Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why everyone should volunteer at races

First let's talk about the easiest, selfish reason to volunteer at a race event : hours leading to free registration if you're a runner or free running equipment if the hosting company has their own line of equipment.  Yes, it is a great motivating factor and the Race Director (RD) has a captive audience to help fill those race slots (not that most RD need that much help).  However, there are other less tangible but more important reasons to volunteer.

The race I volunteered for was the Inside Trail Racing (ITR) Feb 23rd Lake Chabot 10k, Half, 30 and 50K because Lake Chabot is one of my favorite places to run and I wanted to see what a crazy 50K trail racer looked, talked and acted like.

Hosting a race is a big deal requiring the orchestration of quiet a few different activities all at the same time.  You have Aid Stations (AS) to setup with aid supplies, trail markings, sweepers, registration staff to do last minute signup, race modifications, course photographers, course marshals and those to staff finisher tables.  You also have third party support staff such as EMT, timing company, vendors, announcer, PA system, etc.

Based on the questions I answered on the volunteer form I was assigned to the Finisher Table.  For this role you simple need to know how to prepare and organize foods to satisfy the basic senses : sweet, salty, etc.  If you can cut bananas, oranges and bagles you are half way there!

Here is my finisher table complete with burner for soup:

Foods should be organized by sweet, salty, be near the finish line and water but not too accessible to spectators or random visitors to the park.

Ok, so what intangibles are their to volunteering?  You get to interact and get to know the RD, other volunteers who typically are veteran runners and development connections that only come from shared labor over half a day or longer.  My purpose other than to help ITR staff out was to get a sense of how 50K'ers do what they do. Run 31 miles of trail?  How?

After spending half the day with ITR staff, volunteers and racers I discovered several trends:
  • Many ultra runners hike (canoe, windsurf and other outdoor activities) in addition to running.
  • Most ultra runners logs many more hours than your average runner (> 50 per week) and do back to back weekend long runs (e.g. 20 miles on Saturday, 10 on Sunday kinda thing).
  • Most ultra runners know their equipment very well
  • Most ultra runners know their fluid/fuel requirements by season very well
  • Most ultra runners have a high tolerance for pain or just can't stop running unless there is serious physical injury.
I received much advice from Ken (Running Stupid), Catra (Dirt Diva), and Sam Hsu that I put to use when I used my 'free registration' to run my own 50K at Lake Folsom later that year in April.

There is no down side to spending half a day at the races and plenty of direct and indirect benefits doing so.  I've volunteered two more times thus far in 2013.

Race Director Tim with several very fast trail runners.

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