Every runner should work a run as a volunteer. I have been running for a while, in the past 4 years I’ve been able to acutally work running events as a sponsor, as a volunteer and even as a course monitor. It brings a whole new insight into racing and I believe there are many things that runners just don’t realize. I took a break from working races for about a year and then recently came back onto the scene and though many aspects bring me joy, I honestly believe runners need to get out of their own heads and look around at what it takes to actually put a race together. Money, Race Fees and Charities aside – consider these eight items next time you race, no matter what the distance.
Get your packets early: Sponsors, race directors and volunteers want you to be ready on race day, and getting the packet before the day of the race is the best way to do it, I know it’s annoying, especially if the race won’t let your friends pick up your packet, but mostly it’s because on the morning of the race, the site is a zoo. Let’s not even consider weather factors, like cold, heat or rain, getting volunteers on the course, checking the course instructions have not been moved, that the course is clear, timing is in place and working are just a few of the items that must be handled the morning of the race. So think about a 7am start time, in order for a race to be ready for packet pick up on the morning of the race everything must be available, and open by 6am… sorry but the sun isn’t up then. In some cases the city doesn’t want people turning on lights in an area or causing a fuss; so when you show up a 6:45 for a 7am race and are waiting in line for the 7 volunteers to work through the line. Do not be a complainer. You could have gotten up when they did, usually 3am, to get to the race site in time to get your packet. They truly are not trying to delay you or make it not be a great experience.
Get to the event early: I am amazed at the number of runners that think they can roll up to a race, park and get rolling. In some cases I’ve had to walk 1/2 a mile just to get to the start line after parking. This was for a marathon so I can promise you that extra mile to and from the car wasn’t part of my plan. But the race directors were doing the best they could and opened up as many lots and had volunteers trying to man the area. Complaining and blaming them really isn’t fair.
Weather is out of the control of the race director: This is a big one. Most races have an ‘act of God’ clause that releases them for any issues due to weather, but I’m still shocked at the number of runners who actually get angry when a race is cancelled because of weather. People, they don’t cancel a race because they don’t want to get wet, or cold or be in the sun; heck work a race and you’ll see you’ve been in those conditions for hours by the time they have to cancel. Most times the reason has to do with the municipality and emergency and law enforcement. You see when you run a race there are emergency people that need to be on call, police and other agencies that need to keep areas clear and safe. I can bet the same person that being crazy rude cirticising a race director for cancelling a race because of cold or rain, are the same people that would sue the city or the race when they slip or injure themselves on a course that can’t be cleared of ice.
Courses can be affected by more than the race director: Race directors get permits and set courses sometimes 12 months in advance. But have you ever noticed how one day your road is clear then a big truck causes a pot hole and suddenly the Monday morning that you are late to work is the day they decide to get the crews out to fix it. I can guarantee you they didn’t do that to you on purpose. Sometimes that happens to race directors as well. They go out a month, a week and even the day before and I’ve seen a beautiful park be perfect at a month out and then be torn up for a sewer leak in an adjoining neighborhood the week of. What would you have the race director do?? Cancel, we discuss earlier how much runners get pissy with canceling; they can’t move the start because permits are done. The best they can do it put the race on in as best manner possible. But when a volunteer asks or tells you to please move away from the hole, you might want to realize they are just trying to keep you from breaking something before or after the race.
Be nice to the water people and don’t be a slob: as I mentioned and you’d find out, water station volunteers have to get there LONG before the race starts. They need to get out on the course, set up and wait… then they have to wait for the last person to go through the course before they can leave. Now you might be thinking “but they run out of water or pack up before I’m done” and I can tell you that’s NOT what is expected. Some groups are given donations for working the event; so they should definitely never leave before the last runner comes through their station, but I can tell you that running out of water or gaterorade, or ice is a race directors night mare. I work many races as a course monitor, driving back and forth to make sure that stations are covered. Every race director started as a runner believe me – having a runner on the course without water is never something they plot to have happen. Also when you see a trash can – use it!! Races are usually using a road or park and it’s their job and that of those volunteers to clean up after the fact. I can tell you that starting my day at 3am is tough, but walking a course to clean up gu, and paper cups until 3pm (usually 3 hours after the race is totally over) is exhausting. This is what it takes to put on a race… and this is just the day of the race, remember I said these events take weeks and months to plan in advance.
Be nice to timers: you know, timing systems are computers, and we all know = computer fail. No one plans to have your time not show, or show wrong; hopefully you are seeing a trend in my comments. Timers are not out to keep you from qualifying for Boston, or even getting a personal record. They try hard to make sure everything is working properly but sometimes it doesn’t work that way. If you’ve run a number of races, you will eventally have a timing chip not register which can be defeating, but I guarantee if you keep racing you’ll also have one post a personal record that isn’t yours. I came in 2nd overall at a small race and it definitely was not my time, but my coach pointed out that though I won this one, the next time around it might say I wasn’t even there.
When you’re done running MOVE OUT OF THE WAY: this is one that really got me at a recent race. Runner cross the timing line, stop running and hit their garmin, oblivious to the 2, 3 or 10 runners pushing through the finish line for their magic moment. Move out of the way once you’re done racing, let other runners get their photo, times and metals, and most of all do not move back into the finish gate to take a photo or try to go back out on the course.
Don’t go back onto a race route: This is dangerous for you, the officials but also is disrespectful for the runners that are trying to finish. If you wanted to run a 1/2 and it was only a 10K, run in town, don’t go back on the course. The race official have noted that you have come through the finish so if something happens they have no idea that you are back on the course.
The time you spent training is equal to the time it takes race directors to set up a race: hopefully you realize that the 4-12 months you spent training to get ready for that race, the race directors and staff were working very hard to make sure that you have a wonderful race day.
A great race would have very runner finishing, getting a great metal, getting a personal record, with perfect weather; sunny but with shade on the course; ideal temperature and the most perfect photos at every opportunity. Hopefully you’re laughing by now, because this is too much to hope for. Heck as a race official if just one runner felt that way, my day would be made, but alas it rarely works out like that.