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Lani Teshima, editor

Volunteering on Marathon Weekend

(or) How to participate in the Disney Marathon without any training

Friday, August 11, 2005
by Lani Teshima, staff editor
Have you been on the fence about whether to sign up for the next January's Walt Disney World Marathon or Half-Marathon? Take a look at your calendar, because we are now less than five months away! If you haven't signed up yet, both events are at about 75 percent filled, so you still have time. Don't wait too long; chances are registration will close in October.

Endurance events as large as the Disney marathons require thousands of regular ordinary folks lending a helping hand. And while you will see a lot of cast members going about their work day while you run the marathon, the bulk of the people handing out water and Powerade will not be getting paid—they will be there as volunteers.

But just because they're volunteering doesn't mean they aren't important. In fact, those volunteers are truly invaluable. Every single person holding out Dixie cups of water or helping you to stay on the race course provides an important service.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran half-marathon in Northern California, sponsored by a very prominent fitness magazine and that was, I presumed, topnotch in the way it was organized. The fitness expo beforehand was smooth as silk—albeit elbow-to-elbow crowded—with plenty of volunteers helping with all aspects of packet pick-up… so there was little indication that there may be any issues during the event itself.

Although I have entered a number of running events of various sizes, the first water stop for this event was my first experience in a wholly unprepared aid station. The station, in an event that drew roughly 15,000 participants, was staffed by no more than a couple of volunteers. Whatever pre-filled cups that had been neatly laid out on the tables had long since disappeared, replaced by two-liter bottles of partially filled water and stacks of Dixie cups. Joggers didn't know whether they were supposed to take swigs from these huge bottles or stop to pour the water out themselves; many simply looked at the mess and kept running. Behind the table was a single man, trying desperately to help but succeeding only in laying out more stacks of Dixie cups.

“Are we supposed to serve ourselves?” one jogger asked. The response from the volunteer was a frown, a huge sigh, and a big shoulder shrug.

Fortunately for Disney Marathon fans, this never happens, thanks to the great efforts the volunteer coordinators go through to ensure adequate staffing at all stations.

So far for this Walt Disney World Marathon Guide series, we've concentrated primarily on the athletes themselves—the runners, the joggers, the walkers, and the hope-to-be-ready-by-January former couch potatoes. But regardless of your anticipated pace, chances are you will be bringing family or friends to cheer you on. Maybe you live in the area and you want to get into the spirit and excitement of the event without having to train yourself? Do you enjoy visiting WDW during that slow period in early January, and you want to do something different? Or maybe you are running the half-marathon on Saturday and you want to get up close to cheer on the marathoners on Sunday?

I have one word for you: Volunteer!

OK, before you jump headlong into volunteering for the marathon weekend, you probably want to know what's involved.

Disney has numerous different tasks and areas you can choose from, and you can also specify whether you want to volunteer on Saturday for the half-marathon, or on Sunday for the full marathon. And since the two events are held on different days, for the first time, a participant in one event can help volunteer in the other.

Volunteer sign-ups are available for areas such as checking in bags before the event, providing crowd control in spectator areas, and setting up the finish line area—and most importantly, the many water stops along the course, and the food stations at the end.

If you have never volunteered in a large running event, you are in for an eye-opening experience. For example, let's say you volunteer at a water station. Chances are, you will be required to show up while it's still dark. Your aid station may be far away from the starting area, so it might seem very peaceful and quiet. The only way you will know that the race has begun is by checking your watch, and maybe hearing a word from your station leader. Everyone pitches in to get as many cups filled as possible. And you wait. And wait.

Then, like the crack of dawn itself, you might see the lights of a police motorcycle escort on the course. You crane your neck, and everyone around you starts to get excited because you know the fastest runner is about to pass your aid station.

Depending on where you are on the course, don't be surprised if many of the “gazelles” simply run right past you. But give it a few minutes, and pretty soon you will realize that the numbers keep getting bigger and bigger, like the stampede of wildebeests from The Lion King. You might not be running yourself, but you are sure to feel the adrenaline soar as people grab cups right out of your hand, one after another. Some are smiling, some look tired, some might not even bother looking at you… but every one of those runners will be happy to see your hand holding up that cup of water. Maybe you make eye contact, and give the participant a big smile or a cheer, and yell, “You look great!,” or (everyone's favorite), “You're almost there!”

