by John Stanton
At one time running races occurred primarily in the spring and fall—not so now. A review of the race calendar provides a glimpse into a plethora of races on any given weekend across North America. Runs, walks and races are growing at a rapid rate serving a variety of fine charities and engaging people to sign up, if not for their personal wellness, for their person cause.
These runs and races have a charitable component to them, with the funds raised for most going to a charitable cause in the community. This triple win sees the runners enjoy a great race, the charity enjoys the fundraising and the community enjoys the healthy lifestyle.
All of these races require a legion of volunteers to assist in making the events run smoothly and be delivered in a high-quality competitive race environment. Many of the volunteers hold positions and are often taken for granted by the participants. The person on the corner standing in the heat, rain, cold or direct sun providing directions and safety for the runners; the people on the registration tables; the finish line team; the individual accounting for and arranging the porta-potties; the water station volunteers; the medal presenters; the set-up and clean-up crew; and the list goes on. Some volunteer jobs are high profile while others are very much behind the scenes. Most major marathons and races in Canada are organized and produced by volunteers; a very limited number of major events have any paid personnel, but generally these are limited to the overall race director or assistant.
Volunteers are the silent advocates of running, often quietly doing their tedious work, over long hours under extreme conditions. The race volunteers are there for as long as the runners, sometimes for a couple of hours and sometimes even for eight or nine hours. At the end of the race as a runner you’re fatigued, elated or filled with a mixture of emotions from the race. The people volunteering their time make every effort to see that things are done right and you feel good about what you have accomplished.
The most common comment I hear from a volunteer is their reward from watching the runners succeed and knowing that in a small way they played an important part in the journey and in their celebration on race day.
Times are changing in the running and walking race world; more runs need additional volunteers. Added to this reality is volunteer fatigue where often many of the same people are volunteering at many of the same events. This is creating a predicament in the running community where some of the runs are struggling to obtain sufficient volunteers.
The solution is two-fold. One, is every runner should volunteer for one race each year and two, every runner should be sure to thank every volunteer they see at every race. A simple, “Thanks for being here for us and we all appreciate your help” can go a long way to providing the volunteer with the same sense of empowerment and elation each runner feels when they run a race.
Take the time to sign up as a volunteer and be sure to say thank you to those silent heroes at our races.