In the last two years that I’ve been an ultrarunner, two things have accelerated my growth the most: failure and volunteering. Now, both of those couldn’t be more different topics. Failure in anything in life is on the other side of the coin that is success. Volunteering is just as important. I’m about to tell you why you should volunteer to become a better endurance athlete.
My own experience with volunteering lies in ultramarathons from 50 miles to 200 miles. I’ve helped everywhere from behind-the-scenes packing to actually helping runners resupply at aid stations. First off, volunteering is selfless service. The Dalai Llama was once asked what the key to true happiness is. His answer was altruism. Volunteer at anything, whether that’s a soup kitchen or a trail race, and it will change your life. Then, there’s the pragmatic side of things.
There’s more than one way to measure impact when it comes to becoming a better athlete. Volunteering is the kind of subject where you will feel and see the change before you’re able to create any sort of measurement. That being said, there is a pragmatic side. As a trail runner, when you walk into an aid station, it’s easier to communicate with the volunteers if you understand their perspective. At my first big aid station assignment during the Ray Miller 50 Miler, I learned a lot in a back and forth with all the runners. I learned the efficient way to fill flasks, grab food, and communicate with volunteers overall.
While there are set principles that work great, every runner has subtle differences in how they handle things. Navigating that subtlety starts with communication. Hang around an aid station long enough and you’ll learn the language of the land. Now, during my own races, I know how to approach things with more efficiency simply by knowing variables such as communication, order of tasks, and volunteer limitations.
Lastly, on the topic of communication and language, there’s nothing like a smile to show your gratitude. At the end of the day, volunteers are making time for you. There’s nothing like being a volunteer and being on that side of things to make you have more gratitude as a runner. Ask any seasoned endurance athlete and they’ll tell you that gratitude is a huge intangible to being a better athlete. So as you can see, there is truth in being a volunteer to become a better endurance athlete. In conclusion, not only do the intangible side of things make you a better athlete, but so does the pragmatic side of things. From gratitude to actually understanding of how to conduct yourself at aid stations, there’s a lot to try and master. Give it a shot and have fun with it! There’s a reason people volunteer at endurance events!