Dealing with Premature Hearing Loss

I’m sure this isn’t anything any of you that follow my blog would have guessed you’d be reading about here. It’s nothing I would have thought would happen to me in my 40’s. Most people have some form of hearing loss around age 65. I developed tinnitus and accompanying hearing loss 20 years earlier than most people. Less than 48 hours after flights returning from a two week vacation in Chile (I am home now), I woke up to the sound of a white noise machine (kind of like static or a fan running) and reduced hearing ability in my left ear.

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I spoke to some friends at work about it and was told I had tinnitus. I had to look it up to be honest. I always thought tinnitus was a high-pitched ringing sound that goes away after a few seconds or maybe lasts a minute. But apparently it’s much more complicated than that. If any of you are interested in reading more about it, here’s the link.

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Anyway, after it didn’t go away on its own I went to see my primary care physician three days after the tinnitus started. She prescribed the oral steroid prednisone for seven days and said if I still didn’t feel better in four days to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. The prednisone did nothing for my tinnitus so I made an appointment with an ENT.

The first test the ENT did was a hearing test. I have some damage to my hearing, especially at higher frequencies, which correlated with what I had also been experiencing. There was no obvious cause, however. I hadn’t had an ear infection. I didn’t have a blockage anywhere. I haven’t been exposed to loud noises on a regular basis. At the end of my hour-long doctor visit I was sent home with a prescription for very high doses of prednisone and a follow-up visit was set for a week later. This was of course not what I was hoping for.

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Being on the high dosage of steroid has not been fun. With the lower dose, I had a constant headache and was extremely dehydrated despite drinking even more water than I normally do (which is a ton). I finally wised-up and started supplementing with nuun electrolyte tablets for the second week and that helped with the muscle cramps I had been having previously. Still, I’ve had trouble sleeping, I felt anxious, and nauseous at times, but I thought I could get through ten days of it if it made my ear better. I decided to take the week off from running or at least cut back drastically. Now was not the time to run in the heat and stress my already-stressed body even more. I need to focus on healing and recovery.

I am trying to be optimistic about it all and look on the bright side. At least the hearing in my right ear is perfect! At least I can still hear from my left ear, just not as well as I could a month ago. At least it’s not my eyes and my vision. At least I can still run.

For now, I’m going to wait and see what happens. I’m sure there will be more tests to come, to rule out other things such as tumors. And who knows, there’s always a chance it can just go away on its own, just as quickly as it began. I could wake up one morning and the tinnitus could be completely gone. Wouldn’t that be music to my ears!

Walking Tour of Santiago- My First Taste of Chile

My husband, daughter, and I just barely made our flight to Chile. We had a connecting flight through Atlanta which was delayed, so we had about 20 minutes to get from the terminal where we had flown into to the international terminal. This was the last flight of the day from Atlanta to Santiago, too, so if we missed the flight we would have had to wait until the next day. Atlanta airport is huge and has trains to connect the terminals because they’re so far apart. As soon as we got off the plane in Atlanta, we ran to the international terminal and were next-to-last to board the plane (one guy was right behind us). With huge sighs of relief, we were off to our South American adventure!

The flight from Atlanta to Santiago is about 9 and a half hours. Since we left at 10:30 at night, that means we arrived the next morning. Despite getting almost no sleep, the plan was to stay awake all day. Chile is on the same time zone as eastern standard time, so there was no time zone adjustment for us, which made it easier.

Surprisingly, our hotel, the fabulous and highly recommended 5 star Regal Pacific let us check in when we stopped by around 10:00 that morning. I was just going to see if we could drop our luggage at the front desk but they actually let us have our room, which was a pleasant surprise.  Our room was spacious, had very comfortable beds, and a great view of the city and the mountains. The hotel is in a great location, right by a metro station, close to restaurants, bars, and cafes, and has one of the most impressive free hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had. There is also a pool and spa. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend staying here. We had enough points through hotels.com that our night here was free!

