Did You Thank a Volunteer Today?

My coach, who also times races, has a policy: anyone who shouts at a volunteer is instantly disqualified from the race. I wholeheartedly agree with this policy. Volunteers are rarely thanked (enough) and are often treated disrespectfully by racers who expect their questions answered and their problems resolved.

Many moons ago, long before I ventured into triathlons, I volunteered at Reston Triathlon. I was in the middle of the woods on the run course, getting eaten alive by mosquitos as I directed runners. I’m sure many of them thanked me but of course what I remember is being asked:

  • “How many people are in front of me?” (Oh, I didn’t realize it was my job to count runners!)
  • “Do you have any salt?”  Me: “No.” Athlete: “What, you don’t even have pretzels?” (Do I look like an aid station?)
  • “Where’s the turnaround?” Me, guessing: “About half a mile.” Athlete: “No it isn’t!” (Why, then, did you ask, if you already knew?!)
  • “How much further?” Me, guessing again: “About two miles.” Athlete: “You must be joking!” (Well, yes, probably…)
I’m a little overwhelmed right now. Work is crazy busy, I’ve got a Half Ironman in just 18 days, according to the oh=so-helpful Ironman App, and I’m volunteering for too much, as usual. I am a race coordinator for the Stone Ridge 5K October 16th, and am fielding about 50 e-mails a day for that, and I’m also lead coach for a kids’ after-school running program that has 100 participants. I enjoy multitasking but it’s getting slightly ridiculous at the moment. And I have an article on ultrarunning due in 5 days…
I feel like the volunteer who’s being shouted at right now. And just like with Reston Triathlon, while most people are very pleasant and thankful, it only takes one rude e-mail to ruin my day. I am focusing on being gracious in my responses, regardless of the attitude on the other end, but it’s taking a lot of will power because people who know me know that’s not me!
Mind you, it could be worse. On Tuesday we had 70 kids running around the school fields in our “cross-country” lesson during the after-school running program. We’ve had a lot of rain lately so it was squelchy in places, and when we finished I noticed that several of the kids had mud splattered all the way up their backs. I was expecting some parent e-mails about that but haven’t had any…at least not so far…
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always thank volunteers while I’m racing. I’m sure to thank those I see before and after a race, but during, well, that’s extra energy. I’m racing Army Ten Miler on Sunday and, after my latest experiences, you can be sure that I’ll thank every volunteer I see, before, during, and after.
While we’re on the subject, The Great Pumpkin 5K is October 8th and volunteers are still needed. Sign up to volunteer or contact milepostsbydorothybeal@gmail.com for more info.
Do you thank volunteers? 
Have you been shouted at while volunteering?
Do you have a volunteering experience to share? Do tell!


  1. Lisa McClellan says:

    Sorry people are so nasty, it is so very responsible of you to not react to the negativity some put into the world, but frustrating all the same. You take on life, just like you train and race… like a champion. Funny how races are so symbolic of life in general. If you can think of anything I can do to help, please do not hesitate to call on me… if I can do it I will. Good luck on Army 10 miler…tempted to go down bring camera and a few cow bell’s and cheer you on 🙂 btw…Thank you Alison for all of the volunteer work you do on top of your crazy schedule. The 5K is for such a great cause and those kids must have a blast in your after school program to name a few….. your making a difference!


  1. […] The events that many of participate in simply could not happen without volunteers (see http://www.racingtales.com/did-you-thank-a-volunteer-today/)!  It is the people who DON’T volunteer with whom I have a […]

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