Giving Back: Seattle Marathon Volunteer

It’s less than 24 hours before I’ll be traveling to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends in the Midwest and I’m surrounded by birthday flavored protein bars, beet juice, and lip balm.

I’m exactly where I want to be.

I arrived on the 4th floor of The Westin hotel in downtown Seattle 6 days before race day. Coming up the escalator to start my four hour volunteer shift for the Amica Insurance Seattle Marathon I see pallets of dried mangos stacked against three different walls. Other volunteers and individuals who I soon will learn are Seattle Marathon Association (SMA) staff are hanging wayfinding signs. A wayfinding sign tells you where you are or where you want to be, i.e., Registration, Expo, Packet Pickup, etc.

The Westin Seattle hotel is aptly described on the race website as “the official Host Hotel & Race Headquarters of all pre-race Seattle Marathon events.” I check in and am directed to a large conference room that has floor to ceiling windows facing 5th Street. The monorail passes by and it has just started to rain heavily. The kind of rain you need an umbrella for, which is uncharacteristic for Seattle.

Louise Long, the race director and executive director of the SMA, has three of her dogs keeping us company as we unload and unbox each of the items that will ultimately find their way into a racer’s goody bag. That does not come across as uncharacteristic for Seattle. If you weren’t aware, Seattleites love their dogs and take them everywhere.

Becca Shim, SMA’s office manager, informs us that our job is to move the items from the pallets to the two rows of empty tables in such a manner so that the next shift of volunteers can easily pick and place the items into the goody bags. Our replacements are kids from a local school who are between the 6th and 12th grade.

This is the 50th year of the Seattle Marathon. The race is always held on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition.

I learned that it’s also a tradition that makes it hard for the SMA to find enough volunteers. Most people are off work but traveling out of town for the holidays or simply not interested in spending their time off lending a hand to the race organizers.

The few hours I spent volunteering helped me gain some perspective on the significant number of hours the SMA spends just to make the goody bags. From finding companies interested in having their products be included, to coordinating volunteers, unpacking each item, disposing of the trash and recyclables and all the efforts that I wasn’t a part of after my shift ended.

It’s a lot of work.

And it’s totally worth it.

goody bag tables

The goody bag is easily one of my favorite parts of entering a race. It’s fun to discover what delicious treats my future self will associate with my race day experience. From a marketing standpoint, being in a racer’s goody bag is potentially priceless because you are tying your product to a person’s positive experience – a powerful and emotional memory.

For me, even though I didn’t race, I’ll always see the ALL IN energy drinks and think of the 50th Seattle Marathon.

Good luck, racers! And many thanks to all the volunteers and staff who put on the Seattle Marathon.