I am the Volunteer Coordinator for my local running club and this weekend, I was asked by a runner how we put on such an awesome race for, essentially, nothing. Honestly? Volunteers!! We charge $10 for non-members to run a race and the rest is made up through the annual membership fees we pay. Might I add, we are a bargain at $30 a year! Our biggest volunteers are our race directors. They are busy every week either pulling permits or booking portos or U-Haul trucks, fire and police, etc. But the heart of the club is all of the volunteers that give their time every month to execute the plan that the race directors put together. So, to give you a glimpse into our most recent race…
My job started a month prior to the race by putting out a call for volunteers. The number needed largely depends on the distance of the race, as we have to staff water stops in addition to all of the other jobs. The August race I got lucky by only needing to staff one water stop. It was a cross-country style relay race, two miles long for three legs. We chose to give it a superhero theme this year.
The Wednesday before the race, my life always gets crazy amid a sea of RSVP lists and spreadsheets. Juggling who can work pre-race, special accommodations due to injuries, people not running, who will have their kiddos with them… it’s more an art than a science. Once the positions are filled on my spreadsheet, emails are sent out. As always happens, I had a couple of people email me to say their plans had changed and they would not be able to volunteer after all. So, the dance began all over again with moving a few people around and putting out a request for more volunteers. Thank goodness we have such an amazing club, because there are always a few more that will step up.
The night before the race, a host of volunteers gathered at our clubhouse to load-in all of the items we will need for our race the next morning. It’s a sweaty job in August in Dallas!
Because it’s a relay, we needed batons for each team to pass off, so we used Frisbees left over from the annual picnic. Lots of volunteers came to help put timing chips on the batons and make the medals for our overall winners. What superhero doesn’t get keys to the city?
Race morning begins in the dark out at the race site. Cones are set out to mark the course and all hands are on deck quickly because we only have thirty minutes until race day registration opens and we have to be ready. It takes us nearly thirty people just to get the start/finish line set up and all of the registration in place and water stops stocked and ready to go.
Once the runners are off, the party really gets going and the next countdown begins with setting out bananas and post-race food and preparing for the kids’ race. Part of what I really love about the club is the family atmosphere. If we can instill a love of being active into kids as young as two, we have done our job to continue the sport. This particular Saturday morning, we may have forgotten to save enough cones to set out a short course for the kiddos. No worries! I used my superhero volunteer skills to gather people who were milling about to be our “human cones.” Those that helped out came back with huge smiles after having given out high fives to all the kids as they passed by each human cone. Add one more item of craziness, I forgot to pick up the bibs when I changed out the bucket this month. My quick thinking Martha Stewart skills ran straight to registration and asked for all the leftover Frisbees that didn’t get assigned to a team that morning – the kids ended up loving that they got a Frisbee to run with just like mom or dad – SCORE!
Even the photographs at the club race are free! We had two people graciously give up running the race to give to everyone and it was some of the most fun! Since the race was super hero themed, the photographers and I thought it might be fun to make a photo booth. Seriously, what I lack in running speed I make up for in my mad-Martha skills. I immediately went to work making the little “Bam” and “Pow” signs, using old boxes and black and yellow construction paper to make buildings and even threw together some superhero capes.
Finally, when the race is done and the award are handed out, it’s time to clean up. Nobody really likes to clean up their toys, but it’s necessary and can take as little as an hour start to finish if we have enough hands on deck. If you’re lucky, you could count all this work as a cross-fit workout… 😉
I know it’s fun to race, but I can tell you I have gotten more out of volunteering at these races this year than I ever dreamed. I have made some amazing friends and learned that you don’t have to cross the finish line to be a part of your local running community.
*photos graciously provided by David Arvelo and Ian Pierce