Through the looking glass: Race volunteers

The guy giving you a cup of water at mile 8.

The cop monitoring traffic at mile 10.

The kid high-fiving you at the final aid station.

The lady handing you a finisher’s medal at 13.1 or 26.2 miles.

Runners aren’t the only “endurance athletes” at races — so are the volunteers.

They give of themselves and their time, some times in adverse weather conditions, for hours.

Do you thank volunteers when you race? If not, you should start.

Have you ever been a race volunteer yourself? Again, if you haven’t, I encourage you to step up. You won’t regret it.

Back when I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was the president of the Santa Fe Striders, and I also served as race director for The Santa Fe Run Around, a local 5K/10K race, for a couple of years.

I got to fire the starting gun and use a bullhorn. (This was back in the days before timing chips and Garmins.)

The Run-Around lived up to its name in every sense when I managed it. It wasn’t a huge race (about 500 runners), but staging it was a colossal, manual team effort, from processing paper registrations and checks, to filing for race-day insurance, to printing race tags and designing T-shirts, to stuffing goodie bags.

Being a race director (and club president) required navigating politics and personalities, securing financial sponsors and getting the whole community behind the event.

It took months of planning. I loved doing it.


Volunteering at race gives you great perspective from the other side of the finish line.

A few months ago my friend Pam and I were talking about a small race where she volunteered. She told me about how one woman spontaneously hugged her after she crossed the finish line — this racer was so happy with her accomplishment.

“It made me happy the rest of the day,” Pam told me. “You remember what it’s like again, to be a new runner and racer and that feeling.”

I love those kinds of moments. They remind us that running isn’t just about goal-setting but a lifestyle.

Last weekend was the final mile for Kids Running America, a program in which my children have participated, and also the Denver Rock N Roll Marathon.

Kids Running America is a nonprofit in the Denver area with the focus of fighting childhood obesity. The goal is for the children to run the equivalent distance of a marathon, 26.2 miles, in approximately two months. Each week they log their mileage and they run their finale mile at a celebration.

The final mile was in downtown Denver this weekend, in the rain and cold. It was about 40 degrees, and the kids did awesome, despite the drizzle and chill.

Kids Running America in Denver, 2011.

Throughout the KRA fall 2011 season I’ve volunteered as a parent mentor. Some weeks I paced the faster kids; other times I was the sweeper in the group, helping the younger or slower-moving children finish the workouts.

By the end program all the children, regardless of age or size, showed improved endurance.

For the past few seasons I’ve also drawn up the training plans (as a volunteer/coach) for the Distance Divas — a marathon/half marathon subgroup of the Colorado Columbines.

Tarzan and I met up with Columbines who set up a cheering section for our runners at the Denver Rock N Roll Marathon and Half Marathon (also this weekend). We were at mile 9, our cowbells and enthusiasm on hand.

That’s me and Tarzan at the far right.

Tarzan and I didn’t stay long, just enough to cheer for a handful of our group and the other racers (I knew better than to test the patience of  my 5-year-old too much), but we enjoyed every moment of it.

There’s a camaraderie you get from looking at races from the “other side,” through the looking glass. It makes you appreciate the whole experience again — seeing the hard work and determination on people’s faces and what it means to them, to have the courage to be out there in the first place.

Whether we are young or old runners, newbies or veterans, fast or slow, running our first event or our 500th race or first  Boston Marathon, we runners, and racers, can’t do it without the dedication of those people out there helping us.

Volunteers working the 115th Boston Marathon, April 2011.

Thank you, race volunteers — you rock.


Aging is inevitable, but growing old is a choice. Lace up your shoes, and let’s go!

Mileage today: 7; Mileage since Boston: 669.35

One thought on “Through the looking glass: Race volunteers

  1. Two things I learned from volunteering:
    1) giving out medals at the finish line is really cool
    2) they fill the water cups from water thatcomes out of fire hydrants (at least at Rock n Roll San Diego)

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