A city marathon is a huge event in many ways. The amount of work needed to stage it is immense. Yet it only happens on one morning in a year, so the group that runs it doesn’t have a many “employees” to use on raceday.
Someone has to fill in the gaps, and that’s where volunteers come in. A handful help out on a year-round basis, while others only turn up for the race itself. But all of them - 1,500 or so in Buffalo's case - are needed.
Herman van Leeuwen and Samantha Marranca are two of those volunteers. They’ll be out next weekend to help make the Buffalo Marathon a success.
Van Leeuwen has two different roles with the marathon. He works on the official website, which has become increasingly more complex. Van Leeuwen has done that for the last couple of years.
However, he’s a veteran when it comes to working at one of the water stops during the race.
“I’ve been doing it for eight years,” he said. “That’s my main job.
“The first time I did it, it was a relay stop on Amherst St. They really had nobody there, so I volunteered. I haven’t run the half- or full marathon since then.”
Now van Leeuwen spends his raceday at the Mile 19 stop.
“That’s about when they get out of Delaware Park,” he said. “They are thirsty at that point.”
The proverbial wall - the point when the marathon supposedly becomes very difficult - is said to be around 20 miles. Van Leeuwen has seen some people hit that wall a little early.
“They are really struggling in some cases,” he said. “We had a couple of people sit down there. One volunteer for us was a doctor, so that helped. Last year, we had MASH vehicles by every water stop, so we felt comfortable we could handle emergencies.”
Most runners, though, run through the water stop without medical difficulties. You’d be surprised at the reaction of the volunteers as the participants grab their water or energy drink.
“The feeling is incredible,” van Leeuwen said. “It’s amazing how rewarding it is. Runners thank us on their way past. People don’t realize how good doing this makes us all feel.”
Thus refreshed, the runners head for the finish line - another 7.2 miles away. There Marranca is waiting for them.
“My triathlon club was asked to take care of the finish line,” she said. “I became the finish line captain, even though I had no idea what that was. Mostly, I coordinate the different shifts from volunteers. I’m busy from Friday through Sunday afternoon.
“The race has grown so much that our club can’t handle it all now. If some of our members run, they aren’t there for every shift. So we opened it up to include other people. I asked a couple of coworkers to come down. My kids enjoy it. My 10-year-old daughter asks, ‘Are we helping again?’ ”
The number of volunteers at the finish line has grown from 50 to 140 over the years. They help set up and break down the various items needed around the finish, such as the finishing arch and the barriers. The volunteers also can be the first line of medical attention for the runners, as they sometimes spot competitors who might be in trouble.
Not everyone has to work three days, but Marranca does - taking Friday off from work.
“We have to have all the stuff we need in the location,” she said about the first day’s work schedule. “On Saturday, we have people working from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. - enough to get everything set up.”
The finish line area is set up by the time many runners turn up at Convention Center for the race expo on Saturday. You’d be surprised how many photographs are taken by runners and their friends at that time.
“The first shift on Sunday starts at 4:30 a.m. - and that’s the time when it’s difficult to recruit people, but we don’t need as many,” Marranca said. “There’s a ton of people working 8 to 12. The runners all need water or blankets, and the volunteers can help clean up too.”
By early afternoon, the last runner has finished, and it’s time to pack everything for next year. Marranca will be ready when 2018’s race arrives.
“One of the biggest things people don’t know about is how much the marathon gives back,” she said. “One reason we do that we pick a nonprofit that we raise money for. In a sense, we’re all running and working for those who can’t.”
The race is still looking for volunteers. Go to buffalomarathon.com and click on the volunteer link for more information.
• TVFCU 5K/10K, 10 Jefferson Square in Batavia, 9 a.m. on Sunday May 21, 585-343-5627.
• Derby Snap Fitness 5K Run, 6950 Erie Road in Derby, 10 a.m. on Sunday May 21, 947-9010.
• Medical Edge 5K/10K, 6934 Williams Road in Niagara Falls, 10 a.m. on Sunday May 21, 215-0723.
• Crouse 5K Challenge, 100 Legion Dr. in Gowanda, 12 noon on Sunday May 21, 860-8782.
• Dirt Devil Trail Series #!, 3 mile trail run, Sprague Brook Park in Glenwood, 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday May 23, 574-0888.
• John Beishline 5K, Two Fountain Plaza in Buffalo, 8:30 a.m. on Saturday May 27.
• Buffalo Marathon/Half-Marathon, Two Fountain Plaza in Buffalo, 6:30 a.m. on Sunday May 28.
• Bemus Point 5K, 1 Lakeside Drive in Bemus Point, 7 p.m. on Sunday May 28.