Volunteer Opportunities – 5 Ways to Give Back to the Running Community

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Raising money for a charity is a popular way to score a bib for some of the world’s most competitive races. The Boston Marathon partners with about 30 charities every year and raised over $34.2 million in 2017 alone, each charity runner donating about $10,000. The appropriately titled ‘Virgin Money London Marathon’ has raised upwards of £890 million (that’s over $1 billion U.S. dollars) since it started in 1981, and a whopping 75 percent of runners raced through a charity this year.

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So if it seems like you’ve been seeing a ton of crowdfunding posts from your Facebook friends in the last few years, you’re not imagining things: U.S. road races earned twice as much money for nonprofits in 2012 than they did a decade before.

But there are other reasons (and ways!) to give back to the running community. For one, races rely heavily on volunteers (who do you think is handing you all that water?), and helping out takes your love of running to another level. “Each volunteer’s passion for the sport takes on a new dimension when they help other runners accomplish their goals,” says Erika Amaya, senior manager of volunteer operations at New York Road Runners in New York City. “It’s a virtuous cycle that creates a feedback loop of positivity for everyone.”

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There are plenty of opportunities to suit whatever experience you’re looking for. “More outgoing and extroverted volunteers gravitate to roles in which they interact with runners at the start or finish,” Amaya says. “Friends who want to volunteer together tend to give out water or help in gear check because they can stay together and socialize during set up and quiet times.”

And while raising money supports plenty of good causes, it can be tough to continuously crowdfund so here are some other just-as-awesome ways to get involved in your community.

1. Guide runners who have disabilities.

United in Stride matches over 2,000 blind athletes and guides to run major marathons like Boston and San Francisco, along with the Buffalo Marathon/Half Marathon and the Cambridge Half Marathon. You can also meet up for local 5Ks, ultras, and training runs. If there’s a group that’s close to your heart (veterans, kids), look into Achilles International, which pairs people who have various disabilities with running guides.

2. Set up your own station.

We’ve all received a mood-saving ice pop, gummy bear, tissue, or banana from a saint of a stranger on the sidelines. Set up your own hydration stand or snack station and be that person for someone else. Better yet, break out that garden hose and spray runners if you live along the course. Science even shows that cheering for others can make you a better runner.

3. Offer cycling support.

If cycling is another one of your favorite sports, consider escorting the hand-cyclists and wheelchair athletes. These waves are usually smaller and start first, which means it’s easy for pedestrians to wander onto the course without realizing, a particularly dangerous problem since elite racers can go up to 18 miles an hour. It’s the cyclists’ job to stay ahead of the racer to clear the course and provide protection. Check out your local race’s website to register. Some races even offer a small stipend to bike-spotters. (Here’s what it’s like to bike-spot the pros in the NYC Marathon.)

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4. Share other specialized skills you have.

Chances are, you’re not just a runner. Maybe you’re a nurse-runner or a first-aid-certified-runner. Medical professionals—including doctors, physicians’ assistants, and physical therapists—are needed throughout the course. If that’s you, visit your race’s website for more info or apply here to support Boston Marathon runners.

5. Help build hype.

Less of a doctor, more of a blogger? Races also have ambassador programs where people hype up the race on social media before the event. No, you’re not saving lives. But hey, positive energy is important, too.



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