I love volunteering for races - it's hard work but rewarding to man a water station, mark the course or do sweep. Every runner should do one or all of those three jobs at some point. But when I’m doing the race, it's hard to get out and do the physical tasks that are required for this areas. Which brings me back to the equally important, ultra social position of packet pickup and runner check in. I think that's my favorite thing to do really - you are the face of the race, the reassuring smile (if you can see behind the mask...) that your training has gone just fine and you are ready to take on the day. Or vice versa - as a nervous runner, not sure about the miles ahead, it’s a great way to chill out and forget about the worries. Hard to be worried about your own races when there’s so many other people around! I’ve been doing packet pickup for enough races now that I’m familiar with the questions people will ask. It’s a good fit for me because I’m the kinda person who usually studies all aspects of a race, from the course profile and description to the aid station locations, cutoff times and any other random information I might need to have a successful day. It’s something I should be doing as a runner anyways!
Normally, there’s a few random questions that are easy to answer. That one tidbit that was in the emails, but so easy to gloss over. Occasionally, there’s a harder one - something for the race director to address because it’s beyond my pay grade. But most of the time, most people don’t have too many questions. I assume they’ve done their research and are prepared for the miles ahead. Hopefully a fair assumption!
I do remember at one race though - part of the swag that we handed out at packet pickup was a collapsible cup. This was a shorter race - 12 miles total with plenty of water stations, so many of the faster runners normally run without carrying a lot of water. I got so many looks and questions about the cup. "What's this for?" "Why am I getting a cup?" To which I would respond that the race was cupless and if you didn't have that cup or another one like it, you wouldn't be able to get water. Of course, all of that information was on the website, in the pre-race emails and communicated in so many ways! And yet... The number of people who hadn't bothered reading even that highlighted info was amazing.
Or the course maps. Those are usually posted pretty prominently on the web site, and then linked or posted again in the emails. Yet at another race I helped with, questions about the course came up all the time. The race was in a local state park and there were excellent maps of both the park and the race course. The map on the web site has all the trail names listed with very clear directions. Put that with the state park's map and there's no reason someone shouldn't be able to pre-run without getting lost. Trail names, directions and a paper map. I don't think anyone who asked about the course had even taken the simple step of comparing the race map with the state park map. So as the person helping with packet pickup, I was spending more time describing the course then anything else.
And there's the simple, quite basic concept of actually getting to the race venue. That's another area that seems to be very challenging. It's even more complicated when packet pickup is in a different location then the race! Driving directions are usually included in all the pre-race - if someone was to bother to read them! That's one question where you just have to smile and nod, then politely answer to the best of your ability.
Maybe if more people volunteered, they would realize the importance of actually reading the runners manual and all the information in the pre-race emails. Maybe there wouldn't be so many questions that would be quickly answered with a quick scan of the website. But no, most people seem to sign up for a race and then expect to have all the information spoon fed to them without having to do any work to prepare other then training. And then when asked if they bothered to read the pre-race info, they get offended and insulted. I know at the last race I helped with packet pickup, when I asked if someone had read the runner's manual or opened the google drive with all the info, the answer was usually no. So for the umpteenth time that afternoon, I would be explaining information that was already communicated multiple times, taking my attention away from the task at hand and forcing other runners to wait as I answered questions. Maybe I should have had had the runner's manual printed out on the check in table and handed that to people who asked then inane questions!
Moral of the story? If you have time to train, you have time to prepare for the race from the logistics side. Take responsibility for your race beyond just covering the miles. Read the information provided, study the maps, learn the ins and outs of the race. You'll have a better day on the trails and every volunteer will breath a sigh of relief with one less already answered question to address.