Stats & Chat
Ever run a race and wondered about those people who give of their time and energy to help at aid stations or direct traffic or hand out race number or otherwise work to make sure your race day goes smoothly? Wondered who puts out water on the training runs or grills burgers at our picnics? Ever thought about helping and wondered what it would be like? Well I want to tell you why I like helping at races, what I put into it and what I get out of it.
I have volunteered at many running races and triathlons over the past few years. I have (mis)directed traffic, splashed water, guided runners, rolled pizza slices (easier for a runner to carry), handed out gels, popped blisters, carried boxes, run through the night, lied shamelessly (you look great, no more hills, you’re nearly there, the check’s in the mail), cheered runners and coached kids. Without exception every event has been fun and it is something you can do with your kids. While helping at races I have met other athletes whom I would not otherwise have met. Occasionally I get to make a positive difference.
Last year I planned to run the North Face 50. Waking up on race day my gear was laid out neatly on the floor, number attached raring to go. However I realized I was not recovered from my injury and I could not run. Miserably I dragged myself to the event, watched all my friends dash off. Instead I decided to hand out water at the final aid station, about 2 miles from the finish. At some point I noticed a man about my age dropping out of the race. He sat down, removed his number and asked for a ride to the finish line. A quick assessment told me he was nothing more than tired and thirsty. “Not on my watch” I thought, so close to the finish line. I retrieved his number, pinned it back on his shirt, made him drink some water and eat some food. I stood him up, filled his bottles, encouraged him to continue and walked him along the track. I never knew his name but that man finished his first ultra marathon that day and I had something to do with it. Then I was OK about not running myself.
Along with Jim B, this year I was lucky enough to crew and pace Mary K at the Vermont 100 miler. Not only was the whole trip a huge amount of fun but I had a ringside seat to some incredible feats of endurance. I saw 12 Reston Runners race up and down hills all day and all night and still finish with a smile. We drove around country roads reading obscure signs, deciphering maps and racing to meet our runners. It was like a treasure hunt. I recall flitting across a wide pasture in Vermont at about 3am, the stars and moon our guide, and the slumbering cows were staring at us as if to question our sanity. It was a surreal moment. To experience these dreamlike spells you can either run 100 miles, or help someone else do it.
I have raced in 7 events this year and further 6 planned. Conservatively if I used 6 aid stations at each event, that means at least 78 volunteers gave up their time and energy to help me finish my races. This does not include all the people behind the scenes and countless supported RR training runs. Taking my turn at an aid station seems only fair.
Assisting at a triathlon transition area can be a learning experience. Watching others you will pick up a lot of tips on what works and what just wastes time. You can also get a close look at a race you may be considering yourself. For the tri-athletes out there I encourage you to help in some small way at a race.
Usually by the time I finish a race, the laurels have been distributed, the adoring fans headed to the exits and people are cleaning up. This year I directed runners at the Woman’s Distance Festival. The course was such that I got to see the leaders three times. It was neat to see them whiz by really close up and volunteering allowed me to do that.
Coaching at Youth-in-Motion has been great. The kids are a lot of fun and I have learned so much about managing unruly mobs. I have learned (strictly work in progress) how to focus their concentration, harness their energy and teach them that exercise can be fun. We set up obstacle courses, relay races and hurdles. Recapturing our misspent youth, we have water fights. Together with the other YIM coaches I helped about fifty 7-8yr olds have a great summer and perhaps start them on the path to regular exercise.I never worry about what I put into volunteering; I always seem to get way more out of it than I put in. I encourage others to get involved, sign up and do something, no matter how small. You may be pleasantly surprised.