Why you should volunteer for a race

volunteer group raising hands against blue sky background
volunteer for a local race, it might surprise you

Running a race is hard. And I am not talking about the actual participants, I mean the Race Director.

Like most weekend warriors, I have run my fair share of races. And also, like most of us, I have not given much thought to how much work it takes to have one of these races run smoothly (see what I did there?). This all changed a few weekends ago when I volunteered at a local 50km.

First things first, I didn’t volunteer out of the goodness of my heart, or to make life easier for someone ( although I wished I had ). Instead, I was volunteering because it was/is a requirement for the longer race that I am registered for later this year.

On race day, the volunteers get there early!

We arrived at the start line somewhere around 630 AM or for most people, God awful early. I have no idea how long the Race Director had been there, but by the looks of him and the organized chaos I would say at least an hour before that.

I was put on the one and only aid station. This Race was a figure 8 that crossed the same point ( where the aid station sat) twice. The 50 kms ran the figure 8 twice, so we got to see them 4 times.

There was 3 of us at the aid station, my job was to keep all the water and electrolytes stocked. An easy job if everyone arrived at the aid station in small packs. Not so easy if there are 20 + people. Considering the figure 8 layout, I was doomed.

So far, all I have been doing is giving you a bit of context. But, the real story is how I was able to experience a different side of racing.

I am not a fast runner, but neither am I slow. I consider myself a solid middle packer. And as such, I see the races through the eyes of runners that are similar to me. In other words, I don’t get to see or experience any of the highs or the lows.

It was really eye opening to see how fast the elite runners really are. I think sometimes I like to delude myself into thinking that they are not that much faster then me. The reality is a completely different thing.

The elite runners, came into the station at least 20-30 minutes faster then I thought they would. They arrived in a pack of 5-7, mostly young men but one or two women as well. I was shocked at how fresh they looked after a fast 12km. I was also certain that they would have to slow down to finish strong. How wrong I was.

The next time I saw the leaders, they were moving just as well despite already having 30+ km and 1000 meters of elevation on their legs. Although, the true elite were really starting to separate themselves from the pack. The lead group was now closer to 3 people, with the lead runner starting to create a sizeable gap.

Over the next few hours we were able to see the elite runners another two times. A few things I noted, first I was amazed that they were able to keep that initial pace surprisingly well. And secondly, they did not need or take much aid at the station. They came into the aid station with a plan, grabbed what they needed ( mostly water ) and were out in a flash. Also, they did not skip the aid station, sure it was a quick stop but they still made sure to utilize what they needed.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were some runners that day that had to dig deep to finish. I remember reading somewhere that it is way harder to finish slow then to finish fast. What I mean, is that there is a different level of pain to spend 8+ hrs on your feet then 4 ish.

I was able to experience first hand, the type of guts it takes to keep going when you are feeling rough. There were plenty of runners that had to dig in on the second loop. Some had to spend quite a time in the aid station gathering themselves.

For them, I became more of a cheerleader then support staff. Mostly, I made sure that they had all the water or supplement that they needed. Since we had a first aid attendant I was not worried about medical issues. Instead, I just stayed positive and encouraged them. It was pretty amazing to see how hard these people were able to push themselves.

I have the utmost respect for everyone that ran that day, 50km is a big deal. There is less then 1% of the population that will even consider doing something of that nature. I absolutely loved that I was able to experience it first hand, and from a different perspective.  So next time you get an opportunity, go volunteer at a local race. I promise  you will get more then you expect out of the experience.

Keep running!

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