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Common Race Volunteer Positions

A good race director relies on volunteers to help execute a successful race. Here are 9 common volunteer tasks that you may need covered at your next race.

Common Race Volunteer Positions

We've talked about how to attract race volunteers, and how to manage your race volunteers. Now, let's go through some of the common volunteer tasks that you may need at your next road race or trail race:

Course Marshals - A course marshal is out on the course helping to direct runners, keep everyone safe, and keep cars detoured around the course. It never hurts to cheer for the runners as they pass too. Be sure to define an exact location for your volunteers, along with explicit instructions on times required and how to check-in. For a road race, it's helpful to provide a course map to each volunteer with detour instructions for cars. Also, give instructions for what to do in an emergency.

Finish Line Water - Again, be sure your finish line water crew knows where to meet and at what time. Be sure to tell your volunteers how to organize water station at the finish line and the most efficient way to pass out water to runners. All finish line volunteer positions should be setup as efficiently as possible to keep runners moving through the finish line and out and away. Safety should always be your top concern as well, so ensure that your water crew is keeping any trash off the road or trail.

Race Medals - Some races provide medals to all finishers, while others are based on age group place. If all finishers will receive a medal, then be sure to staff enough volunteers to keep the finishers moving through quickly after receiving their medals. If your race provides medals only to top age group finishers, then provide an area where medals will be presented or handed out, after receiving final places from your race timing company.

Finish Line Fruit - Communicate to your volunteers where they will get the fruit for the finish line, where to set up, and when they should be in position. Bananas and oranges are relatively inexpensive options to provide at the finish line, and are easy to hand off to runners. Be sure that you have enough trash cans around the finish line area for runners to dispose of their trash.

General Setup / Cleanup - If you want to have your race in the same location more than once, then it's important that the trails, roads, neighborhoods, and venue for your race look the same, if not better, than when your race came through. Have a large enough crew to quickly return all areas to normal. Coordinate with the city, park, or venue to remove your trash and recyclables after your crew has finished cleaning up. Your setup crew can help with various tasks like finish line setup, unloading boxes, helping others setup, such as DJ's or sound systems, unpacking awards, etc.

Packet Pickup - We can commit full posts in the future to efficient packet pickup options, but it largely depends on the size and complexity of your race. I like to use shifts of volunteers to help set up the packet pickup area, check ID's, get bibs and race swag to runners, and use our Participant Check-in feature to mark participants as checked in or not. Be prepared for waves of participants, and plan your volunteer staffing accordingly. For instance, at a race I manage with 2,000 participants, our peak times are the first 4 hours. Last year, we checked in 405 participants in the first hour, 313 the second hour, 277 the third hour, 221 in the fourth hour, and the remainder trickling in after, or on race day. Be sure that your volunteers stick to your organized plan, or you can have a mess on your hands in no time.

Floaters - Inevitably, you're going to have volunteers who don't show on race day. Your crew of floaters can fill in at those positions, or jump into a few smaller positions, as required. You may find that you need a few more people to help at race day check-in, or that your finish line water crew is looking a little light. Keep your floaters nearby to help tackle those positions.

Shirt Exchange - Not for every race will have this, but clothing large groups of people is a difficult task. I generally provide for a shirt swap option that starts when packet pickup closes, and ends shortly after the race concludes. Provide a few volunteers to manage the swap, or you're going to have boxes of shirts strewn about, rather than organized by shirt size.

Water Stop / Aid Stations - For trail races and ultramarathons, you'll generally have aid stations stocked with nutrition and hydration products. That could be as simple as providing gels to runners, or a setup that looks like an outdoor buffet, with volunteers making sandwiches, soup, etc. Road race water stops will generally be a bit less complex, with volunteers providing water, sports drinks, and gels, depending on the distance. In either case, you don't want your on-course aid stations or water stops to slow anyone down, so provide explicit instructions for your volunteers. Here's an example of the almost overly specific information I provide to each water stop volunteer; in my case 16 volunteers:

  • Meet by 9:45am at the latest at the corner of Barber Ave and Wood St. The tables and water will be in the yard at {address}.
  • Park down Barber Ave to try to keep cars off the route down Wood Street. Please do not block any driveways or park on the hydrant side.
  • We have about 100 gallons of water; enough for 2,000 drinks / cups.
  • Set up two tables parallel and close to Wood Street with about 10-15 feet in between tables. At about 10:00am, bring the tables into the street to block Barber Ave from being able to turn onto Wood. Make sure the tables are plenty stable and level enough that cups won't just roll off.
  • Set up a third table about 4 feet behind the others on Barber in the middle of the two tables. Use this table to put jugs of water for filling the cups.
  • Start filling the cups about 1/2 - 2/3 full and line as many up as possible on the two tables by the street. If it's less than half, runners will get sad and thirsty. Too much and it'll just spill all over as they grab it.
  • With a 10:15am start, the fastest runners could start coming by as early as 10:23am. We have 2,000 runners, so it's going to be busiest from 10:25 – 10:35.
  • 10 volunteers should be in front of the tables passing out water and grabbing more cups from behind them.
  • Stand out in front of the tables on the street with your arm extended and hold the cup either from the bottom or in a thumb/index finger so runners can just nab them quickly as they go by. The quickest runners will probably not bother to slow down for water. Don't take it personally. It's them, not you.
  • 4 volunteers should continue to fill cups and get them on the tables, moving them to the front so they're easy to grab.
  • 2 volunteers will help clean cups off the road with the rakes and bag as much as possible. Only rake or go out into the road when runners aren't coming through.
  • Be sure to stay out with water until 11:00am. Walkers should be clear by then.
  • Please make sure no cups are left on the street or in any yards.
  • Please place closed garbage bags, tables and water jugs back on the sidewalk. I'll pick them up by noon.
  • If at any time a runner (or anyone) needs medical assistance, call 911 immediately. EMS will be onsite at the race and will be dispatched to your location.

With RaceDirector, we make it simple to manage your volunteers. To add a volunteer signup form to your race website, click on Manage Pages, under the Site Manager. Add a new page with any copy, images, etc before the form, and then select the Volunteer Interest Template. Those interested in volunteering can then complete the volunteer interest form. Their info is emailed to the race director, and a customizable confirmation email is sent to the volunteer. All of their info is added to your list of volunteers and marked as pending, until you've had a chance to review the details. An example can be found on our demo at

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