Ask any race director and they’ll be the first to tell you that without volunteers, there are no events.
I’m guilty of taking races for granted. Don’t get me wrong – I’m the first to acknowledge and thank all volunteers – whether that’s in the local 5k parkrun, a large inner city marathon or an ultramarathon in the middle of the sticks – but my desire to run said events has always taken precedent over helping out behind the scenes.
In my relatively short ‘running career’ – if that’s what you call it – I’d volunteered at numerous parkruns and cross country but never at larger events – cue the Robin Hood 100 ultramarathon – and what a blast it was!
I was originally down to volunteer at last years event but had to withdraw at the last minute due to being pinged by the Covid app. As it happens, a subsequent test turned out negative but I was forced to self isolate regardless whilst awaiting the results.
Roll on 12 months and I found myself volunteering again – injury had put an end to my first 100 mile attempt – a DNS of sorts – so I’d decided to offer my services rather than drown my sorrows in disappointment come race day.
I’d been in regular contact with Ronnie Staton – Race Director at Hobo Pace – up to that point and he kindly added me to the volunteer roster 2 weeks prior to the event. I was given the role as time-keeper at aid station 6: Hazel Gap for the Saturday day shift (12-7pm) and given the nature of the route, I could expect to see runners coming through at miles 31, 41, 60 and for the super-elite – mile 70 – so it had the prospect of being a busy day.
I turned up at the checkpoint slightly early but was soon joined by Chris and Bobby who were also volunteering – followed shortly after by a van which turned up with the event shelter and refreshments for us to set up.
All set-up and ready to go by 12.30am – all we needed now were some runners.
We didn’t have to wait long before the race leader came thundering through – unpredictably early as he went on to smash the course record by nearly an hour; followed by a steady stream of runners who were all running amazingly well given the distance in their legs. I’m not a fast runner – I’d class myself as a middle-of-the-pack kind of guy – yet it amazes me how people can maintain such a fast pace over that sort of distance – especially over 100 miles. It’s incredibly inspiring!
Volunteer wise, we were also joined by Donna and Nicola – who had been helping out at aid station 2 – before packing up and joining us for the rest of the day.
For me, the best part about running is the places you visit and the people you meet, particularly with ultra running! Put five strangers in a room and the conversation can dry up. Put five runners in a room and everyone has stories to share, races to recommend and experiences to relive – the conversation flows. I often sympathise with my non-running friends – having to listen to me ramble on for hours upon hours about races, kit and nutrition – whilst my socials are littered with pictures of my adventures – I even have a blog FFS! Yet, I’ve met some of the best, like-minded friends through running – and will continue to do so for as long as I’m involved in the sport. It really is like a running family.
This can be said for Chris, Bobby, Donna and Nicola – they made the day even more of an enjoyable experience and the conversation and laughter – in between aiding the runners – never let up.
77 runners started the race with 57 finishing – a mixture of seasoned 100 milers to those completing the distance for the very first time. 20 runners DNF’d – either through injury or illness – which is a stark reminder of the challenge and distress the distance can cause on the body. All amazing runners who will no doubt be back to take on the challenge another day.
If you’re interested in volunteering but have never given it a go – just do it. Speak to the event organiser if you have any concerns or want details on the role. ..but get involved, you won’t regret it.