How many of you remember the t-shirts that were popular beginning in the late-70’s and peaked sometime in the 80’s, with the saying, “My parents went to Florida and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? There were many others as well, not just Florida. Choose a place and insert it in place of Florida. Here’s an example:
Well, I volunteered at a 5k and 10k race recently and I got a t-shirt, but I also received so much more in intangible rewards.
It had been a while since I had volunteered, and I felt like I was due to “give back” for all of the races I’ve ran. This time, my daughter who has recently started running 5k’s also went with me. She very wisely said, “I think all runners should volunteer at a race to see what all goes on and how much work the volunteers do.” I agree 100%.
My daughter and I volunteered at the race-day registration portion, which meant we had to check-in at 6:30 a.m. Ouch! The sun wasn’t even up when my alarm went off. The 10k started at 8:30 and the 5k started at 9:45, and for whatever reason it was mostly people running the 10k that were doing race-day registration. I noticed several things while we were there that might be a bit surprising and thought I’d share them here.
Out of about 20 volunteers that were at this particular station (registration) only two of us (my daughter and myself) said that we were runners when the person in charge asked. No one else there was even a runner, and yet here they were spending their way-too-early Saturday morning in the cold volunteering at a race. I found that a bit surprising. I’m sure there were at least a couple of other runners volunteering out there somewhere, maybe at an aid station or handing out bananas at the finish, but the point is, the majority of people volunteering at this race weren’t even runners.
My daughter was also surprised at just how many volunteers there were. This was a fairly small race (I later heard there were about 750 runners total for the 5k and 10k and 75 people doing the 1 mile fun run), so there wasn’t a need for huge numbers of volunteers, but even so, we were by the volunteer check-in station so we saw all of the people who came by, and it was a lot. I think runners sometimes forget or simply aren’t aware just how many volunteers are required to help support a race. There are volunteers first of all that help with planning the race before it even begins, then on race day at the check-in station for volunteers, more at registration, t-shirt pick-up, timing, water stations, course directors (to show you the way at turns), parking attendants, passing out food at the finish, handing out medals at the finish, police directing traffic, and the list goes on.
I was also surprised at how big of a time commitment many of the volunteers are asked to put in. As I said, I was at the race-day registration station so I was asked to be there by 6:30 that morning. We were asked to stay until right up until the 5k began in case there were last-minute stragglers (there actually were a couple of people who registered for the 10k with maybe 5 minutes until the start). This means we were there from 6:30 until 9:45. That’s a pretty big chunk of time, and we weren’t even there as long as some other volunteers were. I saw volunteers cutting up oranges and bananas when we got there around 6:30 and they were still there passing them out to runners who had finished racing the 5k when we left at 9:45.
Before I registered online to volunteer for this race, I had tried to volunteer at other races in the area but was surprised to find that they seemingly didn’t need any more volunteers. One of the bigger races had a link on their website to volunteer, so I clicked it and every single slot for volunteers was full. I tried another race website and found the same thing- no more space for volunteers. I emailed a race director for another race to ask if I could volunteer and received no response. I understand these people are busy because most of them have full-time jobs on top of organizing a race so I’m not faulting them for not getting back to me. I just didn’t expect it to be so difficult to find a local race where I could volunteer. I’d like to volunteer again for another race or two this year and hopefully it won’t be so difficult to find some that would like my help!
The next time you run a race, don’t forget to thank a volunteer! It definitely takes a village to put on a race and the bigger the race, the more people it requires. I know I have more appreciation for volunteers at races after being a volunteer myself.