Most runs start pretty early in the morning and the ZOOMA Annapolis race had a start time of 7 a.m. for runners of the 10K and half marathon course. This means that volunteers had to be there long before the sun was even up to ensure that water stations, information centers, parking lots, exhibitor areas, and the gear check station were set-up and ready to go when the first runners arrived at the start line.
I had volunteered to work gear check at the race as well as hand out chocolates to finishers as they arrived back at the Expo from the finish line. I woke up almost every hour to make sure I didn’t miss my 4:30 a.m. alarm and by the time I got to the Naval Academy stadium to meet my fellow volunteers I was remaining optimistic that the ominous clouds overhead would blow over.
Not having volunteered to work a race before I wasn’t sure what the flow of things would be and it turned out it couldn’t have been simpler, more organized, or run by the most patient and helpful people. The ZOOMA race is the brainchild of Brae Blackley and her calm demeanor and constant smile eased both volunteers and runners as she responded to a constant flow of questions. Her core volunteers are her friends, mother, mother-in-law, and husband as well as the many willing locals who came out to support her race whose mission is to empower women to live healthy, active, and happy lives.
Rain & Runner’s Resilience
As soon as the gear check station was set-up and the first runner was handing over a bag that she’d collect later, the skies opened up. First it was a drizzle, then lightning not too far in the distance indicated that the light drizzle was just the beginning of the ensuing downpour. We stuffed bags under tables in a futile attempt to keep them dry and were finally offered the race’s Budget truck in which to store all the checked bags.
Runners took refuge under our tent getting their shoes tied and numbers pinned on while we continued to collect and organize bags by number as best we could in a quickly filling truck. We checked gear through more lightning and thunder and of all the runners coming to the tent or huddling in other dry areas, not a single one’s spirit was broken by the weather. At 7 a.m. to the claps of thunder and a heavy downpour, waves of runners crossed the start line as we volunteers cheered them on in the rain.
At the start of every race I’ve done there is a surge of adrenalin and sheer excitement that runs through my body and I had that same feeling watching all the runners take off through the Stadium. Having had a chance to talk to many of them during packet pick-up and then gear check, I knew that it was the first race for many runners and I was proud of them for being there and excited for their first experience.
By the time the last runner had crossed the start line, the skies started to clear and the sun slowly made it’s way out.
Chocolate: The Runner’s Reward
There are many details about the ZOOMA race that make it one catered toward women. That is not to say that men weren’t allowed to run, and many men were a part of the 3,000 that ran in Annapolis, but they were given the same pink New Balance running shirts as the women when they registered. The race is truly about empowering women to achieve their goals of living a healthy and active lifestyle and to reward them for that accomplishment. From the supportive coaching by Gracie Updkye leading up to the race to the pink shirts to the engraved silver necklaces awarded to half marathon finishers en lieu of standard medals, the race pampers the runner.
Runners started at the Navy Stadium in Annapolis and finished at Jonas Park so were bussed back to the Stadium to enjoy the Expo. As soon as the runners stepped off the bus, the pampering continued. With a box of chocolate in my arms and another volunteer loaded with Lindt’s famous truffles, we greeted each runner with a chocolate as they arrived back to the Expo. It was a simple token to acknowledge their hard work and the smiles and excitement of the runners were genuine as they gladly accpeted their chocolate.
Inside the Expo runners could sip on wine, taste cupcakes, indulge in a healthful boxed lunch, and meet and greet vendors there to support their efforts. Meanwhile, volunteers milled about answering any questions, but also chatting with the race directors about the success of the event. From my behind-the-scenes perspective, the second ZOOMA Annapolis race was a hit.
Congratulations to all the runners and to ZOOMA for putting on a fantastic race. The thunder and lightning that kicked it off was not about to quell the spirit of the runners and the chocolate reward at the end was a sweet final touch to a huge accomplishment of all the runners.