Whether you’re running or biking roads or trails or even competing in a triathlon, there’s nothing like race day morning. The excitement of the starting line, the camaraderie of friends, and the smiling faces of people working the race all make the experience special. While you may only communicate with the race director, races take a lot of hands.
Setting courses, staffing water stops, packet pickup, and even parking direction all have to be done by someone. Timing and race companies will have a handful of employees, but races largely run on volunteers. This post will cover 5 reasons why you should volunteer at local races other than for free race entries.
To encourage--How many of us have been “saved” mid-race by the supportive atmosphere at an aid station or water stop, whether you knew the volunteers or not? Volunteering at a race, especially on course, lets you cheer on friends and strangers alike. You can get together with a local running, biking, or tri group, if you’re a member of one, and staff an aid station together. It will give your friends competing something to look forward to, and you’ll get to serve as encouragement to even more. Think of it as passing it on. Be the encouragement you’d like to have. Just don’t tell anyone they’re almost there unless they can see the finish line.
To meet new people--Volunteering at a race is a great way to get to know people from the local race community, both race directors and other volunteers as well as competitors. Working packet pickup or at an expo is a great way to do this. People usually have time to talk and are more relaxed than on race day. You may even get to meet their families too. And we all know runners especially like to talk. Warning, you may not notice your friends in their work attire coming in to pick up their race packets!
To become familiar with a race--If you’ve been considering a race but aren’t sure about it, volunteer first. You can see the course, or at least part of it depending on how long the race is. If you’re volunteering at an ultramarathon, aim for one of the later aid stations or one at a particular part of the course you’re concerned about for a fuller picture. The difference in the first aid station and one 50K into a 100K race is immense. Runners will be much fresher and more enthusiastic at the earlier aid stations. The later ones will let you see how much the race takes out of you.
To gain new perspective--Unless you run a looped course, when you run a race, you really only see the perspective of your pace group. If you’re a front-of-the-pack runner, you never see those behind you. The same goes for the middle-of-the-pack runner and the back-of-the-pack runner. Working an aid station or water stop, you’ll see all of the runners come back, from the elites that may blow right past to you, to those who stop to chat and take stock of themselves. There’s nothing like seeing the lead runner come through, sometimes following a bike, flying at a pace you can’t imagine. There’s also nothing like seeing the determination of someone fighting a cut-off time, showing grit and determination to put one foot in front of the other. Volunteering, especially at a water stop, lets you see this whole range of competitors.
- To give back--Above all, volunteering helps give back to the racing community. Many races are charitable events, and keeping costs down by relying on volunteers helps ensure more money goes to those charities. Races truly depend on volunteer labor to happen. If you love a race but can’t run or bike in it that year, volunteer. Make that race happen. Help someone else have that wonderful experience you did.
We at Ponya strongly believe in community and giving back. Volunteering in any capacity is an excellent way to help others as well as yourself. Volunteering at races can help someone you don’t even know achieve a PR or even just get through their first race or attempt at a new distance through direct encouragement or just helping the race run smoothly. Check out local races near you and see if they need volunteers. We bet they do. And, after all, it's fun!
What’s your favorite way to volunteer at a race? Do you prefer to work packet pickup or an aid station? Or do you prefer to be at the finish line? Tell us in the comments below!