Feature Post


Volunteering a Marathon

It was a usual email broadcast across the company, out of curiosity I registered myself.

I have had experience volunteer-participation in charity organizations (Edhi, Pakistan), organizing cricket tournaments, and other sports; but this was one of its kind. A Marathon?! Well…

I am a big fan of running, and trekking, and walking but I never really thought about “racing”; let alone a marathon.

Last I took part in a racing competition was in School, St. Jude’s, and I was nowhere near finish line when the race was over already. I felt I was more like those Marshalls, guiding runners along the route… just that, from behind.

Coming back, I thought of participating for what it’s worth, AED150, with some cogent but incomprehendable arguments: What if I win? What if I have that hidden talent in me? I could visualize myself winning all the way to finish line. My name, in Gulf news? Wow. “Cloud-9”.

While I was still in a process of convincing myself and visualizing the “essence” of it, my jaw dropped to the floor when I read that the race track is 20KM (21.1km, precisely).

Okay wait. Am I a runner? Yes, I am. But… well, I am just the 4-to-5km kinda runner, may be every alternate day if not every day; which clearly makes me no way near to the professional athletes.

With heavy heart and broken dream, I brought myself back into reality. Twenty one point one kilometers. Shooh! Just the thought of it, and a shiver ran through my spine… I felt I was sinking down a whirlpool somewhere in the middle of Pacific Ocean.

Friday 18th October; up at 4:30 am, changed, made some coffee, and headed towards the destination in the dark. While way, I had to turn on my GPS since I couldn’t see any sign of “Emirates Hills Golf Course” next to JLT.

People who know me, know my usual “sense of direction”. 4am, a wrong turn, and a road that ends up nowhere – yep, a dead end – Ah! this life.

Amusingly, a car was following me, I couldn’t think of a reason of why he’d follow me, or what he would do on this road, except that he was either lost, or assumed that I am on the right track. Funny.

Well, I reversed, and he started following again. The kind of reflexes I possess, immediately rang the alarm, that something is wrong, I thought of items if I had anything important that I may lose, in case this ought to be an armed robbery?

Ah ha! Turned out he was a race participant; as I drove myself into the parking.

Though, I wonder how in the world he figured I was heading that way.

While parking the car in front of the metro station, a couple of ladies walked towards me and asked if they can park here and if there are any charges. I don’t know in what mind, I told them yes, and no. And I left. Clearly, no parking charges because it was 5am, and meter starts at 8am.

Later, I figured that answer to the ladies, was the after effects of lack of sleep and drowsiness. I thought I will find them, and tell them it was a mistake. Yep, it was Friday, free parking day.

I thought for a moment I’d have to walk less if I park the car inside; therefore took a chance, and drove in to the Club. The guard stopped, looked at me, and then my tiny KIA Rio, and then looked again, and humbly requested me to park outside, because “apparently” only members are allowed inside with car.

I’d like to “believe” I was looking fairly decent in sports attire; though I am not sure about the car.

Must be the car. I thought.

So I walked in.

Surprise-surprise. At 5 in the morning there appeared to be thousands and thousands of people gathered already. Half of Dubai, I must say.

Thank god, I dint participate – was my immediate thought. Those slim winning chances, which I may have had, appeared slimmer and dimmer and then, well, disappeared in the thin air. Racing thoughts.

Tried to pacify myself, “good show dude, saved 150bucks, saved the day”.

I know I am crazy, but I figured there are at least 401+ people crazier than myself. I felt good about that. I wasn’t alone.

I was no way close to them, anyway.

And I realized, in this scenario, the best case for me was to be an marathon-administrative-“office boy”.
Well-ah-fellah, with a pinch of guilt, and mixed emotions, I accepted the damage to my Khan-istic pride, and swallowed the role assigned to me.


Later, to my calculations, registration was opened for ~600 people, ~400 showed up, ~50ish were no-show, and 3 people joined in half hour later when race started. And one random guy came at the end of the race just to collect his sports kit. Wow.

Anyway, so I walked in looking for Pascale, a French sportswoman, who claims to be marathon athlete champion of 2007; she discussed the role assigned, and the way it would work.

Although 53(yep, she told me her age), in her black shorts-tshirt and red Nike cap; she was dynamic and full of energy. She works as a volunteer.

People with energy attract me; unlike poles attract each other anyway - they say.

It was a good 3 minutes discussion with her in the morning.

Dizzy. I wanted more caffeine in my blood, a thought ran by.

The race was organized by FBA Sports (http://www.fba-sports.com). Ticket and registration was available from Premier Marathon’s web site (http://www.premiermarathons.com/event/The_Saucony_Half_Marathon_2013).

The process was:
  • Register online and pay the fee
  • Collect the race pack collection from Saucony Store, Dubai Mall (containing, race tag number with name, race tracker, a t-shirt your size, and a banana - yep)
I was told the breakfast is “on-the-house”(read: free).

There were 4 counters, and I was given the task of registering and verifying the runners for various categories, providing them with their sports kit, and keeping their bags. I was provided with a boy of 22ish age, Ashish to help.

It was an interesting experience, a flood of people coming to you with various kinds of questions (sometimes, silly and obvious) and you must respond to them even though you don’t have the answer to that question. Or, provide them with an alternate, less attractive solution rather than answering their question.

And interesting reactions too, a woman got angry when we told them they have to bring their own towel for shower; and a guy who got upset and requested replacement because he couldn’t find the banana in his race-kit.

Now you may think why would you ever want to volunteer?

Okay, a fair question, and following might help clarify the perplexity of the entwined minds:
  • Because, you may have interest in that particular area, administration, or sports, event organizations, etc.?
  • Some leisure time, and you want to try something different altogether?
  • You’re hungry and you know you’ll get a free lunch pass, t-shirts, and etc.; just kidding. This shouldn’t be a reason. Volunteering means, providing services free of charges.
As they put it, helping others kindles happiness. If you think you’re ready, then you should be prepared for any task, role, job no matter how petty or important it may be.

Does volunteering help, in any way?
Well, volunteer is a service free of charge and expectation. It is about giving back. Most important is the “experience” that you gain.

That’s the core of non-governmental organizations. In “ideal” scenarios, an NGO is supposed to help those is in need; financial, social, educational, providing shelter, health services, clean water, etc.

You can help by bringing in your expertise in specific area of your interest. Or if that isn’t your domain, then you can get to learn how it works.
  • Diversify your social network, expand your circle
  • How to think fast, and how to do it quick
  • Learn to get along with people of different nature and nationalities
  • Develop a new skill
  • Working with experienced people from different professional domains, has its own benefits; one for instance, on how they think and respond to problems, and the approach they take on solving them
  • And how to solve, without “spawning” side effects or more problems
  • Especially if you are in a public facing role, you must “tone” down your vocab and conversational skills to “generalize” it for all kinds of people popping in front of you without offending them.
  • Increase self-confidence
  • Helps your brain to start thinking in different ways
  • Lots other…
It is a very strange feeling when you walk into an entirely stranger crowed and start talking to them and helping them with everything. And then you walk out, not many people know about you; not much you about them. All they and you know is that you helped them, and that is all that was needed.

Next volunteering expedition is expected in Mar-2014.

Happy volunteering! (0: