I got an e-mail last week from the Shamrock Shuffle. It’s a big 8K race run in downtown Chicago every year. They typically get upwards of 30,000 runners and, for 6 of the last 7 years, I’ve been one of them. The e-mail was a cool little ego stroke. It was reminding me that if I sign up for this year’s race, I’ll be automatically seeded in a start corral near the front because of my past year’s performance. Despite that I still haven’t signed up. I really do love the course, which winds all over the heart of downtown Chicago. It’s just that the event itself is rather overwhelmingly large. So many runners, a heavy race entry fee – there’s even a runner expo the weekend of the race – it’s a lot for a little 8K. So, I was waffling.
And then it occurred to me: I don’t have to run it to be in it, I can work it as a volunteer! Then, as I looked at my prospective race calendar for 2010, the idea got a little bigger. I expect to run in 5 or 6 key races this year, so I will also try to work as a volunteer for the same number of events, and I will make that one of my running goals for the next 12 months, just like all the rest.
I’ve volunteered plenty of times before – at least 3 or 4 times a year the last few years – but I’ve never made it a mission like I’m doing right now. I’ll start with the Shuffle this March, and be sure to pick up a couple more of the local 10Ks and such here in town. But, I’ll also pick an Ultra somewhere in reasonable driving distance and spend a weekend out on the course at an aid station or something. And here’s the last wrinkle to my plan: I’m going to try and convince someone else to come out and volunteer with me at each of these events; if I’m good they’ll be a volunteer virgin, or even someone who’s not a runner at all.
This only makes a lot of sense. I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere of racing. The first times I ever volunteered, it was for races that I couldn’t run, for one reason or other, but wanted to be a part of anyway. These last couple of years, rising entry fees (and lack of time) have encouraged me to race less, but now I can go back to races I used to enjoy and give back a little work instead.
Wherever you are, I encourage you to do the same. A 5K only takes a few hours on a weekend morning. Go help set up tables, hand out paper cups and cheer on your crazy neighbors!