runDisney brings Disney and running fans together for four awesome running events each year at the Disneyland Resort. I have a passion for all things running and Disney related, so when the opportunity arises to combine the two, I am definitely quick to take advantage of it! The Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend celebrated it’s second anniversary January 14th – 17th this past year, and fans of the race returned in full force (yes, pun intended) to complete this new fan-favorite series of races. With the announcement of the Kessel Run Challenge and The Dark Side Half Marathon Race Weekend events for April in Walt Disney World, this race was nothing short of popular and exciting for everyone involved.
If you ever find yourself involved in road races or the sport of running in general, something you will quickly notice is that volunteers are the backbone of making the events happen. It is virtually impossible for running organizations to run the entire event themselves (and since most major races have over 15,000 runners, you can imagine the logistic challenges of the whole thing). runDisney is no exception to needing volunteers. I would comfortably say that 90% of the “staff” working the events are volunteers, while the other few are actual runDisney employees and others are brought in as support for the events. At running events, the volunteers always look like they’re having a better time than many of the participants. And I can imagine why! Getting to support people accomplish what might be the most difficult thing that they have ever done is quite the reward. Disney also offers the nice perks of snacks, an event t-shirt, and one park hopper ticket for the Disneyland Resort as “thank you” gifts for your service. I always told myself I would volunteer if I got the chance, but as a runner the best option I usually have is to express gratitude for the volunteers from the course as best as I can.
I had originally signed up to run this race, and was very much looking forward to it. After Disney announced The Dark Side race weekend in Florida, however, I decided to plan to do these two races in the same calendar year (for the Kessel Run Challenge medal, of course) and deferred Disneyland’s Star Wars races to 2017. This gave me the opportunity to volunteer for the first time! I had heard that signing up to volunteer was as intense as signing up for the races themselves, so I was ready to go the minute registration opened. I was able to select different areas for volunteering (finish line, start line, corral management, expo booths, etc.) and chose the open-ended category of “Event Support” to see what would happen. I got notification that they would send out placement assignments about a month before the event, eventually got the confirmation email to work 2:45a – 10:45a on Sunday morning for the Half Marathon as an “event support” volunteer, and got the final details of how to prepare for the shift. runDisney provides parking passes, badges, snacks, and the event t-shirt for their volunteers.
I ended up being placed as additional support for medal distribution at the finish line. This was a dream come true for me! As a runner, getting my medal at the finish line after a grueling race is what I look forward to the most. It is my physical reward for accomplishing such a challenging feat. Distributing medals is quite an honor, and I was so excited to be a part of the finishers’ crowning achievement. It took approximately three hours of prep work to unpack every medal, which was individually wrapped in three separate layers, and to prepare for the first runners to cross the finish line. It was very strange to be preparing for the finish line before the elite runners had even crossed the starting line! After several hours of detailed and careful work (if a medal touched the ground, we had to turn it in to our leads and account for it), the medals were ready for their newfound owners. We took our places at the finish line and waited anxiously for the first runners to finish the race.
The next three hours flew by. The tempo at which we were handing out and restocking the medals in the distribution area was nonstop. Between “congratulating” runners, smiling at them, crying with them, and getting to put medals around their necks, there was no time to do anything except for share in the joy of the finishing moments with the runners as they came by. I was honored to put medals on hundreds of people, take photos with them, hug them, and share (even if just for a brief moment) in their accomplishment. I have been lucky enough to experience some incredible things in my life, and volunteering at this event and working the finish line is one of the best things I have ever done.
At the end of the shift, we walked back to the check-in area and were given our park tickets as we checked ourselves out. The ticket is a nice gesture, and the reason why many people sign up to volunteer I’m sure, but it was not the best part of the event for me. My reward for volunteering is the raw happiness I was able to experience and share with runners as they crossed the finish line, and those are memories I will be able to take with me long after the park ticket expires. I highly recommend signing up to volunteer for a runDisney race if you’re given the opportunity. It was worth every moment!