I volunteered at my local cross country event in Devon the other week (writes Chris Broadbent). To be honest, it wasn’t a huge gesture. It was in my home town, walkable from my house.
Furthermore, my affiliated club were hosting the event and it was ruled that if you wished to take part in your age group race, you also had to marshal for the other races. Fair enough. This is grass roots sport at its purest.
I have to confess I do not volunteer too often. With a young family and plenty of work commitments - not to mention time devoted to training too - it’s difficult to find a spare moment, let alone half a day. Then again, even when I had a lot more spare time; pubs, restaurants and cinemas always held more appeal than a muddy field and a hi-visibility jacket. I can count on one hand the times I have volunteered, yet I have benefitted from volunteering hundreds of times.
There have been events I have taken part in that simply would not have existed without volunteers. Taking it a step further, they would not have been half as enjoyable without them. I wouldn’t like to estimate the number of times I have given a huge lift by a simple shout of encouragement from a marshal mid-race. It may well run into the thousands.
Perhaps my favourite volunteer moment was at the end of my first London Marathon in 2004, which - as most runners who have been through the same experience will know - can be extraordinarily emotional. A volunteer looped the medal around my neck and rather than just usher me onwards (understandable, given there are 35,000 of us) he made the moment hugely memorable. He put his hands on my shoulders, looked me right in the eye and simply said ‘Congratulations, you have done something very special today’.
It was an unforgettable gesture on an unforgettable day. I’d like to thank that guy, even to this day. The time people like him invest has given the opportunity for me and tens of thousands of others to enjoy racing every week, should we wish. We are indebted.
Now, we can’t pay them all back personally. But what we can do is pay it back into the sport. People like me can find a little time - hopefully a lot more time in the future - when we can volunteer and help others to enjoy this incredible sport as much as we have.
If you can spare the time, contact your local parkrun or seek out a nearby half marathon and help make our sport happen. The best way to say thank you is to volunteer too.