Volunteers: On the other side of the Race

I was given the opportunity to be involved with the planning and execution of a local race from a friend Dan Wort. He has directed Mash the Creek 5.5K and 10K Trail Race for five years at the Potato Creek State Park in North Liberty, Indiana. It is a small race with a loyal crowd who love the challenge of trails and hills with proceeds donated to the Northern Indiana Food Bank “Fun Packs for Kids” program that feeds hungry children on the weekends when school meals are not provided.

(Above) Photo credit: Paul Kern

Derek and I were course direction volunteers at last year’s Mash the Creek, but I was excited to take on a leadership role this year as the volunteer coordinator. After all the planning, recruiting, and organizing leading up to race day what resulted was a humbling experience from dedicated volunteers and grateful runners willing to be a part of this event.

Much of what I’ve learned about race directing I attribute to working with Paula Turk in her race management business, Stone Soup Promotions.  Paula saw a need to improve the outlook of her community by supporting local charities through races, bike rides, and triathlons. When Derek and I first started running, we had no idea that many of the races we participated in were directed by Stone Soup Promotions including my first 5K race, the Faith Mission Thanksgiving Turkey Stampede in Elkhart, Indiana. If you haven’t heard of Stone Soup Promotions yet, check out  www.stonesouppromotions.com and read this article about Paula called “In feast or famine, a community that runs together runs better.”

Since I started running races, I have grown accustomed to certain expectations as a participant for how smoothly the event runs from the registration and packet pick up process to water stations, awards, and finisher food. Regardless of the amount of preparation going into the event, race-day conditions often come down to the volunteer crew to make or break the race. It is easy as a runner to take their hard work for granted when you are in an athlete’s mentality of warming up, managing your fuel and hydration, following an unfamiliar course, and pacing yourself with your time splits. Volunteering can seem like a thankless job when you’re standing in the rain in the middle of the woods swatting mosquitoes and waiting for runners, but the event simply does not succeed without them.

The group of volunteers I was able to recruit are some amazing people who I consider true friends, many of whom I know through my connections in the running community. My first volunteer arrived by bike at 6:20 am with more registration volunteers at 6:30 am to help set up before the first runners came for packet pick up at 7:00 am. Despite the sour weather conditions, all my volunteers came out on a Saturday morning with a good perspective and ready to help out with the event. dsc06356

As volunteer coordinator, I wanted to cater to my volunteers so their jobs could be as smooth as possible. I prepared step-by-step instructions as well as a list of frequently- asked-questions for registration. Course direction volunteers received laminated maps with specialized instructions for each location of the race. Trail running can be very confusing when the course has many turns and multiple loops in the woods. I didn’t want any volunteers feeling lost or unsure about their surroundings so we also communicated by text message when they were in position.

One of my volunteers,Brian, also agreed to run the 10K course after the tail end so that volunteers would know when they were relieved of their positions and the last runners would feel supported. Derek decided to run along with Brian and told me how important this truly was to the last 10K runner they ran with.

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(Above) Photo Credit: Mark Davidhizar. The Davidhizars brought the whole family along to manage a water station.

The race-day process was a flurry of excitement and then it was all over. I could not be more grateful to the people who volunteered at Mash the Creek. Some even told me how much fun they had and that they would be willing to volunteer again.  Volunteering for a race certainly gives me a new perspective to be on the management side instead of always participating as a runner in the event. I would encourage all my running friends to volunteer for at least one race a year to truly appreciate everything that goes into the event.

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