Quick! Name the one thing that really makes a race stand out. Okay, a swag bag filled with goodies is nice. It's always fun to dig through a bag, drooling over the race fkyers and nibbling on the samples. I'll freely admit to having a warerbottle covered in race stickers and I really love all the waterbottles. But I have a cupboard full of waterbottles now and can only use so many at a time. Fancy t-shirts or socks? Always good to replace shirts that have gotten all stained up and socks get worn out quickly. But so many races - the tshirts eventually become rags and like most riders I am fussy about my socks. Let's move on to the pint glasses. Again its something useful and the firsf few are exciting to get. But as the glasses add up ts time to move on. I can only have so many parties!
So let's look outside the race swag. I'd rather have a cheaper entry fee then a bag of goodies at this point. What makes a really great race? The organization? It's so nice showing up to a race knowing that everything will be smooth - the course will be well marked, aid stations are stocked and manned. Registration will be easy with no mistakes, results will be accurate and the awards (if given out) are prompt. What's the common link between all of these organizational issues? It doesn't matter where the race is or who is putting it on - there is always one group that can make or break a race..
The volunteers. They show up hours before the race to help with everything from stuffing packets, setting up course, filling up water bottles and preparing venue. They hang out all day, in the heat or the rain or bitter cold to do registration and sometimes have to deal with nervous, cranky, or simply unprepared racers. They stand out in the same conditions to point delerious riders where to go - often offering encouragement and cheers at the same time. They wait until the bitter end to tear down and clean up our mess. Without the volunteers, none of the swag or awards matter. The race will suffer and we as athletes will complain.
It's often said that the best volunteers are racers. We know what we expect out on course and at the venue. But we are usually to busy racing to help. Maybe its time to change that - take some time and help witha local race. Registration, course marshell or something - and some heckling added on. It might be even more fun then racing!!
(Some helpful volunteers from 2008)