Thursday, December 30, 2010

Operation Jack

On Sunday, December 26, the day after Christmas, I had one of my best running experiences of the year, and I didn't even run.  I volunteered at the Operation Jack Marathon.  I heard about Operation Jack through Twitter, (oh the joys of social networking!) and first thought, man, this guy is nuts!  Then I read more about why he was running so darn much (61 marathons in a year!) and I realized that it was really incredible.  I saw that there was going to be an Operation Jack Marathon here in LA.  I planned on running the 1/2, but due to an injury I couldn't.  I was really disappointed that I wouldn't be able to participate.  Then, through Twitter, I found out that volunteers were needed for the race.  Bingo!  I was in.

It was darker than this
when I arrived
So, the day after Christmas, I woke up at 5 am, got a VERY large cup of coffee and headed down to the location of the aid station I would be working in Playa Del Rey - at mile 4.5, on the bike path on the beach (about a quarter mile up from where I lived in Playa for 7 years).  It was dark and cold when I got there.  But, as the sun came up and we (myself and three others - another runner; and a mother and her son who needed volunteer hours) got our aid station set up.  It was a looped course, 6.5 miles out and back, so we would see the half marathoners twice and the full marathoners 4 times.  I've run seven races this year (2 full marathons and 5 1/2's), and I know that aid stations can be very important as you're putting in those long miles so we got prepared (see my post on the Malibu 1/2).

our aid station - ready to go!
Throughout the morning we poured cups of water and Gatorade, passed out Sport Beans and met some really amazing runners on the course.  Everyone was so appreciative of us being out there, I think almost every single person who came by said thank you.  I try to always thank the volunteers at races, but now I realize how much it really means.  Its great to know that you're being appreciated for giving up your time to help someone else through an event.

This wasn't a huge race, only about 150 participants, most doing the half, but they all needed the aid stations as much as participants in huge races do.  It was really special to be a part of such an amazing race, because everyone was out there for the same reason, to do something bigger - whether they were there for themselves or to support the cause, they were there, and they were supporting the cause and Sam (and of course Jack).

Ready for approaching
I can't really fully explain it.  But, it felt really special to be a part of this day. It was great to go out and volunteer for the morning and help others, even in a small way.  It felt like I was banking some good running karma, which I feel like I need right about now (I would like my knee to get back to fully functioning activity soon!).

After the race we packed up and went to a post-race celebration lunch at a great little restaurant in Manhattan Beach - Four Daughters.  The entire day was great.  During the race and after at Four Daughters I got to meet some of the most amazing and special people.  They helped me remember how much I love running and how I can't wait to get back out there again. They were all inspirational in their own ways.  They were enthusiastic and joyful about running and life.  It was special.  Every person I met that day was so friendly and memorable.  This day rejuvenated me in ways I can't explain or describe.  I don't know if it was the volunteering or the actual event, or a combination, but it was one of the best running experiences I've had all year long.

I highly recommend that you get out there an volunteer at an event.  It really made me remember what I love about running and why I started doing it in the first place.  If this event takes place next year I will either participate in it or volunteer again.  Operation Jack wound up being so much more than I ever thought it could be.  And I'm ready to get out there and enjoy running again.  I haven't been enjoying running mostly due to injury, and its frustrating, but I now realize that I've been injured for a reason, to meet these people and volunteer at this event.  So, thank you for everything I got from each of you.

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