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Volunteers: Making Races Run Smoothly

Posted by Chrissy Horan  February 7, 2014 05:00 AM

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A few weekends ago, I ran a race where the temperature was quite cold. It took my toes a good 3 miles to stop aching, and by mile 11 I couldn't feel my face. But whine as I may (and perhaps did a little) I had to shut up upon running past the first water stop around mile 2, where volunteers were bundled up and pouring cups of cold water, while still smiling and cheering for runners as they passed by.

If you have run races but have never volunteered at one, I strongly encourage you to do so. I guarantee you will view your next race a little differently.

This past weekend I volunteered at Super Sunday, a 5 Mile and 5K race put on by the RACE Cancer Foundation. I got involved with RACE shortly after my uncle passed away from cancer in late 2008. As is often my response to things that feel beyond my control, I felt like I had to do SOMETHING. Volunteering at a race that gave back to cancer based charities felt like something. And so began my involvement with Run Against Cancer Events.

What I didn’t realize would happen from this first Super Sunday race and those that followed, was the new understanding and appreciation I would have for volunteers at the races I have run since. Not that I ever took them for granted, but now I make sure to say thanks when I grab a cup of water, or a course marshal directs me to turn left.


Here are a few things you might not know about those not running at your last race:

  • The volunteers probably got up earlier than you did and arrived at the race location while it was still dark to begin setting up.

  • Those working the registration table spent more time with their gloves off than on, flipping though bibs and pages of runner’s names when you checked in.

  • The cold, rain and snow are not fun to run in, but they are even less fun when you are not moving. Unless you count handing out cups of cold water.

  • That sticky spot you run through where everyone tossed their ˝ empty cups of Gatorade? Guess whose shoes have been standing in it the whole race?

  • After you have had a beer or 3 at the post-race party, the trash and recycling does not remove itself from the beer garden/tent/gathering area.

  • They do this for free.


At this year’s Super Sunday, race director J Alain Ferry told me that over 60 volunteers were stuck out on the course when the bus service that was supposed to pick them up never showed. Other volunteers came in cars to shuttle them back to the finish area and many walked back where they then jumped in to their next task, assisting with the post-race party or cleaning up.

Kathleen McGonagle, the volunteer executive director of RACE believes the success of the races they are involved in is largely due to the generosity of their volunteers who care about giving back to their community and fighting cancer. Some may give their time to support the running community, while others may volunteer to aid the cause behind the race. TargetCancer, the main beneficiary of Super Sunday, provided over 30 volunteers.


I know that carrying around a clipboard and wearing an orange safety vests seems glamorous, but don’t be fooled. Remember to thank the volunteers at your next race. The event couldn’t run without them.

Special thanks to Drea Catalano for some of the photos in this post.

As always, let me know what you think and what’s going on in your running community. Post comments here or email me at
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

     Chrissy Horan has been running around Boston and nearby neighborhoods since 2000. An athlete through high school and college, she has found the running community in Boston to More »

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