Today, at the JPMorgan Run as One 4-mile race, I stood once again not at the finish line, but by a table filled with bagels. I was volunteering yet again, this time to help my team gain guaranteed marathon entry spots (of which I hope to partake). This time, as the start gun went off in the distance, I was surprised not by how quiet it was near me, but how busy. Bibbed and D-tagged runners, with every intention of running (as far as I could tell), were strolling casually around, seemingly unconcerned that the race had already started.
Then, at around 9.10 (ten minutes after the start gun), it became quiet. We waited, bagels poised in our gloved hands, water cups filled, eager to fuel the arriving runners. Around 9.20 or so, someone shouted, “the leaders have finished!”, and we looked excitedly over to where they would climb the steps and arrive into our area. Two runners with track club shirts, and likely a coach, entered into our field of view. They walked by and we applauded. They did not partake of bagels, but the coach looked over and called out the winner’s time, “18.35”. Wow. “They look so serious”, my mother who was helping to volunteer and is not a runner commented. “They’re tired,” I replied.
There was a lengthy pause, and then a few more clusters of runners, some of whom did take water and bagels. Then a large wave of the faster runners arrived, streaming along both sides of the table. Most were exhausted, but many still had the energy to ask after the (apparently famous) chocolate chip bagels. Since I usually go to brunch after a race, I take fruit only (unless I’ve run a half marathon). I was not aware of the occasional, and apparently highly sought after, chocolate bagels. I had plain, my mother next to me had cinnamon raisin– something that was repeated over and over again that morning. The stream continued, more women appeared, then children, then people wearing jeans. I looked at my watch and realized it was now over an hour after the start, the walkers must be arriving.
Slowly the stream thinned to a trickle, then ended. Then the clean up chaos began. Water was being dumped on the ground, and bags and bags of bagels were left without a home. This is where things became problematic. The bagels apparently could not be donated, because shelters will not accept open containers. At the same time we were not allowed to give away the pallets, because we couldn’t be seen to be giving them away. So bags and bags of food were to be dumped. They were also to be thrown in such a way that it was not obvious they were food, further decreasing the chance that they would find their way to a good home. We were not happy about this, and so, fortunately, a volunteer was able to arrange donation to a city shelter. We poured hundreds of bagels into garbage bags, which were then carted off by several amazing volunteers from our team, to be cabbed to the shelter at their own expense. I spoke with a team-mate who also volunteers regularly, and he is aware of the problem, hates it, but has been unable to come up with a solution. It is just another example of how bureaucracy, and a world that always protects against the worst of human nature, can lead to extreme waste. Perhaps we can spread the word among runners that after a race is over (not before, we were strictly instructed to only give out one bagel per person during the race), there may be bagels looking for a good home. A runner who is also affiliated with a shelter or food bank might be able to find a solution to this issue.
As it was, I stuffed several bagels into my bag, which are now sitting in a freezer. But I also have no desire to even look at a bagel again in the near future. After the race I attempted a run, but was very dehydrated and weak from my cold and actually cut it short. Something I do very rarely, and hope not to have to do again soon. The park was beautiful, and my mother and I strolled around, taking it in from a walker’s perspective. We walked by the boathouse, then the little lake with the rented sailboats, looked at Pel Mel the Peregrine falcon sitting watch by his mate’s nest, and photographed some of the many cherry blossoms. And ate, I shudder to think about now, some more bagels.