Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Views from an unofficial volunteer.

Conversations, feedbacks and post mortems discussed over breakfast last Sunday had prompted me to write this post.

Having suffered compressed nerve due to my lower back pain had left me with no choice but to take a break from various activities. Running has to take a back seat for now, while racing is totally out of the topic. Yet not wanting to be left out from the running arena, I played volunteer in a few running events and mainly those organized by Pacesetters Athletics Club. I was surprised and pleased to be rewarded with some valuable lessons that volunteerism had taught me.

March 27th.
That evening of the Energizer Night Run, John and I acted as supporters instead. So at around 5.30pm we found ourselves gathered amongst friends who were running the full marathon at Cyberjaya. I looked out for my running buddies and finally spotted all of them : Gary Goh, Peter Teo, Francis Cheng, Tai, Kim, Alan Tiang and Teresa Goh. Joining this ordeal were also Phaik Hoon, Siew Ling, Haza, Chooi Lin, Choi, Frank Chong, Keat Seong, Mr Lee, Lee Woon Khau, Stanley and Steven Ho. Then there were Marathon Maniac Mohan and Catwoman Jenap from Singapore being surrounded by friends as always. It's always a joy to have these two around. We gave them our wishes and at exactly at 6pm, the full marathon runners were sent off unceremoniously into the vastness of Cyberjaya.

This event failed to attract international runners. 95% of them were mainly locals while the other 5% were made up of runners from Singapore and foreigners working in Malaysia. No Thais.

The glare and heat emanating from the powerful sun had already sent many runners sweating buckets even before the race began! Awhile later, I was shocked to find Kar Yan & Kenny Tan rushing their way to the starting line and called out to them that the race has started. Somewhere, John was riding on his Scott...escorting friends, and hope to lend some moral support and hydrating aid.

While waiting for the 21km to start at 8pm, I helped some volunteers set up a last-minute water station. It was last minute when the organizer realized that Powerbars were given without any water! There were actually cartons of water lying around, and some inconsiderate runners opened up the 1 liter bottle, only to drink a few sips and threw them on the ground! Shortly after that, the organizers managed to get paper cups and we started distributing water to runners. I was rather annoyed at how rude and ungrateful some runners can be. They disposed used cups everywhere and mixed them up with the new ones. Some even had the cheek to complain and asked why were they served with warm water? Well friends, when you're really thirsty and there's water, you just shut up and drink - you don't complain!

Earth Hour
At 8pm, lights were out for a moment, runners were all given an Energizer headlamp beforehand. I was thankful to obtain a headlight courtesy of Tomatoman earlier...I put it on and continued my duty together with Wen Jun and Siew Yin (both superb children of Jenny & Lee Woon Khau). Elsewhere, I heard some runners got stranded at the carpark due to shortage of shuttles. Oh no, they'll be late for sure.
We ran out of water supply about 8 minutes before the start of the 10km Race, which was not so crucial.

Soon after my 'water task', I rushed to the finishing area to help as time-keeper for the Men Senior Veteran category and was on time to register Don Khor as the champion for this category. Volunteers at the finishing area had their share of frustration as the area was not well-litted. We could hardly read the runner's bib number. The situation became even more choatic when the 10km and 21km runners were making their way back. It was hard for us to identify the top ten runners from the different categories. Somehow we managed.

Between Wong Kar Yan and Tan Wah Sing...
At one point, I got myself all messed up when John called me to announce that Kar Yan was approaching the finishing line soon and I was to take her picture. I was all ready with the camera until I saw the barefooted veteran Tan Wah Sing sprinting towards the finishing line as well. My duty was to register Tan Wah Sing as the 1st runner-up for the Men Senior Veteran, so I had to abandon Kar Yan for him. The excitement came about because it was Kar Yan's first sub-4 marathon and she is also the Champion in the Women's Open category. Her goal was to finish a sub-4 and she achieved it in 3hrs 55mins. That night belongs to Kar Yan...she was so happy she could fly! Well done!

We left the marathon site at almost 10.40pm and headed to a nearby stall for a light dinner. Then we caught Gary Goh and Alan Tiang jogging alongside each other. John alerted them that they still had 2km ahead of them, motivated them to move on and left Cyberjaya.

Now, the feedback which I'm gonna write below is solely based on my own observation, and with no intention of pointing fingers and critising anyone. What should have been the Energizer Night Race(ENR) had turned out to be Everything Not Right.

What exactly was not right?
Collection of Race Kits
The venue at Melia Hotel is smack in the heart of the busy Golden Triangle where the traffic flow is heavy most times making it very inconvenient for some runners, while for those working around that area actually thanked their stars. Parking is usually difficult and expensive.

Vest sizes
Many runners lamented over the sizes being too small or too big (as always!) This has been a perpectual problem in most running events. Well, the bottom line is that there is NO PERFECT SIZE. In overseas where we ran, you just take it or leave it. Period. No one complains or maybe there were complaints but what we don't know won't hurt us.

