We love to race and the bigger the race the more fun in my eyes. I have run in many countries and in races in the UK of all different types and sizes. But none of the runs, from your local Parkrun (for which I tail run) to the London Marathon would be possible if not for thousands of willing volunteers who give up their time to make your day a special and safe one.
So in honour of the volunteers out there I bring you the Interview with a Snowman, one of the mascot volunteers of the Cancer Research London Winter Run, and shared experiences of the UKRUNCHAT community as they volunteer at Parkrun and beyond.
An Interview With A Snowman
UKRUNCHAT’s own Jenni Morris volunteered for this year’s Cancer Research Winter Run in London. Here are her experiences:
Q: How long before you found out you were accepted and did you get told you were a snowman?
A: A matter of days. They asked if you had any preferences for what you wanted to do, if you wanted to dress up. To which I said yes and asked to be a polar bear as they were great last year and they came back and said I was a snowman.
Q: So you’d been accepted, you’d been told you were a snowman for the race. What was the race day like?
A: Even though the race started at 9 the day for the volunteers started at quarter past 7. We were given a snowman briefing, given our costumes and then walked around the areas we were expected to patrol (the start and end zones).
Q: When I saw you you were on a podium with a trainer and a snow gun, how did that come about?
A: I was patrolling the start zone with two other snowmen, stopping people from jumping the barriers to push in, and someone asked who wanted to be on a podium with a snow gun. I said yes, of course, and who wouldn’t?
Q: What about the rest of the day?
A: We waited for all the starters to go through, which took a couple of hours, then we picked up all the discarded jumpers and had a coffee break out of uniform. It was hot in there and cramped and my face was squished on the inside so I ended up with a red nose. LOL. Under it I wore underarmour. They gave us lunch, which was nice, a sandwich, apple, crisps and a drink and then we went to the finish to cheer people on. I finished at 1.
Q: A lot of people are probably wondering if you got anything for this like a free place in next years race etc?
A: I got a medal, the same one as the runners, which is cool. I have been at races where the volunteers were paid, which I guess means they aren’t volunteers. I volunteered for a local race and there was talk of free entry but it didn’t materialise. I was happy with my experiences and the medal, and memories of photobombing people’s photos on Horseguards Parade.
Q: Any advice for future snowmen out there?
A: I absolutely recommend it. It was so much fun. I would recommend, if you are going to be wearing a costume to wear underarmour underneath. Also, to set yourself apart from the other people dressed the same way, the snowmen all had red and white striped scarves, take something of your own. I took my own pink scarf so my friends could recognize me, and clearly did.
I’ve volunteered for a few different events Womens Finsbury Park 5+10k races last year as well as my local race Ware 10 and Parkruns.
I entered my fiancée for the Womens 10k and noticed they were looking for volunteers via social media so thought I’d knock 2 birds with one stone, marshall and cheer her on. The Ware 10 is a local race which I’ve raced a couple of times, I knew I wasn’t going to be race fit for the race due to marathons and holidays so emailed the race director to tell him I was free if needed.
The Women’s run was marshalling spots, drink stations and medals as far as I was aware, I really wanted to marshal to see Elle on route and got my chance. For the Ware 10 the race comes to the end of my road so they offered me to marshal there.
Both races were early starts but for different reasons, the Women’s race involved a bit of travel from Hertford to London so had to get on the train, the Ware 10 I woke up early and went for a training run at the crack of dawn before meeting at the HQ. My duties for the Women’s Running race were to direct the runners at the right direction there was also a crossing to navigate that cyclists used in the park Then after we made our way to the start and cleared away the temporary race HQ. The Ware 10 was standing by the road keeping an eye for traffic, making cars aware of runners whilst navigating runners safely. Being so close to home was handy as Elle came out with teas and coffee she also bought her camera and took 000’s of snaps of all the runners.
Both races were rewarding experiences, I used a lot more energy at the Women’s running race supporting, shouting encouragement, cheering, jumping up and down and waving, I got to see the 10k runners 4 times on the course I may have got some odd looks but a lot of the runners enjoyed my support and thanked me on course and also after the race. The Ware 10 is a more serious club race I didn’t feel I needed to show as much enthusiasm but the calls thank you marshal from runners felt good. I’d definitely do it again and have a couple more races booked this year.
The Women’s 10k I got a free men’s running hoody (which Elle has nabbed) and a goodie bag. I also managed to get a medal, it had the date of the run, Elle became an Aunt again that day and gave the medal to her newly born nephew so he has a medal designed for the day he was born and a day his aunt had raced.
Are you marshalling at any more events?
My step daughter and I are volunteering at an obstacle race later this year, its not a race that I’d usually do or enter but my step daughter really wants to do it whilst Chloe is only 16 (need to be 17 to enter),she can’t race this year but she can volunteer then race next year. She will benefit by being able to put it on her CV’s/ applications for part time work and University, whilst also earning herself a race place for next year.
