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Tips For Volunteering At A 5k To Marathon Aid Station

“Oh crap!”
“Thanks for your help!”

These were the main phrases I heard when I volunteered at a local 15k running race over the weekend. I was located at the first aid station (~2.5 miles into the race) which is always pretty intense since a large majority of the runners haven’t spread out much as this point. So we had four volunteers trying to assist a couple hundred runners in a very short window of time. Intense and fun!

Afterwards I thought about some tips that could help you become one of the elite aid station volunteers on the planet. How cool is that! (or not, whatever!)

Arrive Early

Be at your aid-station at least 30 minutes before the lead runners hit your aid-station. Depending on the size of the event and the amount of stuff (gels, pretzels, water, HEED, etc) you may even want to arrive 60+ minutes before the start.

Why so early?

Well, there is a bit of work to do before the first runners arrive. This could include, setting up the table, preparing and filling the water/nutrition coolers, filling hundreds of cups, organizing the stuff on the table(s), and setting up garbage cans.

All of this stuff takes time and you don’t want a hundred runners approaching up the road and your table is unorganized and looks more like a garage sale. This will only add stress for you and the runners.

Place Garbage Cans Far Far Away

Many races will provide garbage cans to toss in your cups or garbage. Unfortunately many times you have passed the refuse collector before you are ready to get rid of your garbage. So I suggest placing the garbage cans in a staggered fashion twice as far away from your aid station as you would think. That distance comes a lot quicker when you are running. This should hopefully help more runners toss their garbage in the cans and require less cleanup on your part.

Another bonus to having the garbage cans away is that it keeps people moving through the aid station. You want to eliminate the desire to hang out in this area.

Gel/Food/Liquid Nutrition First – Water Last

When organizing your tables, position the calorie items as the first thing the runners arrive to so they can wash things down with some additional water before leaving the aid station. It is no fun to have a gel or three pretzels in your mouth and no water to wash it down until the next mile. Runners don’t retrace their steps as it would be like swimming upstream.

If the event is really big you may have water first, various calories in the middle, and water again at the end of the aid station area.

Spread Out

So the race has started and the runners are arriving at your aid station. Now is the time for each of the volunteers to spread out a little bit from one another so you don’t have all of the runners trying grab a cup within a 10 foot area.

Let The Runners Come To You

Position yourself alongside the road inline with your tables. This allows those that want water/liquid nutrition to move over towards you and the runners that do not want any aid can keep running straight or move to the outside.

It can get a bit confusing and frustrating for runners if there are people handing out water in the middle of the road.

The Art Of The Cup Hand-off

There are two better ways to hand out water to runners. The following pics provide all of the words needed.

Option 1

Option 2

Hold Cup At Waist Level

By holding the cup at waist level, runners have a pretty good chance to successfully grab the cup while running. It is a lot easier for a runner to reach straight out or down to snag a drink than it is to reach upwards.

If you are a shorter person, option 1 (noted above) may work best and if you are a taller person option 2 (noted above) may be the way to go.

Bonus Tip – Emergency Bailout

Suddenly you look and your table of filled cups are gone due to all of the runners. What do you do now? Place a bunch of empty cups on the table in nice rows and start emergency filling them using some hand-held pitchers. The cups will fill much quicker than using the tap on the coolers.

And finally…Have fun!

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

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