Race Village
Cyberjaya may be a good place to run but logistically, parking is limited and the roads are narrow. There were no proper signages directing runners to the race village.

Car Park
Parking area is too far away from the race village. The arrangement of shuttle buses by the Organizers were not efficient, not sufficient, resulting in some runners reporting late for the race. After the race, runners had to wait for the shuttle bus to ferry them back to the car park.

Starting Line
Many runners approached me asking for the Start Line which I myself were so unsure. Later I realized that the arch is black and it was difficult to see it at night.

Race Course, Route Markers and Marathon Distance
Race Course - Too many turns. Good for some and bad for others.
Route Markers - Lack of route markers. Again, good for some and bad for others.
Marathon Distance - According to runners who wore their Garmin, the full marathon distance was shorter by 2km. This is huge for some, while others who aim just to complete couldn't be bothered.

Finishing Line
Dark - Volunteers find difficulties capturing top runners at the finishing as the area wasn't bright enough.
Narrow Lane - The lanes were very narrow. Fancy, 42k runners sharing lanes with 10k is a bad joke! Some runners were confused where to finish as the directions were not clear at all.
Digital Clock - How can the digital clock showing runners their race time be missed out? Normally, runners would want to look at their official finishing time shown on that digital clock above the finishing arch.
Finishing Arch - Banners indicating the different categories were lacking at the finishing arch. Some runners zig-zagged their way through and found themselves finishing at the wrong lanes. Poor Tan and Ken Kan had to direct every runner to take the correct lane using their hands and mouths!!

I was actually shocked to find that vehicles were allowed to enter into the finishing site while runners were already making their way back to the finishing line. When questioned, they claimed that they are VIPs or main sponsors of the event. To me, the VIPs for any running event is none other than the runners themselves. Period. It's a fact and the public must learn to respect that. Can you imagine a runner running triumphantly after 42km or 10km or 21km only to realize that he has to share the finishing lane with an inconsiderate Honda or Proton? This is absolutely uncalled for.
There were two occassions where the ambulance was desperately finding a way to get out to that narrow lane filled with runners from the various categories dashing their way back!

Baggage Tent
Some said it was quite a distance and they had to search for it. I agreed cos' I was helping Siew Cheng locate it as well. It was about 1km from the starting line into the center.

Many podium finishers felt they were being short-changed even until today. Winners were promised Cash Vouchers worth RM___but instead they were given 2 months or 6 months Free Membership at a Fitness Center. They were also rewarded with Adidas gift vouchers worth RM50 redeemable with purchase of RM250 running shoes. I find this very misleading indeed!
But then what was written in The Sun was something else. It is stated that winners were awarded with cash prizes worth RM___. Cash, cash vouchers and gift vouchers are all totally different altogether.

A bottle of water, please!
I believe it's very important that every runner be handed a bottle of water at the finishing (regardless of whether he/she needs it). An exhausted runner may not have the strength to walk another few more steps to line up for water. The Organizers obviously haven't learned the lesson from Gary who collapsed and passed away during Adidas King of The Road 2009. Or perhaps, they didn't take his death seriously? Or they could've forgotten all about it? So he died in vain. sigh!

Enough said about what's not right. Please pardon me if I sound like such a smart alec. But then, the truth has to be told and this is only my 2 cents worth. From my heart. Without any bad intentions whatsoever.

What went well?
Water Station / Gatorade

Ample water stations and Gatorade to keep runners hydrated.

Water Sprays
Water sprays from the Fire Brigade came as a refreshing surprise to many. Most runners welcomed it.

The medal is very nice and worth running for. Something a runner would be so proud to display and to keep for a long long time.
(pix courtesy of runwitme)
Volunteers / Organizing Committee
Whatever the event had turned out to be, the people who worked their butts off behind the scenes should be applauded. Personally, I know of these people who are so committed in putting their best effort for runners to enjoy a great race. But then again as always, they can't please everybody.

It's not easy running a marathon, let alone execute a running event.
Last Sunday, I mentioned to some friends from the Organizing Committee that they should not ignore critisms and complaints but to take them to the next level and improve on it for future events. We all keep learning. Perhaps those who made a big hoo-ha out of this should also try helping out in such event one day. It is not that easy, believe me.

Learning and contributing
During the recent NB30k Run, I remember being scolded by some runners the minute we ran out of Finisher T-Shirt. What do we do at times like this? Do we run away from accountability because we are just a volunteer? It is our responsibility to put things into perspective. Runners are customers too. Being a sales person, this is an area where I can, at least contribute my bit and put my skills at work - Customer Service.

Finally, may I suggest that everyone should consider being a volunteer at least once in their lifetime. Only then, will we be able to truly understand the frustration as well as the fun of being a volunteer or organizer. Only then, we will be able to learn to appreciate more and complain less.

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