2013 Is Your Year to Volunteer!

Finish line hydration volunteers at the 2012 Seattle Marathon Kids' Marathon
Finish line volunteers at the 2012 Seattle Marathon Kids’ Marathon (Photo credit: Dawn Dolobowsky)

As the end of the year approaches, we’re all beginning to turn our attention to 2013. Whether your race season is ending or, in the case of those living in the super-warm south, just beginning, you’re most likely putting the final touches on your race calendar. While I know you’ve pretty much picked out the races that you’ll be training for this winter and spring and maybe even zeroed in on your fall 2013 races too, have you given any thought about volunteering at a race in 2013?

Yes. Volunteering. As in not running, but still getting up just as early (or even earlier!) to head to the race course and lend a hand. If you’ve never given it any thought, I want you to take a second to do just that. Think about your favorite race. Replay the whole thing in your head, from packet pickup to the race start to the water stops to the post-race snacks. It was a pretty good day, right? Now replay it again, but this time I want you to notice all of the people that helped put the event on. From those giving out chips and bibs to the people standing on street corners telling you which way to turn to everyone handing out water and snacks. Every single one of those people was a volunteer. For extra credit, replay that race one more time, except this time leave out all of the volunteers. Not much fun that way, huh?

My point is this: race volunteers make the running world go ’round. Without them, your favorite race either wouldn’t happen or would cost significantly more to run. Most races, especially small local events, are always looking for help on race day. Next year, I challenge you to pass on a race you might normally run and, instead, help put the event on for other runners. If you’ve never done it before, I guarantee there will be a few things that surprise you. For starters, it’s not for wimps: working a race can be just as tiring as running in it. Depending on the race and your duties, you’ll likely need to get there before the first runners start and you’ll head home after everyone’s done. You’ll be on your feet the whole time, and you’ll need to layer up as you won’t have the warming effect of running to protect you from the elements.

Volunteers (Photo credit: vastateparksstaff)

That said, there’s absolutely nothing like the experience of helping put on a race. I’ve volunteered at several races now, doing fun things handing out water and medals and working packet pickup. I’ve also done the less fun things, like directing traffic during the bike leg of a 70.3 event on a lonely street corner and removing chip straps from the ankles of sweaty triathletes. (OK, that was fun, but it was pretty gross.) No matter what I’ve done, it’s been a blast every single time.

When I’ve been injured, it’s been a great way to stay connected to the running community. When I’ve been healthy, it’s been a fun break from racing and a great chance to see the elites up close and personal. (Seriously. You will never, ever have a better spectator’s spot than as a water stop volunteer in a major marathon.) Plus most athletes, especially those towards the back of the pack, are incredibly appreciative of your efforts. To you, you’re just someone standing on a street corner with a dixie cup of Gatorade, cheering them on because what else are you going to do for several hours? To a struggling athlete, though, you’re an angel of hydration, giving them the encouragement they needed to keep going.

My challenge to you for next year: volunteer at just one race. The experience just might surprise you.

Have you ever volunteered at a race before? How was the experience for you? If you’ve never volunteered at a race, have I convinced you to give it a try?

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In a previous life, I worked on computers and spent all day sitting. Thanks to running, I've rebooted my career and am now a running and triathlon coach and soon-to-be physical therapist. I've also got the mind and spirit of an elite trapped in the body of a back-of-the-packer.

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  1. I volunteered at one of the aid stations at Burning River this past year. It was so much fun and so inspiring! And I got to see all of the leaders aka the runners I usually don’t see at all during the race!

  2. Volunteering definitely make stronger connections. It’s a great way to serve the running community that supports our passion, to renew old running acquaintance and make new running friends. And, without volunteers, the cost of staging a race would be prohibitive. In addition to serving as volunteer Race Director to the Capital 10-Miler – A Run for the Arts, my volunteer assignments have included course monitor, orange cutter-upper, bagel slicer, toilet paper resupplier for porta-potties, race results helper, race packet stuffer, registration, packet pick-up (not necessarily in order of importance). My favorites volunteer job this year was working with a friend serving lunch to other volunteers at the Mont-Tremblant Ironman.