Organizing sporting events has been my career for the last 4 years and the participant’s experience has always been my top priority. In order to this this, it is imperative to build a team that believes in this as well, comprising of a dedicated event crew to a strong community of volunteers. Ask any event organizer and they will tell you that volunteers are the cornerstone to a great event. They often are the face of the event and have the ability to change someone’s day from good to great.
Over the last month, I decided to see things from the other side of the fence – from a volunteer’s perspective. I volunteered at two brand new events – the SeaWheeze lululemon Half Marathon in Vancouver and the Meet Your Maker 50 Miler and Relay in Whistler.
For SeaWheeze, I volunteered as a Pace Beaver. So what’s a Pace Beaver, you ask? Called by many other names, such as Pace Bunnies or Pace Leaders, a Pace Beaver’s duty is to run at a steady pace based on the terrain of the course and keep runners motivated to reach a certain goal time. It may sound simple but it’s actually a lot of responsibility and requires some strategic planning! Runners are counting on us to help them reach their goal time so a fairly even pace, with no large variations, is key. My plan was to ensure I crossed that finish line within a minute of the goal time so that any runners behind me would not only meet their goal time, but crush it! At the end of the day, however, we’re here for the runner and to make sure they have the best day possible – checking to see how they’re doing, pointing out different things such as sites or aid stations, reminding runners to hydrate, and all sorts of other good tips. All in all, the event was a great success and the Pace Beaver team is excited to do it again next year!
For Meet Your Maker, I started off as a volunteer for Package Pick Up. It was an impromptu commitment as our group of friends were heading up to Whistler for a weekend away. We had heard through the grapevine that volunteers were needed so two of us, Hozumi and myself, jumped in for a short stint for Package Pick Up. During those 4 hours where we checked in runners and gave them some quick information on what they needed for the race the next day, Hozumi became the official sweep for the first half of the race. What transpired over the next 12 hours was as unforeseen as my 2 hour taper run turning into a 5 hour taper run. Alarm clocks rang at 5am and 3 tired people changed into running gear and sluggishly walked to the start line for 6am. For those unfamiliar, a sweep’s responsibility is to stay behind the last runner, but it also sometimes entails clearing the course of any markings. Today, it required both. Backpack strapped to Tavis, Hozumi and I pulled flags attached to thin metal poles out of the ground and signage off the course. Every so often, we would stop and unload our hands and load up the pack on Tavis’ back. My original plan was to get to 30km where there was an aid station, thinking it would be roughly 3.5 hours – a little more than planned but I was ok with it considering we were going slower than we would normally. What we didn’t plan for was the extra time and effort it took to remove markings from the course and the weight of the flags. By roughly 20km (and almost 4 hours in), Tavis and I had to let Hozumi continue without us. We finally made it back but not without a quick phone call and rescue pick up from Ron and Cat.
Every volunteer in an event has a certain amount of responsibility and if they care, which they often do, they will take it seriously and do the best they can. Volunteers give up their free time (and sleep!) to be there for you, the participant. Constructive feedback is extremely helpful as organizers cannot be everywhere all the time, but as you’re providing your feedback, think of those volunteers who tried to make your day the best day possible before hitting send. Or, if you find yourself thinking about giving back, get up off the couch and give back. Nothing in this world is perfect, but a smile and a helping hand can make it grand.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to every single volunteer in every event I’ve worked on, as well as every event I will work on. It has been, and will always be, my privilege.