it was set up today was that the ground and tables were labeled with numbers in increments of 100.
I would take the bag from the runner, make sure that the bag check tag was secured, and place the bag in the appropriate area. Sounds simple enough, right? For the most part it wasn’t too bad, but I couldn’t believe the number of people who didn’t bring a bag or lost their tag. One person just checked a shirt. Another person just checked his keys. As you can see in the photos, at this race they didn’t require that you use the goody bag. Any type of bag was acceptable. I’m kind of divided about this because on one hand it makes it easier to identify the bags when the runners come to pick them up. But on the other hand some people went really crazy with the amount of stuff they brought. I didn’t come across any bags that I couldn’t lift, but some of them were quite heavy.
After all the 5k runners had come through, I moved over to help with the 1/2 marathon. That race didn’t start until 9:45. This got a little more chaotic because there were more 1/2 participants which meant a wider spread of numbers to deal with… lots of scurrying around here and there. Just as things died down from the 1/2, the 5k runners started returning. Now it was time to reverse the process. Look at the runner’s number, find the right aisle, and grab the right bag. I was working with a really great group of volunteers and we got to the point where we’d see the person approaching and already be on our way back with the bag by the time they reached the table.
It was fun talking with the runners as they came by. One neat thing I learned was that the results were available almost immediately after finishing. Some of the runners had stickers that were printed with their name, race number, and finish time.
We took a little break while waiting for the 1/2 marathoners to finish. There was a volunteer refreshment area with water, Capri Suns, breakfast pastries, sandwiches, chips, bananas, apples, and granola bars. I also walked around to check out the celebration area a bit, but it was drizzling so I didn’t stay out too long. (The bag check area was underneath an overpass so for the most part both we volunteers and the bags were able to stay dry.)
This was the first finish line festival I’ve seen that actually looked like a festival. There was all sorts of carnival food, Dunkin’ Donuts, and even fresh smoothies available. I also saw a clown making balloon animals and other creations for kids.
I was impressed by these large recycling bins that were placed everywhere. There’s no way to mistake where the water bottles are supposed to go. I still saw quite a few water bottles that were not properly recycled, but at least this was a good effort to try and keep things straight.
Before the 1/2 marathoners returned, we did a massive reorganization. Space was tight in the back corner of the tent and there were a lot of bags jumbled up. I wish I had a before photo, but just imagine that all the bags in the below photo were basically on and underneath one single table. Isn’t the end result so much better? We didn’t quite get everything in the right place, but we were pretty darn close. There were a few scary moments when a bag wasn’t where it should have been. Nothing actually went missing, but I felt bad for the runners who had to wait while we looked.
I stayed until a little after 2pm. I kept busy most of the day and the time just flew by. I actually had a lot of fun and I’ll definitely think about volunteering for races more often now. It reminded me of why I’m in the hospitality industry. It’s great being able to help people, and especially at a race everyone’s just so nice and friendly. If I do end up moving to Baltimore, I look forward to being involved with the event next year. Hopefully as a runner, but volunteering is a good alternative too.
I’ll wrap up with some things to think about next time you check a bag at a race:
- Pack your bag with the expectation that it may get tossed, dropped, stepped on, or wet. The volunteers will not do these things on purpose, but sometimes they just happen. The aisles are small, and we can’t control the weather.
- Don’t check a purse that doesn’t zip or snap closed. There’s a good chance that your bag will be moved multiple times before you pick it up and it’s just too easy for things to fall out.
- When picking up your bag, follow the same philosophy as for race photos… make sure your number is clearly visible.
- Provide the volunteers with a brief description of the bag. Colors are very helpful. Size and shape are also good.