What’s not to love about parkrun? The free, weekly, timed 5k has become a staple part of my week since I first went along at the start of 2015. Since then I’ve earned my 50 and 100 run milestone T-shirts as well as my T-shirt for volunteering on 25 separate occasions. And while one of the wonderful things about parkrun is that the milestone achievements are inclusive and can be reached by everyone whether they run, walk or jog their Saturday morning 5k, this post is not about taking part in a parkun, it’s about the crucial role of volunteer – after all, no parkrun event can run without the high-vis heroes who set up, marshal, time, hand out finish tokens, scan barcodes, manage funnels, tail walk, pace, take photographs and clear away in parks up and down the country (in fact, around the world!) every week.
Being a volunteer at parkrun is an awesome job. It gives you the opportunity to interact with all the participants, not just those you normally run/walk beside. It gives you the opportunity to feel appreciated as those taking part smile, wave, nod and say thanks. And it gives you the opportunity to give something back to the parkrun community. Most parkruns have enough participants that if each one volunteered just twice in a year, the whole operation would run smoothly (and give the poor run directors much less stress in the days before the event!).
Yet it can be all too easy for some to overlook the opportunity to volunteer. For those new to parkrun, being involved in the running of the event might seem intimidating. For those suffering an injury, watching others run might be torture. For those who want to run every week and not “give up” a run to help out…shame on you! EVERYONE can find a couple of occasions in the year to help out, and there are a number of jobs to be done that would still allow you to run – I’ve known some super-speedy types to finish their run then grab a scanner and start scanning barcodes, so there really is no excuse not to do your bit. I always sign up to volunteer on the two Saturdays right after a marathon so that I stick to my recovery plan and avoid the temptation to run sooner than I should. I also take on the role of pacer on a number occasions throughout the year. Others volunteer the day before a big race when they want to make sure they are rested. And although turning up to a run when you’re injured sounds tortuous, it’s actually a great way to stay in touch with the running community and still feel involved. I spent much of the winter of 2015/6 volunteering when I had a stress fracture in my foot and I really enjoyed it as I still felt like it was part of my routine and I was getting the chance to catch up with my running friends.
So what do the volunteers actually do? In a nutshell, they make sure that parkun happens every Saturday morning. It’s the volunteers who set up the start/finish areas, stand at assigned marshal points to ensure everyone goes the right way, time runners crossing the line, hand out the finish tokens and scan the all-important barcodes to make sure you get your time later. There are also volunteers who check out the course beforehand, who act as pacers to help others reach a time goal and who take photos of all those
grimacing smiling faces striving to do their best. The roles are all really straightforward, and you would only ever be asked to do something you feel comfortable with, especially if it’s your first time. I had only run about 10 times before I volunteered for the first time, and there are plenty who start out by volunteering, perhaps if a family member is a regular participant and they want to get involved too. In fact, if you’re considering going to parkrun but are feeling a bit anxious about trying something new, volunteering can be a great way to see what it’s all about first.
My favourite role is probably pacer. I love taking time away from worrying about my own times to run at an a easy (for me) pace to help someone else reach a new time goal. It’s incredibly satisfying to have someone say thank you and tell me they got a new PB or ran faster than they had expected because they were running with me or keeping me in sight. I also love barcode scanning as I get to be one of the first people to chat to runners after they finish, to ask about how their run was, congratulate them on taking part/getting a PB and help out with any queries.
Feeling tempted? Then getting involved is dead easy. Either speak directly to the team at your local parkun (they will be delighted to have you on board) or opt-in to the volunteer emails via your event’s website or the option within your weekly parkrun email. You’re sure to love the experience.
How often do you volunteer?
What’s your favourite role as a parkrun volunteer?