All runners understand the importance of volunteers and spectators at races. Volunteers set up cones and help put together the start and finish line. They fill dozens – sometimes hundreds – of cups of water and Gatorade, and they pick up just as many empty cups off the side of the street. They stand for hours handing out sponges and snacks and I’m pretty sure if you needed an extra pair of socks to finish the race, most volunteers would take off their own and hand them to you.
And how about those spectators, am I right? The guys who dress up as Elvis and stand at the same corner every year at the same race; or that woman playing show tunes on her saxophone at the bottom of the hill; the crazy couple with the cowbell, shouting, “You can do this!” as you struggle to get up the hill without walking…and as you hear them you think “Yeah, you’re right, I can do this!”
Volunteers and spectators make a race, a race.
While you may understand the importance of volunteers and spectators on the course, let me ask you a question: when was the last time you stood on the sidelines and did the volunteering and the spectating?
As athletes, we are usually so caught up thinking about our next race, but with dozens of events left this year and heading into 2017, here are three ways you can add volunteering and spectating into your fall lineup.
Injured? Lend a hand
Injuries are horrible, but they don’t have to alienate you from the sport. If you had planned to race but can’t because of injury, why not volunteer or go watch instead? You would have been at the race anyway, so this will be a good opportunity to not only help out, but to stay connected to the sport you love. Plus, chances are you know the course, so go stand at a place with minimal volunteers, that way you can lift other athletes’ spirits up.
Pro-tip: There are even some races that give volunteers a discount on next year’s race entry—email the race director and see if that’s the case for the race you’re sitting out.
Race and volunteer
In some cases you can have your cake and eat it, too. For those races including a 5K, a half marathon and a marathon, why not test your speed in the 5K and then volunteer at an aid station on the marathon route? You’ll have plenty of time to run, enjoy the festivities and get to a water station on the back half of the marathon course.
Not looking to volunteer at one specific location? Take your bike and a cowbell and ride around the course to cheer on runners as they make their way to the finish line. Hills are a great place to spectate, as long as you’re giving positive vibes to the athletes tackling the beast.
Pro-tip: If you’ve never done a marathon or half marathon but want to in the future, I recommend volunteering for the one you want to do. That way you’ll see where some of the course support is, and it will be even more motivation to get your own training started!
Watch a different sport
As athletes, we are naturally inclined to support other athletes, even if they aren’t in the same sport as us. I think it’s because we can relate to other people when we see the look of total exhaustion on their face—we know what they are going through because we’ve been there before.
So why not change up your routine a little and go watch an event you’re not familiar with? Earlier this summer I went to watch a mountain biking race and it was so much fun to cheer on the athletes. It also got me thinking, “Maybe I could do this next year.”
Pro-tip: Plan your workout around volunteering or spectating, that way you don’t have to give up a day of training. Try biking to the volunteer station on the course or running from one spectator point to the next.
Athletes, it’s time to give back to the sport that gives us so much—I encourage and challenge you to volunteer or spectate at least one event before 2017 comes around.