How has volunteering changed the way you run?
Now I’ve experience marshalling at events I find myself thanking the marshals a lot more that I used to, even when I’m shattered if I can managed a thumbs up, a smile/ grimace I know it what it feels to be thanked and it makes the race and the experience a better one for everyone.
Volunteering has improved me as a runner, I never knew how much goes on into organising an event and volunteering at a race gives you a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes. It would be great if all runners gave volunteering a go but its not for everyone.
For what race did you volunteer?
I first volunteered at Great Notley parkrun in the summer of 2014. Despite having a complete mare, the team were friendly & what started as just wanting to help out soon developed into getting inspired to setup a parkrun event more local to me.
How did you find out about the chance to volunteer and how did you apply?
Parkrun events appeal weekly for volunteers. Simply contact the event by email or volunteer whilst at the event itself.
What options were you given? Timer, marshal, medal duty etc?
There are plenty of roles at parkrun. At Hatfield Forest we will generally introduce someone to volunteering by asking them to marshal, before progressing to finish area positions such as timekeeping, finish tokens, barcode scanning, clipboard roles. As people get more used to the various roles, many will start to have a personal preference & will ask to be assigned to a role ahead of time.
What was the day like? Early start, do one thing, move during the day, do something else? (Picking up water cups, handing out bling, manning pedestrian crossing points)?
It all depends on the parkrun event. On a weekly basis we have a setup team starting at 0700, marshals from 0815. Many runners will take on post event activities, assisting once they’ve finished running.
How was the experience? Would you do it again?
My first parkrun volunteering experience was a nightmare. Great Notley had enough marshals, but the golden rule of parkrun is to never turn away a volunteer, so I was at the top of the Hill of Doom, to high five & encourage runners as they finished the climb.
As the front runners approached the first guy asked, “Which way round?” I assumed he meant which way round the bird of freedom & it wasn’t until subsequent runners called them back that I realised they were asking which way down the hill.
All this was unfolding as Len & his core team were able to view proceedings at the bottom of the hill. I was mortified, my volunteer career likely to be done with this debut. The agitated front runners pointing to me as they finished!
As I made my way down the hill, Len couldn’t have been friendlier, mistakes happen after all. I soon sought out those runners I’d inadvertently misdirected & apologised profusely, they’d calmed down & were fine.
I learnt a couple of important lessons that served me well for my Event Director career. Position yourself properly & never assume that the runners have listened to any pre run briefings! It also held me in good stead for when a similar incident happened at the forest. Mistakes do occur & you have to remember that everyone is a volunteer, no one intentionally gets something wrong.
I now have the privilege of being a parkrun Event Director & my role as a volunteer has evolved. Every six weeks I take charge on a Saturday, the rest of the weeks being covered by the core team we have formed at the Forest. Where parkrun stops for many people by 10pm on a Saturday, I’ll often find myself working behind the scenes on course design (we have 5 different courses in use at the Forest), paperwork & liaising with parkrun UK, plus staying in regular contact with our National Trust landlords to ensure our event remains sustainable within an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Had that nightmare first volunteering experience not been instantly forgiven by the Great Notley team (though they often offer to come and marshal at the forest to misdirect people!) then I doubt there would be a parkrun at Hatfield Forest by now. Volunteering inspired me & setting up an event from scratch is one of my proudest achievements.
What did you get for it? Pay, free race entry, lunch, tshirt? A medal.
After 25 different voluntary occasions you become eligible for the parkrun v25 shirt. Having not volunteered before reaching the parkrun 50 club, to earn the v25 within a year was a very proud moment.
Would you recommend volunteering?
Absolutely. parkrun is a community event & running is only one aspect of it. By volunteering you get to see the other side of parkrun, be it setting up the course in a stunning forest at 7am, or welcoming back runners as they finish & you scan their barcodes.
My Two Penneth
By Darren @RunnersKnees
I take my hat off to the guys above. I have not, as yet, volunteered to marshal a race. I have volunteered at Hampstead Heath Parkrun on numerous occasions. When it comes to parkrun you have options. When you volunteer there is a finite amount of roles you and take.
When you sign up you then get an email asking for help. You are directed to a link where you can see who have already volunteered and the jobs that are free from timer, to route marshal, to finish tokens and barcode scanning.
My personal favourite is the Tail runner, not to be mercenary about it, but you do get both a runner credit and a volunteer credit for running it. I do like to volunteer as it is needed. It does give you a sense of pride. But MY GOD tail running can be soul destroying if those at the back are not taking it seriously or quit halfway.
But regardless, none of the races or parkruns can happen without volunteers. So please consider volunteering, you won’t regret it.