When the call went out for volunteers in the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon's first year, in 2009, Nick Zazal responded.
He and a group of co-workers from Krannert Center for the Performing Arts helped with traffic control around Memorial Stadium on race day.
"The first year was a little hard," Zazal admitted. "We were still trying to figure out how to navigate people around the stadium," he said, adding he spent most of his time on crowd control, directing people on how to enter the stadium to watch the runners finish.
Even so, "I loved it," Zazal said. "Even the first year, with all the growing pains and figuring things out. The energy around it is just infectious."
Zazal ran the 5K in the race's second year, but he's been back volunteering ever since. Community members like Zazal are essential for the race. It could not go on without the 3,400 volunteers needed over the three days of the event.
The most crucial of those are the course team volunteers. They are the people who are stationed at intersections throughout the race courses to help control traffic.
"Those are the positions that we need absolutely 100 percent of them filled," said Mary Anderson, volunteer coordinator for the marathon. "The reason for that is they man the intersections and they ensure the safety of the runners. They are required for us to host this event.
"We need to get a guarantee, as we are a month away from the marathon, that we'll be able to get the volunteers we need to host it," she added.
This year's Illinois Marathon races will be held April 27 (the 5K race) and April 28 (all other races, including the marathon, half-marathon, marathon relay, 10K and youth run). The race expo will be April 26 and 27.
Anderson needs almost 300 more volunteers for the course team, and 716 more volunteers overall (including the course team and other jobs).
The course team volunteers are required to attend a training session, offered on April 9, 12, and 19 for volunteers manning an intersection in Champaign, and April 10, 16 and 17 for those who will be working in Urbana.
"In an ideal world, we would have all those (course team) positions filled by the first training session," Anderson said.
Zazal noted that volunteering doesn't mean you'll have to drive to Memorial Stadium and get into the traffic and crowds of spectators there. Those volunteering for the course team can request an assignment in their own neighborhoods.
But if a course team position doesn't work for you, there are plenty of other jobs that need to be filled. For example, 10 brave souls are needed for the "PortaPotty logistics team."
"People are probably scared they are going to be cleaning toilets," Anderson said.
Actually, the volunteer positions were created after feedback from runners that there weren't enough toilets at the race start and the lines were too long.
"The reality is, there are toilets that are unused in some locations," Anderson said.
There will be 120 portable toilets at the race start, plus 88 bathrooms in Assembly Hall. The 10 members of the PortaPotty logistics team will direct runners to the locations of the bathrooms.
Other jobs to consider include a number at the race expo, including distributing bib numbers to runners and helping with the Friday night pasta feed. Volunteers are needed for crowd control for both the Friday night 5K and the Saturday races, to help with parking for the expo and on race day, for various jobs with the youth run, and for cleanup of Memorial Stadium after the races.
Zazal drove a Sag wagon last year, picking up runners at the medical tents who were unable to finish their races.
"It sounds like it would be a real downer of a job. Some of (the runners) are not in a happy mood, but we put a little life back in their day," with bottled water and towels, Zazal said. He also enjoyed driving an official vehicle and having a level of access to the race course not available to the public.
Last fall, he told the marathon organizers he wanted to do more. He's now a member of the race committee and he's overseeing the post-race food served in Memorial Stadium.
Zazal said volunteering is a good way to give back to the community and meet new people.
"There's no down side to it," he said. "You might as well embrace it. It really is a lot of fun."
How to volunteer
To volunteer for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, go to http://www.illinoismarathon.com  and click on the "Volunteers" tab at the top of the page.
You can choose a course team position or other volunteer position and sign up for a specific job. Some of the volunteer positions, including all the course team positions, require training. The volunteer web page includes a link to the training schedules and a list of jobs that require training.
All volunteers will receive a T-shirt and string bag.