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View from our room at the Regal Pacific

On our first day in Santiago we took the metro and had our own walking tour. Our first stop was Palacio de la Moneda. This huge building takes up an entire block that was once the Chilean mint now houses the president of Chile and other government offices. Not far from the Palacio de la Moneda is Bandera Street, where you can find many clothing stores.

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Palacio de la Moneda

If you continue down Bandera to San Pablo Street you’ll come to Mercado Central that’s full of fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables. We stumbled upon Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago, truly one of the most ornate churches I’ve ever seen. My husband said he would place it in a tie with St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I didn’t take any photos inside because there were signs saying not to but here’s one of the outside.

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Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago
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Sculpture in Plaza de Armas
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Plaza de Armas

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Not far from Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago is Plaza de Armas, a big square full of street entertainers, a fountain, an amphitheater, and the Museo Historico Nacional. Our final stop on our tour was my favorite, Cerro Santa Lucia, a place that is difficult to fully encapsulate all that it is. Cerro Santa Lucia is a park on a hillside with something new to see at every turn. There are cobblestone walkways, winding and steep stairways, gardens, fountains, turrets, towers, and some great views of the city.

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Cerro Santa Lucia
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View from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia
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Cerro Santa Lucia
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Cerro Santa Lucia

There are free walking tour groups available in Santiago. I thought about going with this group but decided to just go it on our own instead. While I’m sure there’s a lot of historical information we missed out on by not taking the tour, I just wasn’t feeling up to a 4-hour tour confined to a group. We were able to go to these places I mentioned here at our own pace and while I had specific stops in mind, it was fun to just wander around a bit!

One thing to note about Santiago, driving is not recommended. Although we picked up a rental car at the airport upon arrival for the latter portion of our vacation in Chile, we simply drove the car from the airport to the hotel, and parked it safely in the garage until we were ready to leave Santiago. We had no problem figuring out the Metro system and found it to be quick, reliable, cheap, and safe. I can’t say the same about driving in Santiago, as we found out when we came back the day we were flying out of Santiago. Driving in Santiago seems worse than driving in Manhattan (which I also wouldn’t advise to a tourist)!

Superhero Half Marathon, New Jersey- 40th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. New Jersey was my 40th state.

When I arrived in Morristown, New Jersey three days before the half marathon, the highs were in the low 90’s, not exactly running weather. Fortunately the weather gods came through and at 8:00 the morning of the race, it was 54 degrees, more like my idea of good racing weather for a May race.

Packet pickup was as simple as it comes, simply pick up a short-sleeve technical shirt and bib at the local running store, Morristown Running Company. There were two days plus race day morning for packet pickup, which was very generous.

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My flat runner

Honestly, this race kicked my butt. The course description states there are rolling hills for “the first three miles but the last 10 are relatively flat.” I guess the term “rolling hills” and “relatively flat” can be subjective. In my opinion there are pretty continuous big hills for the first four miles then you get a little break before the hills begin again, and these are not “rolling hills” but steep, seemingly never-ending hills. I drove the course the day before the race so I knew it was going to be a tough race but even still I underestimated just how hard it would be.

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Quick- how many superheroes can you pick out?

The best part about the course, in my opinion, is when it goes through Loantaka Park. Although it’s a bike path, by the time you reach this portion of the race the crowds have thinned out enough that it doesn’t seem too crowded. This portion of the course is shaded pretty heavily, mostly flat, and scenic. Unfortunately the course only briefly goes through the park. The rest of the course takes you past many nice homes in what I’m sure are extremely expensive neighborhoods, but as beautiful as some of the homes are, it’s not nearly enough to provide a diversion from all of those hills.

So what do you get for your registration money? This year anyway, the first 3000 registrants got a bright yellow wicking t-shirt in addition to the medal, water and aid stations every 1.75 miles, personalized bibs, and photos at the finish (although I didn’t hear about this until after the race so I didn’t get one). Food at the finish was bagels, bananas, cereal bars, and water (alas, no chocolate milk).

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This shirt should be good for visibility when I’m running on the roads!

I did enjoy seeing other people’s superhero costumes even though I didn’t dress up myself. There were many Wonder Women and Supermen on the course. Some of the more original included Poison Ivy (from Batman) and Dr. Octopus.

