When I volunteered to help run a check point at an ultra I pictured myself in a scenic location handing out snacks and cups of tea to the tired but happy runners as they pass through on their crazy challenge. However the reality was sitting in a deck chair on a street corner on the outskirts of Bath at 5.30am with every person who drove past looking at us like we were crazy.
But despite this I’d like to take this opportunity to urge all of you at some point in the next year to volunteer at a race. We all love taking part in races but they can’t happen without volunteers because lets face it there isn’t a lot of money to be made as a race organiser unless you get to the scale of a big city marathon. It only takes a few hours of your time but is your opportunity to give something back, even better if you can do it for one of your favourite or local races. As an added bonus many race organisers will offer you either free race entry or discounted entry for the following year, so if nothing else it’s an easy way to reduce your entry fees (not sure I’m brave enough for 100 miles though).
The race I helped at was the Cotswold Way Century which is a bit of a misleading name as it’s actually 102 miles! It follows as the name suggests the Cotswold way right from its start in Chipping Camden to its finish in Bath with a rather nasty 12,000ft of elevation along the way. Which considering it never goes very high is an awful lot of climbing and one big reason why our check point at 99 miles saw some very tired runners coming through.
I decided to volunteer for a race having done the Race to the Stones in July and really appreciated all the check point staff there. How enthusiastic they were and the boost their encouragement gave. Nice to be able to have an opportunity to do the same for other people and I hope we did help ease the pain a little. The highlight for me was the guy who came through telling everyone in no uncertain terms that ‘I’m never running again’. I wonder if a few days later he still feels like that?
I am a little thankful that no runner came through as we were tucking into a full English breakfast from the cafe over the road though. That might have been a little awkward as we offered them crisps or a fig roll. I might even have risked spilling my cup of freshly brewed coffee which lets face it would have been a disaster.
I’m making it my mission now to volunteer at least twice a year to be a race marshal. It gives something back to the sport I love and is a great opportunity to meet some fellow runners. You can also test out how many ways you can cheer someone on before you sound either annoying or American.