I wish I could remember the first race I volunteered for.
There haven’t been a ton over the years – I’m nowhere near paying off my debt to the many volunteers in the many races I’ve run. But every time I’ve done it, I’ve been glad I did.
I’ve helped the champion teams in the starting boxes for the Nike Team Nationals every fall since they came to Sioux Falls. A small group of us stands and directs the teams for where to put their warm-up clothes, and where to pick them up. We watch these fast, fast high school kids as they do high knees and butt kicks up and down the course, staying warm and getting out the jitters before their races.
And every time, I get all choked up when they take off.
For a few years now, I’ve volunteered with the Sioux Falls Marathon and Half-Marathon, helping with the advisory board and then helping with various water stops around town. And at about this time last year, I helped at the turnaround for the 605 Running Club summer race series, manning a water stop and a bucket of sidewalk chalk at mile 6.
It was awesome.
If you like running, you usually like races. And if you’ve run even one race, you know how important volunteers are – to tell you where to turn around, where the bathrooms are, to hand you your medal at the finish or shirt at the expo.
If you’ve ever volunteered, you know how chaotic even the best races can be – someone asks the one question you don’t have the answer to, and you feel like you’re giving race volunteers everywhere a bad name. (Note to self: Always know where the bathrooms are.)
It’s one way to give back to the running community. Maybe you’ve already run your goal race for the year. Maybe you’re tapering for it now. Maybe you’re injured and can’t put in the miles you want to. Or maybe you’re new to the running community, and you’re looking for a way to get more involved.
Volunteering is a great way. It just feels good – standing there at a corner telling people where to turn, and clapping and telling them they’re looking good as they go past. Some of the most fun I’ve had at races has been as a spectator.
There’s something about watching someone’s dreams come true out there. Or offering a bit of encouragement if they’re beginning to falter. We’ve all been there. I’ve gone down on the side of the road with a horrible calf cramp, a friend helping work it out, standing there. And I know if I saw that happen to someone else, I would stop and do the same.
If you’re looking for a way to give back this fall, here are a stack of opportunities for you:
Sioux Falls Marathon and Half-Marathon: The races are on Sept. 10 in Sioux Falls, and folks always need help. The Sioux Falls Women Run Facebook group needs volunteers for a water stop, and so does the Sioux Falls Area Running Club. To help, click here.
Sioux Falls Area Running Club Trail Series: There are two races left in the 3-race series – Good Earth State Park on Sept. 16 and Newton Hills on Oct. 14. Volunteers are needed for everything from packet-pick up to water stops and manning the course. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in volunteering.
Newton Hills Ultra: The 20, 30 and 50K races are Oct. 28 in Newton Hills State Park. Volunteers are needed for everything from doing some trail maintenance ahead of time to marking the course and manning the aid stations. You can offer to help here.
Sioux Falls Area Running Club Kids Cross-Country Series: Held on Wednesdays in September at Morningside Park on Bahnson Avenue, the races draw hundreds of elementary school-aged kids. Volunteers are needed to hand out popsicles and help herd kids and stand at the corners to direct them. The races are free and open to the public. Contact email@example.com to offer your help.
It’s a good mix of opportunity – from helping out with a kids race after school to manning an aid station in the late-stages of a marathon. Or be there when someone heads out for the last loop of the Newton Hills Ultra, and see what it takes to go beyond the marathon distance.
Everyone out there will be grateful you volunteered.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.