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Captain America just barely beat Dr. Octopus

The only thing I can say to explain my slow slog to the finish is the hills just were too much for me. Even though I did my long runs on a hilly route, and even had a breakthrough  before the race, it wasn’t enough to prepare me for the hills of this race. My legs felt tired after the first two miles, and that was just when the hills were really getting going. I was doing great following the 2 hour pacer until the hills started getting intense, then the group got so far away from me I knew there was no way that was going to happen for me in this race. Usually I can make up some time in the last 5k of a half marathon, but by then I was so exhausted all I wanted to do was just to finish.

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My sad stats are as follows:

Chip time: 2:13:46

Gender place: 337/667

Age Group place: 36/82

All I can say is, these women from New Jersey are FAST!

If you enjoy hilly half marathons that are pretty low frill, this one would be for you. There is also a relay option for the half marathon.

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Also, just in time for the summer heat, I have a discount code for Nuun: hydratefriends2017 for 25% off your order. The code is good through June 23.

Nuun link

A Breakthough!

So I’ve been having a knee/calf/ankle issue for some time now (years?) that I’ve been unable to even pinpoint where the problem is, hence my lumping the three body parts together. The issue is that when I run or even walk, I’ve been hyperextending my right leg. Basically my leg is straight when it should be bent, or at least partially bent. Have I lost you? I know, it’s complicated, which is why I couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem or how to fix it.

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When I run or even walk, but especially when I’m going uphill, it looks like I’m limping. It’s not terribly noticable when I’m walking, but when I’m running, it’s easy to see something’s “not right.” I’ve even had various people ask me about it when I’ve been out walking or running. When I saw a video of myself running at a half marathon a couple of years ago, I was appalled that my form had gotten so bad. That prompted me to seek out a physical therapist, but that didn’t happen right away, because, well, I guess I just kept hoping the problem would go away, and honestly, I wasn’t in pain so I just kept going on like that.

I went to a physical therapist last fall and what I found out was:  1) I hyperextend my right leg when I walk and run and 2) I have a muscle imbalance between my right and left legs. My physical therapist gave me a bunch of exercises to do that would hopefully help balance out my left and right legs. For the several weeks I was going there, I was diligent about doing the exercises, then I slacked off for a bit, then I started doing them again after I would run. I stopped going to physical therapy because I wasn’t even sure if it was helping me and I figured I could just save myself a lot of time and money by doing the exercises on my own at home.

Lately, somewhat miraculously, I started to notice I wasn’t hyperextending my right leg as much. It’s really hard to watch yourself while you’re running but I seemed to notice something different in my gait. It wasn’t dramatic so I wasn’t even sure what was going on. Then my daughter said out of the blue a few weekends ago, “You don’t seem like you’re limping like you used to, with your knee problem.” This was fantastic to hear! I think I’m still hyperextending my knee but not as much as I was. To me, this is a breakthough.

I’ve been doing other things besides the prescribed exercises from the physical therapist. I’ve also been working on my core (with my 30 day plank challenge), doing clamshell exercises, side leg lifts, and throwing in a bit of lunges and squats even though I detest doing both of those latter exercises, but all part of helping with dead butt syndrome. I know this isn’t very scientific of me, just throwing in a bunch of changes instead of one new thing at a time, to try to figure out what exactly is working, and I’m even a scientist- I should know better. I was desperate, though. I just really wanted this problem to go away so I’ve been throwing every single thing I could think of to try to fix it. So now it seems something, or many things are working.

On a recent 12 mile run on a very hilly route I’ve been running on for the past two years, I was able to run up every. single. hill. I’ve never even come close to running up every single hill on this route. I would end up going so slow and would be so out of breath, I’d end up walking until I was at least close to the top before I would start running again. To run up every hill was HUGE for me! I was elated! I took a quick photo of one of these hills just to give a little perspective, but I’m not sure the photo does it justice.

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Now I guess I’m stuck doing all of these things in hopes of forever and truly “fixing” my leg imbalance so I don’t run like I’m limping any longer. If that’s what it takes, so be it.