And although you are volunteering your time, your effort does not go unnoticed by Disney. For donating your time, you receive a meal, a commemorative windbreaker, and best of all, a free one-day, one-park pass to any of the WDW theme parks! Not bad for a few hours' work, eh? Your pass is good for a whole year, so you don't even have to use it right away. And if you have a family in tow, you can even get grandma and the kids to sign up so that everyone can wear their matching windbreaker jackets. Got a marathon participant in the family? Get a group family picture in front of Cinderella's Castle on Monday and the family can look like mom's very own pit crew—mom proudly wearing her medal while the family wear their matching windbreakers!

Before you decide to sign your toddler along, Disney does have an age limit. All volunteers must be at least 12 years old, and if they are under 15, they have to work alongside you, and you have to be a chaperone.

When you go to the Sports Enthusiast page at the Disney Sports Web site (link), you will be able to select from the following 3 options:

  • 2006 Disney's Health & Fitness Expo and Family Fun Run
  • 2006 Walt Disney World Half Marathon
  • 2006 Walt Disney World Marathon

Each of these takes you to the information page for those specific events. Select the “Register” link on the top right of the page, and you can choose to register directly online or go to a PDF application form. Even if you decide to mail or fax in your form, I suggest you look at the online form, since it gives you the exact stations you can choose. One thing you will immediately notice is that a number of them are already “full.” These are not necessarily full, but have been reserved by groups that have signed up to be responsible for the entire station. The sooner you sign up, the better your options (although there is a fine-print warning that they reserve the right to move you based on need).

And yes, those last aid stations on the full marathon course are already filled. Those aid stations are pretty exciting, and the “you're almost there” phrase is finally taken seriously. However, as of this week, water stops on miles 19, 20, 21, and 22 are still open, and those are key locations from a runner's perspective, because around Mile 20 is where people often “hit the wall"—they're depleted their glycogen stores and are often pushing themselves mostly on mind power. It can get emotional, and volunteers at those locations get to help the participants through some of the toughest parts.

Are you planning to go as part of a large group? If you can commit 10 or more people, you can reserve your very own station. Maybe some members of your church are running, or members of your teen's cross-country team from school, and there are enough family members to form a volunteer group. Be careful, though. According to Disney Sports Volunteer Coordinator Michelle Maready, groups who reserve stations are responsible for making sure that the number they committed to actually shows up and volunteers.

Maybe standing out in the sun passing out water isn't your idea of a good time, but you still want to help. Volunteer opportunities are also available for the Disney's Health and Fitness Expo itself (on both Friday and Saturday), as well as for the Disney's Family Fun Run 5K and Kids' Races on Saturday. For these, though, you get a volunteer T-shirt (instead of a windbreaker), and you have to work multiple shifts in order to get a theme park pass.

Most races require an orientation session for volunteers before the event itself, and Disney offers this for those who are already in town the previous Monday. If you cannot attend, however, basic information and volunteer packet pickup are available during the expo itself.

If the participants provide the legs for the marathon, the volunteers provide the heart. With many volunteer opportunities available throughout the weekend, and some great perks to boot, why not consider volunteering? You can be more than a spectator, and create your own magical memories of Marathon Weekend, without going out on a single training run!


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lani here.


MORE INFORMATION

The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend benefits The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, an organization dedicated to the fight against blood cancers. With the yearly support of thousands of volunteers, the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend has helped Team In Training (TNT) raise millions of dollars for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. TNT, the world's largest endurance sports training program, supports The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by raising funds to aid the organization's mission to cure leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend is its largest fundraising event. Over $6 million was raised during the 2005 race alone. To learn more, visit www.leukemia.org.

You can obtain more information on volunteering for the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend by:

- Visiting the Disney Sports Web site (link).

- Sending e-mail to wdw.sports.enthusiast@disneysports.com

- Calling 407-938-3880, and select option 3

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