Volunteers are the foundation of all races, from registration and marshaling on the course to post-race snacks. Volunteers are pivotal in ensuring the success of all endurance events. But there's more to gain from volunteering than a sense of satisfaction in giving back to the community! There are some "unsung" benefits that athletes can glean from volunteering at races from time to time.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on your favorite race.
Knowledge is power. Athletes who volunteer at their favorite races get a unique perspective on how much work each race requires. Even your local 5K can take months to plan and execute properly. This perspective gives athletes a greater appreciation for everyone and everything involved– and makes it easier to have patience and tolerance when things don't quite go your way on race day.
Volunteering at races also exposes you to various roles and responsibilities, providing an opportunity to learn new skills. Whether it's managing logistics, coordinating with participants, or handling aid stations, you gain valuable experience that can be applied in various aspects of your personal and professional life.
Volunteering has health benefits.
Sheffield Hallam University conducted a study of 60,000 parkrun participants (volunteers, runners who also volunteered, and runners who did not volunteer). The study included questions about motivations to participate and the perceived impacts on their mental and physical health.
Surprisingly, the study revealed that all participants, whether they only volunteered, only ran, or did both, still experienced health benefits. So, adding a few volunteer events to your race schedule brings health and altruism benefits!
Foster a sense of community and accomplishment.
The study mentioned above revealed that 83% of parkrun participants improved their sense of connection to others (community), not to mention notable improvements in mental health. Whether volunteering at a charity run or the annual triathlon or marathon, you're giving back to your local endurance community in a big way.
Helping others cross the finish line brings an enormous sense of accomplishment, which builds your sense of belonging and pride in your community.
Volunteering makes you a better racer.
Volunteering gives you an on-course perspective as hundreds of athletes execute a wide variety of race strategies. You'll be able to observe different types of gear, racing styles, and fueling strategies.
Who knew there were so many ways to grab a water cup or Gatorade bottle! Spend a few hours volunteering at an aid station or transition area, and you'll walk away with at least one new technique, tool, or strategy to test.
Recon a new race before committing.
Whether it's a new course you've never raced or a totally new type of endurance event, volunteering is a great way to recon the race in advance.
For example, if you're thinking of racing a gravel grinder or a new Ironman course next season, consider volunteering for the event this season to get all the behind-the-scenes intel. You'll be able to get the lay of the land, see the race course in action, and more (even scope out the best coffee spots in advance)!
Volunteering is a double shot of motivation.
Have you found yourself in a bit of a racing rut? It happens to the best of us, and it's very natural. If your endurance training could use an injection of inspiration and motivation, volunteering may be just what you need to fall back in love with your sport.
And don't forget to bring the family along. Imagine how transformative it is for kids to see people of all backgrounds, ages, shapes, and sizes accomplishing hard things! They will be inspired to live healthier lives, set big goals, and do hard things – that's a lesson that sticks with them for a lifetime.
Support great causes and boost your resume.
Many races support charitable causes, and you contribute directly to these initiatives by volunteering. Knowing that your time and effort make a difference adds a profound sense of purpose to your volunteer experience.
Employers often value volunteer experience as it demonstrates teamwork, leadership, commitment, and other qualities. Volunteering at races can enhance your resume, making you stand out to potential employers who appreciate individuals with a strong sense of community engagement.
Ensure your favorite races continue in the future.
Race directors depend on volunteers to make events possible each year.
Did you know the Boston Marathon requires about 9,000 volunteers each year? An Ironman can require about 6,000 volunteers. Gravel race volunteer requirements vary dramatically depending on the distance, number of aid stations, how many traffic marshals are required, etc.
On average, race directors aim to have one volunteer for every five racers on race day.
If every athlete volunteered at just one event each season, that would be a transformative way to invest in the future of endurance sports.
Volunteering at endurance races is a chance to be part of something greater, to support the health and wellness of individuals, and to contribute to the creation of vibrant and connected communities.
The benefits of volunteering extend beyond the racecourse, leaving a lasting impact on both the volunteers and the participants they serve. So, break out your race calendar and add your volunteer race to your 2024 season!
Gregg Edelstein is a certified USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, an IRONMAN University Certified Coach, and a USA Cycling Level 3 Coach based in the greater Boston area. Gregg offers his athletes insight on the principles of exercise, nutrition, sports psychology, and injury prevention, working to make them well-rounded and engaged athletes that share his passion for sport. Gregg can be reached at Gregg@TeamMPI.com