Runners need volunteers

Running and Racing: Christopher Goss
February 24, 2001

It's official. I'm old. Oh sure, the symptoms have been there for a while — mysterious white hairs fall on my lap during haircuts, my music shows up on oldies radio shows, conversations with running buddies all start with "How have you been feeling?" and the Boston Marathon now says I can have another 5 minutes to qualify for their race.

The irrefutable proof, though, surfaced a couple of weekends ago. I caught myself muttering, "What's wrong with these kids today?" That, of course, means I have officially crossed the old line. There is no turning back.

The occasion of this realization was an indoor track meet for high school athletes. I serve as the clerk of course for these affairs, which means I put the runners for each race in place in their proper lanes and starting lines for the starter to send them on their way.

I am accustomed to little in the way of thanks as I set the runners in position. What I am not used to, though, is being snapped at as I am trying to get a runner ready for the race. This happened to me a couple of times at that meet. In each case, I was helping an athlete correct a problem they had caused by reporting late or wearing the wrong race number.

It is important to point out that this happened with three athletes from more than 500. That is obviously not an epidemic, but it bothered me still. I expect more from track athletes.

I put the incidents aside and we finished up a successful meet — a great opportunity for area tracksters to get a good start on their indoor season. On the way home, though, I thought again about the athletes who had snapped at me, as well as the kids that just didn't say anything to any of the volunteers at the meet. As much as my internal time clock would like to start blaming the kids today, I began to realize that they were just modeling what they see from those of us that are now old.

I am not going to drag out the tired argument about the general degradation of etiquette. I did see a parallel, though, in the way that some of the high school athletes approached the meet and the way that many roadrunners carry themselves at races.

First, we are all just too serious. No matter what the level, running should be fun. That doesn't mean that a hard race won't hurt, or that you shouldn't try to run your fastest each time you toe the line. It's just recognition that none of us are doing this as a career.

Seriousness can cause us to lose the ability to recognize what is going on around us on race day. Some runners are so focused on their own personal race that they don't even see the dozens of volunteers that are there to make that race happen.

As with the kids in the indoor meet, some road racers even go so far as to make demands of the race director and volunteers. "Where are the bagels?" "Why don't you have the results posted yet?" These guys believe that a $10 or $15 entry fee (most of which typically goes to a charity) buys them the right to lord over the race officials.

Even without these prima donnas — of which there are thankfully few — most of us just don't give enough thanks where it is due. There is a lot of work involved with putting on a race or track meet, and it takes a lot of volunteer help.

As a runner and an official, I have been on both sides of the starting line. I know how far a little appreciation can go in the middle of one of these all-day events. Recognizing that, I try to give a quick thank-you to the folks at the water tables and the intersections and the mile markers, as I pass. It takes very little effort and is always rewarded with a nice smile or a hearty "Way to go!" In fact, I find that the charge I get from these interactions far outweighs the effort.

Even though I am now old, I am still competitive. I sometimes put that race face on and forget to hand out enough thank-yous. Heading into this spring racing season, I am making a point to be more liberal with my appreciation. Not only is it deserved, but it is the best way to show those kids today how it's done.

Carpe viam.