The Free Press Marathon was Sunday, and was pretty interesting. I'd never volunteered for something like this before, so in the days approaching it I was slightly worried about forgetting something or missing some detail, but all went pretty smoothly. I think part of it was that I had been given a good amount of information about the overall communications plan that didn't really pertain to me, so for someone coming into this when most there seemed to be coming back having done it before, it was a little overwhelming. Fortunately, though, I was assigned to a Fluid Station (Fluid Station 13, specifically) that was halfway through the race, and on the far edge of the course, so it wasn't dense with spectators or otherwise hectic.
Not knowing how traffic would be, and knowing that the roads would start being closed off around 6am, I got up early - around 3am, and got ready. I don't recall exactly, but I think I found the station at around 4:30 or 5am, and drove a little longer to find a somewhat nearby parking spot, which ended up being just on a side street about a block away. I happened to walk up to it right as the truck was dropping off the supplies for the station, but being as I was there just to do communications, I had no idea what was going on with them, so I left them alone. Each fluid station is staffed with a group of volunteers, often from companies or sports groups. I think around 5:30 or 6am the group doing this fluid station (an athletic clothing company, Lululemon Athletica) arrived and started setting up. Suddenly one of the cheap (but quite bright) LED flashlights I had brought proved their worth, since pouring little cups of water in the dark is a wet and annoying task.
At about 7am the start of the race was announced on the radio net, but being that we were some distance down the course, we didn't see the first runners (actually, they were ones doing the course in specialized wheelchairs) for a while, though I didn't make a note of the time. They trickled in, then we saw some small groups, and then the floodgates opened. There were a lot of runners.
My job there was just to observe the runners and course, and report back to the radio net any problems, hazards, medical issues or emergencies, and that sort of thing. Aside from some cars that were driving on the course, though, none of that came up. I did jump in and help keep the people handing the cups off to runners supplied when the bulk of the runners came through, though, since they weren't able to keep up with the people they had there - like I said, there are a lot of runners, and unsurprisingly, they're thirsty.
The only real hiccup or problem I had there was that my HT didn't quite seem to hit the repeater very well - it was enough that if I spoke slower and enunciated carefully, and maybe held the radio up a bit, they could understand me, but I get the impression it was pretty noisy. Fortunately I brought both my cheap mag-mount 2 meter antenna, and my Arrow II antenna. After testing my signal on the repeater before the net started, I walked back to my car and grabbed the mag-mount, and put it on the metal fence behind the fluid station, and tried again. I was told that now I was "full quieting" on the repeater. That obviously limited my mobility, but at some points when I didn't seem to be getting through well, I'd quickly change antennas. This is when I suddenly decided I hate SMA connectors. BNC connectors would have been so much easier and quicker, but so it goes.
After a little while, the "weary wagon" passed by, and the race, for us, was over. I hung around a little afterwards as they cleaned up, but soon thereafter I checked out of the net, and meandered the streets of downtown Detroit until I finally found a way to get to southbound I-75.
There's plenty of articles on the Free Press website, but if you're curious, these pictures are from the fluid station I was actually at (in them, I was probably right behind or to the side of the photographer): One, Two, Three. Another highlight was seeing some of the runners - who could refrain from laughing when you see a runner at a marathon, dressed like this?
Overall, it was interesting and even a bit fun. The runners very often thanked the fluid station staff for volunteering, sometimes quite loudly and enthusiastically. It was enjoyable helping, if only in some very minor role, to make the whole event possible and run smoothly. I plan on being there next year, although maybe next time I can manage to get a little more sleep beforehand.