Saturday, October 15, 2011

THE WATER STATION


Prepping for the next onslaught of runners
“Do you have the water poured?”

“Did that earlier.”
“Is the music playing yet?”
“Working on it.”
“What time are they coming?”
“Now!”
“Now?”
“Now!”
“I thought I had three more minutes.”
“Nope. The lead runners are out there now.  Is our eldest up yet?”
“Not counting on it.  I’ll try.”
“See you out front.”
       Two minutes later, I burst out our front door to see scores of runners passing our front porch on White St.  I see a friend running past and yell out, “Uwe.”  He turns to me with a smile, a wave and a “Hi.”  It is one of our favorite times of the fall, the Melanie O’Donnell 5K and half marathon run.  The race goes right by our home and this was the fifth year that we had provided a water station.
       Five years ago, we awoke on a Sunday to find the race in progress and decided to set up an impromptu water stand.  My husband set up the speakers on the front porch serenading the runners with the Rocky Theme Song as they passed.  It brought a smile to many as they passed and to others gave them the boost they needed to keep going.
       We set up a folding table with hard plastic cups that we would fill with water from our storage of spring water.  Johnny would pour and the boys and I would stand on the street and do the hand off to the runners.  As the race continued, we experienced a variety of hand-offs.  Some runners smoothly take the water from our outstretched hands without a glitch and others manage to douse both us and themselves. When we ran out of cups, I would run inside, wash them and start all over again. We stayed until the last runner walked by, our voices sore from yelling encouragement and our clothes wet from sloppy hand-offs.
       The next day, our doorbell rang and a member of the Melanie O’Donnell 5K committee dropped by with gifts for us.  Apparently, many runners had mentioned our stop as being inspiring and memorable and they wanted to thank us with four excellent tote bags.  We had been unofficially voted – “Best Water Station.”  We didn’t do it for the recognition but our family was thrilled by the thanks and totes.
       Over the next two years, our water station grew.  Now we had more cups, placed the garbage can more strategically and started to perfect our hand-offs.  In addition, some of the neighbors came to expect our station and would drop by to help out.
       There are several different hand-offs: 1) the water bearer stands with the cup in their outstretched arm and the still moving running takes the cup as they pass, 2) the runner actually stops to take the water from us and then starts up again and 3) we (the water bearers) run alongside the runner for the hand –off without a second of running time being wasted.  It is the most challenging hand-off and the most satisfying for me.  However, be warned that the front runners are usually not interested in water and you should waste little of your energy and theirs inquiring.
       By the fourth year, we were invited to be an official stop- we had arrived.   The committee provided the table, the cups, the garbage bags, the water, the Gatorade and the exciting addition of bananas.  We provide the road space, the manpower and our signature tunes – Rocky’s Theme still being a favorite.  At some point, a half marathon had also been added, so we were busier for a longer period of time.
       This past year, (September 18, 2011) for some reason became confusing. We didn’t have our eye on the date of the race and the committee forgot to call us.  Late Saturday night, before the Sunday race, we agreed to have the water station.  During the early dawn hours, my husband and I heard the supplies being delivered to the front of our home and then went back to sleep.
       Since the race wasn’t completely on my radar, I overslept and experienced the panic of throwing on clothes, checking in with my husband (who was on it and already had sliced bananas) and running outside only to find out I had missed the first 30 runners or so.  However, all was not lost as the committee had in addition to all the supplies, also sent us a water station staff.  Perfect.
       While the staff (Dave and Jake) was holding down the fort, I ran inside to wake my sons.  When I woke my younger son by telling him that the runners were coming –NOW- he summed it up by saying, “It’s the best thing we do in September, next to my Birthday.”  He jumped out of bed, dressed and ran outside to join the fun.  My older’s son response was less enthusiastic, as he grunted, rolled his eyes and rolled over.
       Now that our household was mostly up, I ran outside again to work the station.  Jake and younger son were pouring two gulp size portions into cups and I joined Dave in handing out our beverages.  I suggested to him that we each take a side of the street and announce our wares.  Over the next 30 minutes, we yelled out “Water here” and “Gatorade there” indicating each other’s product.  I recognized many of the runners and many of them recognized us from years past.  Apparently, when I was inside, a runner asked Dave, “Where’s that woman who is usually here?”   People counted on our water station for our enthusiasm and music.
       At some point there was a lull before the half marathoners came and we foolishly thought that the bulk of the runners had gone by us.  Not so!! A biker came by us to let us know that the leaders were 5 minutes out.  No big deal.  We got this. Normally, the 5K is the larger of the two categories.  Not this year.  The half marathon had hundreds of runners and we were about to be swarmed.
       The first half marathoner runner went flying by us politely refusing a beverage or banana – all business.  It was the same with the next 25 runners – beverages are not a priority.  We looked west on White St. towards Nelson and saw a horde of runners heading for us.  We were down to 20 pre-poured water glasses and about 15 pre-poured Gatorades.  To add to our crisis, the large vat of water with the spigot was almost out and we were left with pouring water from bottles which is significantly slower.  My 9 year old ran in the house in to fill the pitcher and I left my hand out position to just pour with Jake. 
       Fortunately, back-up had arrived as well in the form of my teenage son and a neighbor who had just finished the 5K with his young son.  My younger son, Jake and I poured intensely and my older son, the neighbor and Dave hawked the drinks.  There were times, when we were pouring a drink and handing it straight away to be handed out.  Soon, we were 50 waters ahead and 50 Gatorades ahead and I went back to handing out. (My favorite position)
       Interesting enough, we discovered that the runners in the earlier part of the half-marathon wanted water and people halfway back and more preferred Gatorade.  We were constantly adjusting to meet the needs of the athletes.
        Soon, another issue reared its’ ugly head – the trash.  The trash barrel was overflowing and mis-thrown cups were all over the road.  My teenage son stepped in to help out and some smaller neighborhood children helped pick them up.  Many runners were concerned with making the garbage can with their toss.
        By 9:30am, business had become intermittent.  But – I still like to be out there for each runner offering water, music and words of encouragement.  I stepped away for 15 minutes to run my kids to religious instruction.  They were unhappy as they enjoy participating to the end.  When I came back, Jake and Dave said that we were down to a runner a minute.  Soon the last runners came by followed by the monitoring bike to announce that it was over.  I cleaned up, sad that it was over.
        The next day in the paper we read to the statistics to say that there had been 500 5K runners and 800 half marathoners. That explained a lot.  What a great way to interact with so many people so quickly and so meaningfully.  The runners are all appreciative with a smile, a wave or a thanks and I am always touched by the neighbors who drop in and start helping unasked.  No words are needed.


Author's older son executing the water hand-off.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for this. I have run in many a 10K and never thought about the behind the scenes work of the water stations and all the support that goes on!

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  2. What a beautiful labor of love, never a dull moment in your home or neighborhood. As always, I love the details. Congratulations. Grandma Tuta

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  3. Sounds like fun, but then again, all of you adventures sound like fun. What commitment!

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  4. A lovely tale of a family giving back to the community and having fun too! Bravo!

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