Anyone who has ever been involved in organising a race knows that it takes a little more than simply having a bunch of runners turn up to the same place at the same time to make it work. There is a seemingly endless list of things to organise in advance, and when it comes to race day a good team of marshals is a must. As runners we rely on marshals to make sure we don’t get lost on the route, to pass us drinks at water stations and to hand us that well-earned medal at the end. Where would we be without them?
Marshals, like spectators, turn out in all weathers in order to help races run smoothly. Often they are friends and family of competitors in the race, doing their bit to help out. A brilliant job on a lovely sunny day, but a rather different experience when it’s wet/windy/snowing (or, here in Scotland, any combination of all known weather phenomena!). These marshals will often be out on the course for far longer than the average runner, and will very likely also be involved in setting up the course, clearing up litter and tidying away signage in addition to providing cheerful encouragement throughout the event. At the majority of races, these marshals have volunteered their time, yet I still see some runners passing by without so much as acknowledging them.
You see, as runners we get far too caught up in our own goals. We think about pace, about mile splits and about shaving valuable seconds off our PBs. We run so hard we can barely manage anything else, yet even the most exhausted of us can surely manage a smile or a nod to the poor shivering soul in the high-viz bib making sure we don’t take a wrong turn? Their support is part of what will help us to achieve our goals and I, like many other runners, always try to thank (or at least acknowledge) the marshals I see on the course. Apart from anything else, it’s just good manners!
Last week it was my turn to wear the marshals’ bib. As a member of Perth Road Runners I turned out to do my bit in support of our annual Heaven and Hell half marathon. This is one of Scotland’s toughest half marathons with some challenging hills which can be just as tricky to run down as they are to run up! Since joining the club I have always tried to help out at this event if I can, and this year I found myself positioned quite close to the finish line. My “job” was to make sure runners made a right turn to take them into the last 100m or so of the race. Easy enough, but I also tried to offer some encouragement or congratulations to each runner as they passed by – after all, they had just completed 13 tough miles in some changeable and often challenging weather conditions! Some smiled, some spoke to me, some were so exhausted that they could barely even grunt! Inevitably there were some who hardly seemed to notice me at all, but it was still a satisfying experience to know I had played even the smallest part in what each runner had achieved that day.
In my opinion, all runners should try to be on the “other side” of a race from time to time and if you have never done so, then I encourage you to go and do it. Yes, it can be frustrating to watch others doing what we love while we look on, but who is better placed to understand what runners need during a race than runners themselves? Who else knows the right kind of encouragement to give and that “you’re nearly there” at the 3 mile mark of a half marathon just isn’t helpful! Think of it as giving something back to the running community, helping others to achieve their goals and encouraging more people to take up our sport. Remember that although you love to race, there would be no race without the marshals and that we all need to take our turn. I promise you it is a rewarding experience.
Next week I will be racing again. I’ll be taking part in a big event and, given the right conditions, there is the possibility of a PB. But whatever happens, I’ll be smiling at all the marshals I pass and thanking them for giving up their Sunday morning to support me. They’ll be giving something back and I, for one, appreciate that.