It's not much past O-dark hundred on a chilly morning and a group of yawning, shivering volunteers huddle together waiting for their free T-shirts and their instructions from Paul Goldenberg, the Director of Special Races for the Howard County Striders.
Some of the volunteers will be sent to man water stops; others will act as course marshals at particularly tricky spots of whatever the road race of the day is. It might be Clyde's 10k, the Women's Distance Festival 5k, the MD/DC 10-Mile Team Challenge or the Metric Marathon.
While the band of volunteers is trying to get their blood flowing, Goldenberg has already been out on the course. At 5 a.m., he was posting mile markers, by 6 a.m., he was helping set out traffic cones, then he swung back to the starting point to check on packet pickup and to make sure the port-a-pots are there.
"We have them delivered a day early now," he said.
Then it's off to meet with his volunteers and check in with the county police to make sure everyone's on the same page — all this before the race even begins.
Goldenberg wants to make sure everything is in place; like the Boy Scout leader he is, he wants to be prepared.
"I like the idea of the challenge that if something goes wrong you figure out what to do," he said.
Goldenberg, who started running in 1984 to lose the weight he'd gained after he stopped smoking, is a volunteer extraordinaire for the 2,000-member running club that is entirely run by volunteers.
He joined the Striders' board of directors in 1985 and has been re-elected every year, which makes him the longest continuously serving board member. For more than 20 years he's been Coordinator of Special Races.
He served as club president for four years and is a former editor of the Striders' newsletter.
He's directed races, including the Columbus Chase, Clyde's and the 1993 Columbia Birthday marathon, which was held in celebration of Columbia turning 26. That race, which raised more than $13,000 for the Columbia Foundation, required 297 course marshals and 1,900 traffic cones. The Striders own about 150 cones, Goldenberg said, but the club was able to borrow cones from other sources.
Three trucks were packed with cones and a fourth was on standby as the cones were leapfrogged along the course — taken from the back and moved to the front.
"The first runner never saw anything but a line of cones," Goldenberg said, with a touch of pride in his voice.
"Putting on a race is like having an extra job," he said. "I have a very high energy level. I burn both ends of the candle, although I'm not convinced it's smart," he said. "I like to do the stuff. I like to see people get involved, and I don't know how to say 'no.' "
Goldenberg encourages others to get involved as volunteers, too.
"Volunteering in an organization allows you to do things you don't normally do at work. You try to stretch what you can accomplish. … You might have the opportunity to have a leadership role that you would never have in business."
Until email made it easier to contact volunteers, Goldenberg would pick up the phone and make calls. Certainly, many of the people he contacted were those who had volunteered before but he also made sure he cold called someone he didn't know or didn't know very well.
"I tried to reach out and get them involved," he said.
Goldenberg encourages high school cross country and track teams and National Honor Society members to help with races.
"I think some people tend to be very negative about kids, but I think they are better than we think. They bring a lot of energy," he said.
Through his years with the Striders, Goldenberg has noticed changes. The Junior Striders now make up a large part of the Striders organization and there's a much larger proportion of women running races.
"It used to be 80/20 but now a 5k is almost 50/50," Goldenberg said. "Women are looking for a way to stay fit and they see running as a fitness activity."
The Striders' Females in Training program has helped fuel women's running in the county.
"What makes a good club or a great club, is understanding what the members want and how to deliver it," Goldenberg said.
There are big races, like Clyde's, and little races like the weekly runs. Race announcements and the club newsletter are now delivered by social media and not the post office. The club has purchased a chip timing system, which produces race results in a fraction of the time a manual system would take.
Since Goldenberg conceived the Striders scholar/athlete awards program, more than $50,000 has been distributed to outstanding high school scholar/athletes.
"I've worked with several nonprofit boards and I can't think of a person more dedicated than Paul has been for as long as he has," said Striders' president Dwight Mikulis. "In the past couple of years Paul has brought a new enthusiasm to the Striders.
"As president of the Striders, I get a lot of good counsel from Paul, and he's one of several key people that I count on for continuity, for the organization's history and for good ideas, and he gives me all of those."
Goldenberg is a member of the Striders Hall of Fame.