Lacing up for a unique volunteer role
Back and forth, back and forth. From finish line to where the last runners are pushing through the final gruelling kilometres of their half marathon distance.
As a “to-complete” pacer for the Manitoba Marathon’s 21.1 km event, Run Like a Girl Ambassador Andrea Richardson makes sure no one is left behind – and that no one crosses the finish line alone.
She’s been volunteering for the role since 2018. She says that while it’s often one of the hardest to fill, it’s also one of the most rewarding.
“I run continually between the finish line and all the end people to make sure they’re ok and they’re going to make it,” says Richardson. “I don’t cross the finish line until I know every runner has gone through.”
Regardless of your time, completing a half marathon is a pretty big accomplishment. One of the reasons why Richardson signed up when she saw that “to-complete” was a pacing role is because she believes all runners should get the same celebratory experience whether they’re aiming for an elite-level result or their goal is just to finish.
“When you’re coming up the rear, they’re taking down the course. There are usually only a few spectators left, so you’re not getting the same cheers and applause as the earlier racers. I wanted to keep the energy and momentum going for these final runners,” she says.
“They’ve worked hard and deserve to be recognized for that. I’m at mile 12 and they’re coming across the bridge into the last mile and they’re hot and they’re tired. I’m encouraging them all to just give. I tell them this last mile is going to suck but you’ve already run 12, so dig deep, look down and run through. People thank me for being so honest – because telling people ‘you’re almost there’ is never really helpful. That first year there were all these pictures of me getting people to the finish line. This volunteer role is my favourite thing to do.”
Richardson started running about 10 years ago after her daughter was born. She says it helped to counter the stress and chaos of being a new mom. In addition to road running, today she enjoys triathlons, trail running, and even ultra marathons.
In fact, it was the desire to run a 50k ultra that kickstarted her love of race volunteering.
“I wanted to run the 50k, but I didn’t know what that looked like or whether I’d like it. So I decided to volunteer as a way to see how it all works. And what better time to volunteer than an overnight shift when everyone’s at their most vulnerable state, so I could support the runners and see exactly what I’d be getting myself into if I ran it,” says Richardson. “Needless to say, I got hooked on trying to run a 50k
and I also got bitten by the volunteer bug. Since then, as much as I race, I try to volunteer just as much. And from about age three or four, my daughter has been volunteering with me, too.”
Richardson encourages all runners to consider how they can balance their races with giving back to the community – and to be open to different volunteer positions like the “to-complete” pacer.
“I like to do the unconventional roles so I can experience things in a different way. We can get so stuck on running times, but you learn something from every run. The important thing is to do it with heart,” she says. “The pacer role really gives you a chance to feel the incredible amount of heart that goes into completing a half marathon – no matter what the time on the clock says at the finish line.”
Want to be a race volunteer? Richardson offers these 6 insights:
1) Races always need volunteers. Any form of volunteering is appreciated.
2) Find a role that fits. There are many different roles. If you’re new to race volunteering, considering starting off with something small like waste pickup or handing out water.
3) Take the time to really get connected with the runners. Put yourself in their shoes. Think about what you’d want to hear at an aid station.
4) You’re making an impact – and the runners remember. “I’ve been approached outside of races or at races I’ve paced before,” says Richardson. “People recognize me and thank me. Volunteers mean a lot to the participants.”
5) Make it a group thing. Volunteer with your family or invite a friend who’s never volunteered before.
6) Kindness matters. Be supportive, compassionate, and bring your best cheer game!
Written By RLAG Ambassador - Connie Smart.
Story from RLAG Ambassador - Andrea Richardson