Running is a sport that offers plenty of opportunities to volunteer from helping out at running clubs to park run, to an organised race. Volunteering is an excellent way to give something back to the sport you love. It’s a great way to be involved, especially if you are injured because you can still experience the buzz of race day.
I run a lot of events so decided it was about time I ‘put a shift in’ and volunteered myself as a marshall for a marathon – this was my experience.
Why did I volunteer?
I had seen signs for the event whilst taking part in another race. It looked like a good event, although it was two weeks before another marathon I was running. I really wanted to be part of it so applied to be a volunteer.
What was involved before race day?
All ‘marathon makers’ had to attend a training day a few weeks before the event. It was around 4 hours, It was a great way of meeting other people, some were runners, others had family taking part and there were tea and biscuits. Every aspect of what was expected of us was discussed. Although we weren’t assigned ‘roles’ until the morning of the event.
What happened on race day?
It was an early start and we were told to meet a man in a hi-vis with a clipboard in our ‘zone’ which we had been emailed the night before. We were paired up – I was with a teenage boy, his sixth form teacher had told him volunteering would look great on his CV. It soon became apparent he wasn’t interested in my small talk (he probably thought I was REALLY old).
There was a shortage of volunteers for this event and we were left to man road closures on a large roundabout. We were situated around mile 19-20 of the race so there was a lot of standing around and it was a while before we saw any action.
Armed with little knowledge of the area (apart from google maps and the course map on my phone) I had an endless stream of car drivers approaching the road closure. Most were understanding and accepted the diversions. I was stood near a family of spectators, they lived locally so I was grateful that they were on hand to help me with alternative routes.
Once the runners started appearing the atmosphere changed. Local residents came out of their houses to cheer and there was a real sense of community.
I must look really approachable as I seemed to be getting the small percentage of motorists weren’t that polite. The teenage boy seemed to have an easy day whereas I was verbally abused and sworn at on more than one occasion. Never post on social media you are marshalling at an event – because the angry people WILL find you and will direct their anger at you on there too.
‘You are stopping me from getting to work’
‘I need to get to Sainsburys’
‘I pay my council tax, I’m allowed to drive on this road’
‘You’re not the police, you can’t stop me’
‘Why can’t the joggers just go and run around the park’
and the best one ‘You’re stopping my takeaway from being delivered’
I can give as good as I get, even at 5ft 3 and wearing that oversized Marshalls hi-vis I felt like I had some kind of authority – the safety of thousands of runners was in my hands.
The highlight of my day was an encounter with an angry older man. He took me by surprise when he came marching up from behind and poked me quite hard in the back.
‘Oi, I’ve just got off a f**king night shift and now I can’t get home’
I explained the road was closed due to a marathon and it would be reopened in around half an hour. Runners were still passing at this point so it was fairly obvious what was going on.
‘I only live over there’ he pointed, ‘No one told me about any road closures’
I calmly explained it had been well advertised as I pointed to the large yellow signs that had been tied to lampposts in the weeks leading up to the event. He replied ‘Yes, I’ve seen them, but there’s been nothing in the paper.’
Whilst questioning how much warning he needed, he tried to move the cones so he could drive on the course. I tried to stop him explaining he couldn’t drive a car into oncoming runners and there were a good few minutes of cone wrestling.
I suggested ‘angry gentleman’ left his car where it was, walked home and moved his car once the road reopened. He then pushed me to the floor and proclaimed ‘I can’t do that, I’m f**cking disabled.
Suddenly, two knights in shining armour appeared (the two men from the traffic management company). They managed to calm him down and he was more reasonable towards them, maybe cos they were male and much bigger than me! He agreed to wait for the road to reopen and I spent the rest of the race with a bodyguard either side. I wasn’t complaining, one looked just like Callum from Coronation Street (remember him? He is currently buried under Gail Platt’s annexe).
Less than an hour later I was relieved to be allowed to stand-down. I wondered if I would’ve enjoyed it more if I was on a drinks-station / picking up water bottles / handing out medals.
Did the experience put me off volunteering?
No, not at all. I like a challenge. The runners were grateful (we had some lovely feedback after the event, which made it all worthwhile) and it was great to chat with spectators. The day shouldn’t be ruined by a small minority who fail to plan for road closures. You will always get them.
We were offered a marathon medal and T-shirt as a thank you for volunteering. I didn’t accept them one as it didn’t feel right, I hadn’t run it so I felt like I didn’t deserve the medal.
Running the marathon would’ve been easier. Marshalls are stood there for hours, it is hard work! Next time you’re taking part in an event, remember to thank the volunteers, they are giving up their free time, not only on race day but on training days to make sure you are safe.
If you’re keen to volunteer most events have a volunteers page on their website – get in touch they will be delighted to hear from you.