From parkrun to 10Ks to marathons, if you’ve ever run an organised race, chances are you’ll have benefited from the kindness of strangers. Many running events rely heavily on the support of volunteers to make race day happen. Volunteering is not only an integral aspect of events; it’s an excellent way to give something back to the sport you love. Check out our five excellent reasons to volunteer and try your hand at marshalling an event.
1. Run karma
If you’re already a runner, one of the best reasons to volunteer is simply to give back to the community that provides you with so much joy. During a race if you’ve ever been thirsty, lost or just needed a pick me up, then you already know the importance of marshals. But in the midst of running it’s all too easy to forget these people often provide this support to you for free. Turn the tables and volunteer for an event, and as well as giving back to the running community you might just be surprised at how good marshaling makes you feel.
“Volunteers are a vital part of our events,” said Gillian Daly, PR and Communications Manager for Human Race Ltd. “It’s no exaggeration to say that putting on a huge event such as the Cancer Research UK London Winter Run would be impossible without the hard work, co-operation and enthusiasm of hundreds of volunteers.”
Fiona McG, a PhD Student from Glasgow, is on the organising committee for her university running club. “I thought it was fun to give something back to my club,” Fiona said. “The race I marshalled for also raises money for our club so they rely on free workers. The best aspect is cheering on runners… I've always loved cheering on competitors.”
“If you run, I feel it’s good to give back something and to appreciate what we have done for us every time we race,” agreed Fiona Bugler, a Virtual Editor from Eastbourne. “I race 24 times a year, it’s the least I can do.”
2. Develop your talents
If you have first aid training or you’re interested in events management, volunteering can provide an excellent way to gain invaluable work experience, or draw on the skills you already possess.
"It’s a great way to meet new people and make friends with similar interests," added Gillian. "You also get to learn a lot about how major events are organised and run. Many of our team who started out as volunteers have gone on to have successful careers in operations and event management."
“I started marshalling after seeing all the great volunteers while I was running races,” said Laura Stewart, a University Administrator from London. “I wanted to do it for a few reasons. Firstly, to help out at races and make them better for the people running them, secondly, to stay involved with the running community, and thirdly (most selfish) I love event management and operations stuff so it fits with my interests.”
Graham Kelly, a Railway Project Engineer from Glasgow, also enjoyed learning about the other aspects of event management. “My initial marshalling experience came about due to adventure racing. After a couple of years as a competitor, I felt I had got as much out of that style of event as I could but still wanted an involvement,” he said. “This led to working initially as a marshal, then assisting in setting out controls for a later event."
"After deciding to focus on mountain and fell running, I joined the Westerlands running club," continued Graham. "The club organises a number of races around the hills of central and southern Scotland. The AR marshalling was simply to stay part of the 'scene'. For the mountain and fell running events, it is very much as case of giving something back to allow great events to not only happen but happen at low cost compared to 'commercial' operations such as obstacle racing.”
3. Volunteer incentives
Many event organisers provide incentives to volunteer, such as a free race entry to one of their other events or goodie bags. Although incentives are beside the point, if you love running but resent the price of race entry, volunteering can be the perfect way to offset the cost of your favourite hobby.
“At parkruns you get volunteering "credit" that can add up to a t-shirt, and when I volunteer through my running club I can get points that increase my chances in the ballots for race places (like the London Marathon)” said Laura. “At the Hackney Half and Ealing Half we got a t-shirt and packed lunch and entry into the next year's race if we wanted.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything for club run events,” added Graham. “But I have been paid £40 for sweeping a 10-mile course and given a goodie bag and a t-shirt.”
4. Feel the buzz
Love the buzz running races gives you? The best way to recreate the great running feeling without actually having to move as far is to marshal at an event. If you’re injured, you’re training for a different event or you simply fancy feeling really good, marshalling provides all the same feel good factors that race day provides, without having to do anything but cheer! (And shepherd tired runners).
“As a runner I loved the social aspect of volunteering as an on-course marshal,” said Laura. “Getting to see the whole race run by from start to finish was fascinating. I loved cheering and seeing the smiles on some of the faces as they ran by. You get all the excitement of race day without having to run it!”
“It’s good to enable your pals to compete with a sense of contribution to making the event safe and affordable,” said Graham. “It is also a great chance to see the range of folks competing from the racing snakes at the front to the folks just aiming to complete.”
“I found it interesting to see all the runners from the front to the back and found a number of different ways to say well done, not long to go now!” agreed Fiona Bugler. “It was great seeing people achieve their goals, being part of the event and being part of the local running community.”
Not sure where to start? If you're keen to volunteer, simply get in touch with your local running club or event organiser, or seek out an event you're particularly interested in and put your name forward. Volunteers are invaluable and most race organisers will be delighted to hear from you.