By Caitlin Bawn
BU News Service
Walking along the last mile of the Boston Marathon route, it’s not easy to miss the swarms of men and women in bright orange jackets scattered along the sidelines. The rain doesn’t seem to be dampening their spirit, as these volunteers put up barriers, place water bottles on tables, hang banners or just laugh and chat in small groups while they wait for the action to start.
Getting one of these volunteer positions is highly competitive, as Haihong Li and her husband Jingsong Wang said they experienced in the past. “It’s not easy to get in. You have to be a member of a running club. We have been members of Framingham Running Club for two years but last year we didn’t know,” she said. “This year we payed a lot of attention to it and on the first day possible, we registered online then waited to be assigned a position.”
Despite the lengthy process, Li said she is happy in her role. As clock-watcher, it is her job to ensure that nobody moves the clock near mile-marker 25. A crowd has already gathered nearby and local transportation is getting predictably busy, something Li prepared for.
“My husband and I woke up at 5:30 because we live a little bit far away and had to take the train here. Today the roads are blocked so I wanted to get here early to be sure,” she said.
Two of the more experienced volunteers in the Mile 25 area, Al Chase and Catherine Plourde from Quincy, Mass. and Portsmouth, N.H. respectively, have been involved with the Marathon for 20 years. They have either volunteered or run the race every year.
This year’s marathon drew one of its largest crowds of runners and volunteers yet, and the number of volunteers was scaled to match.“There are 6,000 volunteers this year,” Chase said.
“9,000–,” Plourde corrected, “–and they turned away 4,000!”
Chase said that volunteers are expected to do “a hundred different things” on marathon day, including everything from medical care and hospitality to transportation and logistics.
“Clearly all of this kind of stuff has to get put together. There are people mobilized for a myriad of jobs,” he said, pointing to a table lined with cups of water and Gatorade. But Chase said that he and Plourde have a specific, enviable role though: manning the elite fluid system for the top 100 runners in the world.
“We enjoy this job because it puts us in touch with the elite athletes and it’s really fun. Our job starts yesterday when the athletes come in with their managers and bring their special fluids,” said Plourde. “We have a very meticulous process by which we track them and make sure they end up at the water stops where they need to be.”
The athletes’ bottles are placed in water coolers, which Plourde was tasked with driving to the appropriate table. She said the system is made more complex by road closures. Once the water coolers are placed at the correct stop, she makes labels for each runner.
“Every one of the elite runners will know exactly where their special bottle is, on which table and at which position for each of the 5k stops,” Chase said proudly.
New Hampshire native Kelly Fraser said he started volunteering in 2000, and said he has seen multiple changes over the years. This year, his job is to look after the 40 kilometer mile-marker.
“We make sure the marker doesn’t tip over, and that nobody steals it and we just wait around until they come and pick it up at the end of the race,” he said.
He said that the quality of the equipment being used has greatly improved. “It used to be that we’d have to stand on the marker because they were kinda cheap, but now they’re very well weighted, so unless it’s really windy, we don’t have to stand on them anymore,” he said.
Fraser also said he sees increased crowd-control as a good thing. “There’s a barrier between you and me which didn’t used to be here, so we would have to do a lot more with crowd control. That’s a lot better now,” he said. “The number of policemen has quadrupled at least since we first started.”
According to the Associated Press, 3,500 uniformed police officers patrolled the marathon route today, as well as 320 National Guardsmen and 1,900 medical personnel. The 9,000 volunteers and local workers erected 30,000 feet of fencing, strung 63,360 feet of rope and will haul away 10,000 trash bags by day’s end.