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The Market to Market Relay will take 400 teams of six to eight runners from Omaha’s Memorial Park to Lincoln’s Haymarket on Saturday, October 13, 2012, along with more than 160 50k runners that will join the event in Murdock, Neb. And making sure that everything runs smoothly and safely is an army of more than 300 volunteers who assist runners and their drivers navigate the trails and winding roads to arrive at their destination.
“Volunteers are crucial to the success of this event,” according to race director Ben Cohoon. “We've been extremely lucky to have many volunteer groups return for all five years of the race, so their members know the course from start to finish. It's great that we have so many groups take ownership of their exchange points and make it fun and safe. Most runners appreciate the great job the volunteers do and express their gratitude throughout the day.”
Many of the volunteers manning the exchange zones, such as those with the YMCA Camp Kitaki and the Bellevue-Offutt Kiwanis, have been involved with Market to Market since its inception.
“Our goal is to make sure that the runners and their team vehicles are able to get in and out of our exchange zone efficiently and safely,” explained Jason Smith, who leads a team of 8 to 10 volunteers from the YMCA’s Camp Kitaki near the Platte River Pedestrian Bridge. “We assist vehicles as they enter and exit our parking lot, direct teams to where they can watch the exchange, keep people clear of traffic areas, and direct them to the medical area and restrooms.”
According to Smith, runners entering the exchange zones need to follow the race rules and listen to the volunteers. “As you come up to the exchange zone, identify your teammate, who we will try to have ready to go,” Smith advised. “After you make the exchange, take some time to cool down, find the rest of your team and get some kudos for the awesome job you just did. Then take it easy getting the water and food you need to be ready for your next leg.”
Smith urges runners and drivers to ask a volunteer if they need assistance. “We can get in touch with race organizers, medical support staff and more via ham radio and cell phone,” Smith acknowledged. “Also, be aware of your surroundings, both while running, driving and walking through exchange point areas.”
Keeping the runners exchange zone clear can be a major challenge, according to volunteer team leaders for the Bellevue/Offutt Kiwanis Club, which has been involved with Market to Market Relay for five years running. Under the leadership of Jerri Underwood, Edward Hink and Lupe Mier, approximately 16 volunteers are stationed at two transfer sites, assisted by several Key Club members from Bellevue East High and six members from the Bellevue AM Kiwanis Club.
Underwood encourages team members waiting in the exchange zones to be respectful of volunteers and stay out of the way of runners as they enter and exit.
“Sometimes we can’t get the runners through because the onlookers are pushing the line and blocking their way,” Underwood explained. “People cheering on their runners need to be a little less pushy and step back for safety reasons – that’s why volunteers are needed to handle the crowds.”
Volunteers also keep runners advised of roadway conditions on the course. “We try to let runners know if there is sand on the street that can cause them to slip, or other hazards,” Hink noted. “And we stress the importance of staying inside the cones when they’re running on the streets.”
The volunteers enjoy the opportunity to interact with participating teams from all over the U.S. “After four years, we know most of the teams and they do appreciate what we do by making the exchanges work smoothly for them,” Hink acknowledged.
“We have been complimented by many people for our work at the transfer sites,” Underwood reported. “Nebraska Orthopaedic Hospital has often had a table with nutritional treats at our site and they have told our volunteers how much they like working with us.”
Smith added, “It is very enjoyable to watch the community that develops amongst the runners. While at the exchange point, the teams mingle and mix, giving runners encouragement and getting to know other people. Everyone is typically in a great mood and it is fun to see the teams that get into the costume contests and the vehicle decorations.”