Injured or in a running rut? Try volunteering, a day spent volunteering at a race just might be the best thing you do all summer

While it’s temping to pack the warmer months with training and racing, taking a weekend off to volunteer at an event may be more rewarding than you’d expect. Last summer, an injury sidelined me right before an 80km race I had entered. Disappointed, and with a weekend at the race locale already booked, I offered to take on some volunteer shifts, dragging my race crew (hey, they’d already planned to help me that weekend) along with me. It was the best choice I had made all year. Here’s why you should sign up to volunteer this season:

The running community is incredible, and you’ll be reminded of that over and over

When my crew and I showed up at the aid station we were set to handle, we had no idea what was ahead of us. It was neat to see the incredibly fast first runners go through, but it was the midpack and back of the pack runners that won our hearts. Always thankful, some runners came in needing a quick electrolyte-mix refill and headed back out, while others needed to rest for a bit, or asked for ice (or a bucket to throw up in). Despite clearly feeling the full gamut of race-day emotion, they expressed gratitude and enthusiasm and cheered one another on.

You get an opportunity to give back

If you’ve raced before, you know how essential the volunteers are. They’ll give you directions, a pep talk, or find a first-aid kit for you, all with a smile. From a 5 km local fun-run to a 100-mile ultra, volunteers are often the backbone of the event. Being on the other side of the table is an act of service to your running family and your community at large.

You’ll learn valuable lessons for your next race

After noticing many runners asking for Coke at our aid station (which, to our dismay, we didn’t have), I decided to try one the next time I was able to go on a long training run, and I discovered how satisfying it was. I noticed how contagious positivity was, and made a mental note to be more thankful of the volunteers the next time I competed. It was also a great reminder of how fun races can be, something that can get lost when chasing personal bests.

It’s good for you 

Studies show volunteering boosts mental health. Not only do volunteers feel connected to their community, but they meet new people and experience health benefits. We all know volunteering in general is helpful to others, but you’ll also be benefiting while you hand out medals or refill water bottles.

It’s as much fun as running (and maybe even more)

Our day at the aid station was so enjoyable that we picked up an additional night shift, and found it exhilarating to see runners of all speeds finish the event. I was surprised to discover that the enhanced sense of community and well-being I basked in after running in a race carried over to volunteering. For weeks, my husband and I reminisced about the people we met and the interesting things we witnessed, and we immediately signed up to volunteer regularly at a local event.

posted Thursday June 16th
by Running Magazine