What I Learned from 30 Days of Plank

After reading yet another article about a “30 day plank challenge” and similar things related to doing plank exercise I was curious about what this would really do for me. I wanted to know, are the reports from other people exaggerated? Would I see any improvements in my running? Would I see improvements in my posture? Or would I not really notice much of anything?

My plan was simple. I would do a one-minute plank every day for 30 days in a row. I had been pretty good about doing core exercises these past few years, but then suddenly the gym where I work stopped having the Friday afternoon core class. Even though I promised myself I would do my own 30 minutes of core exercises at home on Fridays, I wasn’t consistent. Pretty much the only core exercises I was doing was about 5 minutes at the gym once a week and what was covered in my yoga class once a week.

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Day 1 began after going for a run with some fartleks mixed in. For all of you non-runners or new runners, fartlek is Swedish for “speed play” and basically means you mix in some short sprints with slower, more continuous running. But I digress. The point of this isn’t to talk about running, but planks, and more specifically what would happen to me after doing a one-minute plank every day for 30 days? The first day of plank felt fine. I didn’t have a problem holding it for a minute and could have gone a bit longer.

I’ll spare you the day-by-day blow of what happened but here’s a summary:

For the first several days, I felt pretty much the same each day. I was a bit shaky starting around 30 seconds into it but not so bad that I wasn’t able to hold for one minute. By around day 6, it felt like it was getting easier to hold. On day 8, I did 30 minutes of core exercises in the evening then a couple of hours later did my one minute plank, so on day 9 I was a bit sore. On day 13, I felt like it was definitely getting easier to hold. Half-way though on day 15, the 60 seconds went by quicker than usual and I actually went over by 5 seconds, accidentally (I zoned out).

Then something unexpected started happening. I noticed it was a bit easier for me to run up hills on my long runs. Whereas before, I would have to walk up some of the especially steep or long hills, now I could run at least partly if not all the way up them. I didn’t expect that to happen after just doing one-minute planks for a couple of weeks! I’m not saying I could now power up every hill I came upon, but I was definitely able to run up some hills I couldn’t before.

Also, I had an easier time in my yoga class. I take a Vinyasa flow yoga class once a week that’s geared more for athletic people; it’s definitely a power yoga class. It’s tough and our instructor usually has us do something like 5-6 flow sequences where we go from plank to chaturanga then upward-facing dog to downward dog over the course of about 30 minutes, before we move on to other things. The other option is to just hang out in downward dog and skip the plank, chaturanga and upward-facing dog. If you don’t do yoga, I’ll just jump to the important part. Instead of getting through about 3-4 flow sequences then choosing downward dog for the other times, I was able to do the full flow sequences easily. I wasn’t even that tired after class. Normally I’m wiped out by the time I get home, but when I was about halfway into this plank challenge, I felt fine when I got home from yoga and wasn’t the least bit sore the next morning. I didn’t expect that.

On day 18, I did a 30 minute core workout on my own and was only a tiny bit sore the following day. For the rest of the days up to day 30, I felt like my abs had definitely gotten stronger. This is something I can stick with too. It’s hard for me to fit all of the stretching, foam rolling, etc. after I run, but this is only one minute. Even I can squeeze in an extra minute!

Now my plan is to continue doing plank every day for one minute until I reach the point where a minute feels easy, then I’ll do some side planks or dynamic planks. I’ve read conflicting information about planks, but all I know is the results I’ve personally seen, and they work for me!

 

 

 

Three Places to Stop if You’re Driving from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon

When planning a family vacation to Utah and the Grand Canyon in late winter, I wanted a place or two to break up the drive between Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon. Page, Arizona came up as an option. To drive straight from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon takes about 5 hours (depending on weather and how busy the roads are), which isn’t awful, but to drive from Bryce Canyon to Page, Arizona is about 2 hours, 40 minutes. That sounded like a better idea to me, considering we would already have a 4 hour drive from the Grand Canyon to the airport in Las Vegas. Plus, I discovered “The Wave” and fell down that rabbit hole which turned out to be a bit complicated. Alas, hiking in the Wave was not to be (that deserves a post all to itself).

