SCHROON LAKE Volunteers are not paid not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless - Anonymous. In an age when folks are concerned with setting marathon PRs on a flat, fast course, the Adirondack Marathon is a fortunate anomaly. It has been asterisked in both New England Runner and Runners World magazines as one of the best marathons in the country and that is due in no small part to the all-out effort of its 300+ volunteers. During my first race in 2002, I was convinced that everyone in the small hamlet of Schroon Lake was either running, volunteering or watching. I was hooked and have returned every year except 2006 when I was nursing a sprained ankle. Don Nieradka, who has been aboard since the beginning, reflects on the serendipitous quality of his volunteer experience: Back in 1996, Dan Perry (the original race director) asked me if I knew it was 26 miles around Schroon Lake, Nieradka said. Duh, Dan, Ive only been around the lake a gazillion times. So then he asked me what I thought about having a marathon race around the lake. Being ignorant about marathons, I said, It sounds good to me. Dans infectious enthusiasm convinced Don and many others like him to volunteer for something they knew nothing about. Don found himself in charge of 15 water stations and responsible for rounding up 125+ volunteers, 5,000 cups, 400 gallons of water and 280 gallons of sports drink, not to mention sponsors to foot the bill. And that is only one piece of the puzzle. Volunteers advertise the race, register runners, recruit Expo vendors, solicit sponsors, coordinate transportation, mark the course, entertain the runners, man the finish line, supply refreshments and then clean up after themselves. The first time I ran Schroon Lake, I stopped off at the local Stewarts and the counter person there asked me, Are you running or volunteering? As if there were no other option. That same person had thoughtfully set out cups and a cooler of water for passersby. For many, volunteering has become a family project, attracting even summer residents. One such family is the Egans of Latham who came aboard in 1999 and have since taken ownership of Water Station #8. Over the years, Tim and Mary Anne along with their four children, TJ, Ryan, Danny and Cassie have come up with many creative ideas. One year, Ryan celebrated his birthday at the water stop and four years ago the kids set up their own table and competed to see who could hand out the most water. This year, theyre considering a Mexican theme. Regular participants have literally watched these children grow up. Some, however, have no choice but to volunteer. For fifth and sixth grade students in Wayne Williams Schroon Lake Central School Band class, the trailhead parking area at mile seven is the location of one of their required concerts. Every year they showcase their zippiest numbers to push marathoners up yet another hill. It sometimes seems as if once you begin volunteering, you never really leave. Dan Perry, the original organizer, still works tirelessly behind the scenes as does former race director, Joel Friedman. Not to mention Rose Korn who worked a water stop into her 97th year and Dot Shene, who despite being visually challenged, has risen to the occasion all 10 years. But while no one actually leaves, at least in spirit, folks do grow older, and according to current race director, Bill Tribou, that could be a problem somewhere down the road. More folks in the 20-40 year-old range will be needed to take over some of the responsibilities. So if you would like to be part of the friendliest marathon around, yet dont feel equal to experiencing every one of those twenty-six miles on foot, give volunteer co-chairs Nicole Howe at 494-2897 or Lil Richardson at 532-7771 and they will put you to work and reward you with a great day, new friends, a snazzy T-shirt and a post race party. Laura Clark is a childrens librarian at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. In her free time, she enjoys trail running, snowshoe racing, cross country skiing, gardening and, of course, reading. She writes for numerous local running publications.