Race Day Tips for the Volunteer

Volunteers:

Having run eight races and volunteered at the NYC Marathon this year, I have come up with some DOs and DONTs for race volunteers.  Following these tips will not only better your experience as a volunteer, but also better the experience of the racers!

DO Smile — This one is simple, put a smile on that face!  The racers know you got up early and probably sleep deprived, but they are too.  Some of the racers woke up before you did, and they’re all smiling.  Remember, you signed up to do this.  At some point, you had the idea that you wanted to make the race experience better for the participants, and wearing a big smile on your face is a little way to do just that.
DO Cheer — I volunteered at the NYC Marathon and at the end, had no voice.  I spent the entire time cheering for the runners who were passing by.  For volunteers who have also competed in races, you know how important this is.  You have been there, and have likely seen the difference between a volunteer who cheers and a volunteer who stood there silently.  An athlete is fueled by applause and cheers, and they use them to do great things!  
DO Make it Personal — Many racers will wear their names on their shirts…USE THEM! These people are not writing their names on their shirts so that they remember what it is.  They are writing their names specifically so that you and other spectators can give them recognition by name.  Even if someone doesn’t have their name on their shirt, pick out something on their shirt and use it.  For example, if someone has a live strong shirt, say “Hey Livestrong, You’re doing great!” Most of the people whose names I called out seemed to really appreciate it, and more than half gave either a thumbs up or said thanks.  It is not that hard to do, and once you get into it, you will really get going.  This also makes things more interesting and fun for you because you are looking for names and things to use to identify people.  

Notice how the athlete has his entire hand on the cup.
This is a perfect fluids handoff!

DO Give a Big Target — What do I mean here?  What I’m talking about applies specifically if you are handing out cups of fluids.  When you are handing out fluids, be sure to hold the cups from either the very top or the very bottom.  This gives the athletes the largest surface area to grab at.  Many athletes will be trying to grab the cups out of your hands as they are running by.  This becomes very difficult to do when you are holding the cup from the center because the athletes can’t get a good grip on the cup as they move by.

DO Wear Comfortable Clothes / Shoes — Like I did at the NYC Marathon, you could end up standing at an aid station for upwards of 5 or 6 hours.  Be sure to wear shoes and clothes you will be comfortable in.  Also to go along with this, be sure to dress for weather about ten degrees colder than what the forecast predicts.  What I mean by this is make sure you layer, so that you can take items off if it is warm, but have things to put on if it becomes cold.  Being warm and comfortable are crucial!

DONT Show Up Late / Leave Early — Know the commitment you are making, and stick to it.  If you are unwilling to volunteer from 8:30 AM until 5 PM, don’t sign up.  The athletes who need 6 hours to run the marathon deserve the same enthusiasm from the volunteers as the athletes who do it in 3.  As one of the “not so fast” runners, I have experienced races where there was only one volunteer left at an aid station or even no volunteers left and just a table of cups.  It is really disheartening to an athlete to have the feeling that no one cares about them anymore.

DONT Wear Nice Clothes — If you are handing out liquids, you WILL get them on you.  Guaranteed one out of every five cups you attempt to hand out will be spilled.  It may not be your fault or the athlete’s fault, but there are definitely times where the cup handoff is fumbled for whatever reason.  Also, many athletes take the fluids to throw on their heads and faces and you are right in the splash zone.  You definitely do not want to be wearing hundred dollar jeans and nice expensive boots.  Instead, grab a pair of sweats or gym pants and an old pair of running shoes.

DONT Forget to Bring a Snack — This one is simple.  Most races will not provide you food during your volunteer shifts and like I said earlier, these shifts could be several hours long.  Therefore, make sure you bring some type of sack with you.  A protein bar or a power bar are both great choices.  Also, if you want you can pack a lunch.  There will likely be a few minutes you can sneak away and ask another volunteer to cover you while you eat quickly.  This is again very important because you are happier when you are well fed, and being happy rubs off on the athletes.

Overall, volunteering at a race is a very rewarding experience.  If you follow these tips, you will not only have a great experience, but also give a great experience to the athletes.  The last and most important piece of advice I can give is this: DO HAVE FUN!

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