Stop 1:  Page, Arizona- Antelope Canyon

The biggest reason you may want to add a stop-over in Page is to visit Antelope Canyon. You can take an Antelope Canyon Boat Tour that takes you along Lake Powell, or you can take a guided walking tour. We opted for the walking tour with Ken’s Tours and it exceeded my expectations. Not only was the tour just our family, so we got our own private tour, we also got photography lessons along the way. The tips our guide showed us were invaluable and worth even more than what we paid for the tour itself. Not only did he physically show us how to adjust our cameras for different settings along the tour, he also took photos of us on our cameras. He also gave us advice and tips for future times. I am definitely a novice photographer so any and all tips were greatly appreciated.

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The tour took us one hour from start to finish, but our tour guide told us in the busy summer months, it often takes an hour just to get from the main building where you check-in to the start of the tour (it took us maybe 10 minutes at the most). This is another reason why visiting during the winter can be the best time of year to visit the area.

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There are two types of tours, the general tour, which lasts an hour and costs $25 per person for ages 13 and up, $17 for children ages 7-12, and children 6 and under are free. The photographer tour lasts 2 hours, 15 minutes and during the summer you need to get a special use permit from from Navajo Parks and Recreation (another reason to visit during the less-busy winter). This tour is only for ages 16 and up and costs $47 per person.

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Where to stay and eat in Page, Arizona

We stayed at Comfort Inn & Suites and found it to be comfortable, clean, and the suite I reserved was enormous. There were two rooms, one with a king bed, TV, and patio off it, and the other room had a sofa bed, desk, TV, refrigerator, and microwave. We swam in the indoor pool and relaxed in the hot tub after we took our tour of Antelope Canyon. The location was convenient to restaurants and shops in Page. We ate lunch at Mandarin Gourmet, a Chinese restaurant that we found to have a surprisingly delicious and affordable buffet. We had dinner at Big John’s Texas BBQ, and while my husband liked his brisket, I didn’t care for mine, but our daughter said her pulled pork sandwich was good. I guess overall that’s a pretty good rating.

Our tour guide from Antelope Canyon told us about a place where the rich and famous stay when visiting the area, and I looked it up; it does look pretty amazing. It’s Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah, and the room rates when I checked were around $2000-$3000 per night before taxes and fees. Our guide told us actor Hugh Jackman once stayed there and took a tour with their group of the canyon.

Stop 2:  Glen Canyon Dam

Just outside Page, Arizona is the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which includes the Glen Canyon Dam. The recreation area encompasses hundreds of miles from Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry in northern Arizona to southern Utah, including Lake Powell. There are trails for hiking, boat tours, and tours of the dam. Dam tours are 45 minutes long and cost $5 for adults, $2.50 for children 7-16, and free for children 6 and under. Adults 62 and older and members of the military are $4. Tour times vary by season, so check the website for details.

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View from Glen Canyon visitor center
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Glen Canyon Dam
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Views from Glen Canyon visitor center

Stop 3:  Cameron, Arizona

Another option for a place to break up the drive between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon is Cameron, Arizona. Cameron is smaller than Page but is an unexpectedly unique little place to stop for lunch or dinner. We stopped at Cameron Trading Post and had Navajo tacos for lunch. Not only were the tacos delicious, it was interesting just looking at all of the handmade blankets and other artwork on the walls and around the dining room. There were also shelves upon shelves of pottery, dreamcatchers, clothing, and many other souvenirs in the gift shop. Touristy? Yes, but still interesting.

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In addition to the gift shop and restaurant, Cameron Trading Post also has an art gallery, convenience store, and garden. You can also spend the night at the motel here. Although the single and double rooms look pretty simple, the luxury suites look a bit nicer and the prices seem reasonable. If you have an RV, there’s also an RV park here for $35/night.

