Volunteering at the VLM

I wrote a blog post previously about he job of an event marshall, which you can read here.  This post is not too dissimilar but focuses on the Virgin London Marathon in particular, though applies in the same context to any event. I did a similar post before which you can read here but so many people say they’d love to volunteer and you can and should!

There are a total of approximately 6,000 volunteers at the marathon including the start, finish and on course with varying responsibilities. Events like these rely on volunteers. Here is a link where you can find out how you can get involved too.

So at the weekend the Virgin London Marathon took place.  Where you there?  Did you run?  Where you a volunteer?  Where you on the streets somewhere cheering for the participants?  Even watching from home I personally find this event such an emotional one.

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I have volunteered for four years now on the water station at mile 23.  This water station is managed by one of my best friends Laura and is the best one (I am biased but it really is).  I should also point out Laura has done this for around 15 years!  So it was a bit of a surprise this year when we found that they had removed it from the course.  We were offered to volunteer at the Lucozade gel/jelly bean station, which is a dual hub and runners pass it at both mile 14 and mile 22.

It was sticky!

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I have described the experience to many as bipolar.  I do not mean any offence by this and I am aware this is probably a terrible way to explain it but those that have taken part get what I am trying to explain.  So what do I mean by that?  Well it is a complete roller coaster of emotions.  You will be inspired, elated for people, happy, want and do hug people, offer help to those who might be in a worse state than they had planned and want to cry at those who go past in floods of tears.

BUT…

It is an experience I would recommend to everyone.  The atmosphere is second to none!

So what does the typical volunteer day look like?  Well you get the option of two different shifts being an early 9am-3pm shift or a late 12pm to 5pm shift (though this may vary on other volunteer spots).  I go in early to help Laura so we were on the train heading into London just after 6am.  To the volunteer spot and help set up.  This involves opening crates of boxes filled with gels and jelly beans, setting up tables with a mix of each and taking you position to hand out to the runners as they pass.

The day starts with the wheelchair participants, participants with disabilities, elite women, elite men and then the masses.  The wheelchair participants never take anything though you do have to be ready just in case.  The same can be said for the elites.  When the first runners come through they are rapid!  So rapid that they can take a gel/water etc from you and you feel like you’ve been pushed as they go past at such pace!  This does mean, however, that some don’t get taken quite right and end up on the floor instead.

Once the masses start coming through the hours fly!  You are so focused on getting the gels etc to them as they hold their hands out that you are none stop, cheering as you go, shouting out encouragement and calling names of those who have them on their tops.

You will also see people you know and that is amazing especially if you get to hand them a gel or water.

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As the day goes on you move from those who complete the event in spectacular times to those who are struggling.  This is not a surprise – 26.2 miles is a bloody long way!  Then the sweeper vans come and then the roads open and participants who wish to finish are asked to move to the pavements to do so.  These are the people who are hurting.  They are doing it for lost loved ones.  They might be injured.  But they are determined.  And they are the ones who really need the encouragement and it is heart breaking as the crowds that were hard to move through slowly disappear.  This is when you need to go home but you can’t because someone needs to cheer them on!

There is of course the clear up operation but that is fine and once the road closures open the tidy up job is actually an impressive precision operation!

The day is, as I said, a complete roller coaster of emotions.  It is an early start.  It is hard work, really hard work.  Don’t turn up if you are not willing to put in some hard graft for the day.  You really earn your beer! But as I said it is an amazing experience and I will be back for more next year!

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