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Cameron is a great place to stop to fill up with gas, have lunch, and stretch your legs for a bit before you finish up the drive to the Grand Canyon. A word of warning, there are long stretches along the drive from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon where there is nothing but Navajo- or other government-owned land on either side of the highway with no businesses or gas stations for miles upon miles. Make sure you fill up the car with gas before you leave Bryce. You definitely wouldn’t want to run out of gas on this road. Cameron Trading Post is about 57 miles from Grand Canyon Village, so you’re in the home stretch at this point!

I Volunteered at a Race and All I Got Was This T-shirt

How many of you remember the t-shirts that were popular beginning in the late-70’s and peaked sometime in the 80’s, with the saying, “My parents went to Florida and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? There were many others as well, not just Florida. Choose a place and insert it in place of Florida. Here’s an example:

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Well, I volunteered at a 5k and 10k race recently and I got a t-shirt, but I also received so much more in intangible rewards.

It had been a while since I had volunteered, and I felt like I was due to “give back” for all of the races I’ve ran. This time, my daughter who has recently started running 5k’s also went with me. She very wisely said, “I think all runners should volunteer at a race to see what all goes on and how much work the volunteers do.” I agree 100%.

My daughter and I volunteered at the race-day registration portion, which meant we had to check-in at 6:30 a.m. Ouch! The sun wasn’t even up when my alarm went off. The 10k started at 8:30 and the 5k started at 9:45, and for whatever reason it was mostly people running the 10k that were doing race-day registration. I noticed several things while we were there that might be a bit surprising and thought I’d share them here.

Out of about 20 volunteers that were at this particular station (registration) only two of us (my daughter and myself) said that we were runners when the person in charge asked. No one else there was even a runner, and yet here they were spending their way-too-early Saturday morning in the cold volunteering at a race. I found that a bit surprising. I’m sure there were at least a couple of other runners volunteering out there somewhere, maybe at an aid station or handing out bananas at the finish, but the point is, the majority of people volunteering at this race weren’t even runners.

My daughter was also surprised at just how many volunteers there were. This was a fairly small race (I later heard there were about 750 runners total for the 5k and 10k and 75 people doing the 1 mile fun run), so there wasn’t a need for huge numbers of volunteers, but even so, we were by the volunteer check-in station so we saw all of the people who came by, and it was a lot. I think runners sometimes forget or simply aren’t aware just how many volunteers are required to help support a race. There are volunteers first of all that help with planning the race before it even begins, then on race day at the check-in station for volunteers, more at registration, t-shirt pick-up, timing, water stations, course directors (to show you the way at turns), parking attendants, passing out food at the finish, handing out medals at the finish, police directing traffic, and the list goes on.

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Runners signing up at the race-day registration tables
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Post-race aid tents

I was also surprised at how big of a time commitment many of the volunteers are asked to put in. As I said, I was at the race-day registration station so I was asked to be there by 6:30 that morning. We were asked to stay until right up until the 5k began in case there were last-minute stragglers (there actually were a couple of people who registered for the 10k with maybe 5 minutes until the start). This means we were there from 6:30 until 9:45. That’s a pretty big chunk of time, and we weren’t even there as long as some other volunteers were. I saw volunteers cutting up oranges and bananas when we got there around 6:30 and they were still there passing them out to runners who had finished racing the 5k when we left at 9:45.

Before I registered online to volunteer for this race, I had tried to volunteer at other races in the area but was surprised to find that they seemingly didn’t need any more volunteers. One of the bigger races had a link on their website to volunteer, so I clicked it and every single slot for volunteers was full. I tried another race website and found the same thing- no more space for volunteers. I emailed a race director for another race to ask if I could volunteer and received no response. I understand these people are busy because most of them have full-time jobs on top of organizing a race so I’m not faulting them for not getting back to me. I just didn’t expect it to be so difficult to find a local race where I could volunteer. I’d like to volunteer again for another race or two this year and hopefully it won’t be so difficult to find some that would like my help!

The next time you run a race, don’t forget to thank a volunteer! It definitely takes a village to put on a race and the bigger the race, the more people it requires. I know I have more appreciation for volunteers at races after being a volunteer myself.