Wilderness Traverse: adventure racing from a volunteer’s perspective

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a 24-hour adventure race, volunteer at race headquarters (HQ) all weekend and you’ll see the good, the bad, and the ugly, not to mention the hilarious, inspiring, and satisfying! I had the pleasure of doing just that at Wilderness Traverse in 2018, a race which saw teams of 3 or 4 cover 150k of terrain by trekking, biking, and canoeing. Some teams chose to swim on the trek section, and at least one racer in as little clothing as possible (he wore only the race bib – on the bottom!).

While I was at race HQ all weekend, I was able to follow along with the racers by “watching the dots” on the computer screen (each team had a GPS tracker), and by getting news from volunteers around the course (50 volunteers in total, and 48 teams racing), which included pictures of teams as they passed by.

Pre-race planning by an unknown team.

Along with a few other savvy ladies, we provided race assistance and play by play commentary and updates as the race progressed, keeping friends and loved ones at home (and in some cases around the race course) up to date on what was happening. It was exhausting but super fun. 

With Ashleigh and Barb.

It was fascinating to see the logistics of a race like this, which is described on the website as “one of the toughest team-based endurance challenges around and simply reaching the finish line is a massive achievement”. 

Race Director Bob Miller has a whole team of volunteers helping to make this race a reality.

I love volunteering at races (see my post on why you, too should volunteer), and I figured that spending time at Wilderness Traverse would be a great way to prepare for my own eventual attempt at racing it!

I decided to do it again in 2019, this time manning a remote checkpoint in the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails, which the teams would arrive at by foot.

My friend and future Wilderness Traverse teammate Heidi agreed to come with me. On the Friday night, we volunteered at race registration.

At race registration.

I took team photos, and Heidi gathered interesting tidbits from each team. We slept in our tent in a park across the road from the Dorset Recreation Centre (race HQ), and after breakfast on race morning, we watched the 8 AM start of the race.

Bumper boats at the race start!

Then we set out for our remote campsite (Checkpoint/CP 16) on Upper Crane Lake, with one little stop on the way to set out CP 15 (anyone remember CP 15?!).

Just one of the race maps.

We parked my van at an old logging road, took a compass bearing and headed south-east towards Three Brothers Lake. For some reason, it never occurred to me to pack trail running shoes for the weekend, so I bushwhacked in the only shoes I had with me – my sandals! It took us far longer than we expected it to, and we did it during broad daylight. Most teams would do this trekking section in the dark. We were hot, and despite having put bug repellent on, we were getting eating alive!!

We eventually found the blue ribbon that Bob had said would mark the spot where the checkpoint should go… but it was on the ground, not attached to a tree! Luckily, it hadn’t blown away. We hung the flag and SI reader and then headed back to the van.

We drove to the Bentshoe Lake access point, carried the canoe and all our gear across the road, loaded up the boat, and set out! This was Heidi’s very first backcountry canoe trip. We had 4 big packs with us, way more than I would normally take on a canoe trip – but we were carrying lots and lots of treats for the racers! We counted this as our first Wilderness Traverse training session together – Heidi portaged a canoe for the first time!

Based on Bob’s estimates, we knew that the lead team wouldn’t reach our checkpoint until at least 10 PM, and that teams would continue to arrive until 8 AM! Of course, this meant that we too would be staying up all night! We decided not to bring a tent with us – we wouldn’t have time to sleep! We did bring our sleeping bags in case we got cold.

We paddled to the portage into Lower Crane Lake, and then after a short portage, paddled through that lake into Upper Crane Lake and to our campsite. We had our lunch, swam, and gathered tons of wood so that we could keep a fire going all night long.

At some point, another volunteer paddled by in his canoe. I can’t remember now where he was stationed during the race.

Wood and treats ready to go!

We had great cell service at our campsite, so we were able to use the race apps to follow the progress of all the teams, and to communicate with race HQ. We had dinner, and were treated to the most gorgeous sunset!

We decided to try to have a nap. We had set up our thermarests and sleeping bags and settled in! I set an alarm so that we weren’t asleep when the racers arrived! When my alarm went off (I hadn’t fallen asleep), I checked where the teams were, and re-set my alarm. At some point, I did fall asleep, because my alarm woke me up, and when I checked where the teams were, I thought, “Oh no!” I got up quickly and woke Heidi up. She had been out cold and started speaking to me in German (I don’t speak German!). I thought the first team would be there any minute, but it actually took quite a while. We lit our campfire, set out all the goodies (cookies, candies, and s’mores fixings!), and waited with baited breath! Well, we might have also eaten our fair share of the treats as a matter of quality control while we waited.

We heard many owls calling to one another while we waited for teams to arrive.

At one point, we freaked ourselves out when we saw a bright light through the woods in a direction that no team should be arriving at our checkpoint from. We wondered who was in the woods behind our campsite. We couldn’t hear anything. It was unnerving. Eventually, the light got bigger, and higher, and we realized it was… the moon!!!

Eventually (after midnight!), we heard voices and spotted headlamps coming down a hill across the lake from us. And then we made out French accents. As they got closer, we heard them discussing whether they were going to swim. They did. It was incredibly cool (and exciting!) to see them swimming across the lake, a distance of probably 25m or so. They made their way through the woods to us, inserted their SI stick into the SI reader, and took off! No idle chatter or food for them. We were a little disappointed but we understood. They were on a mission! The next team wouldn’t arrive for more than an hour.

Speaking of disappointment, when we learned that only the teams on the full course would reach our checkpoint, we wished that our checkpoint was earlier on in the race course. While there were 45 teams registered, we knew that the majority of teams would be pushed onto short courses (due to not making certain time cut-offs).

The next team arrived more than an hour later. And then, as the hours passed, the teams ate more and spent slightly more time at our checkpoint. It was really interesting to see their route choices. Some came to us from the south, and some from the north. Some chose to swim, but the majority didn’t. At least one team overshot our campsite, and then eventually returned.

We made sure that for each team’s approach, we had a good fire going, so that if they were wet and cold, they could warm up.

There were a few teams in particular that I hoped to see, because I knew people on them. Before the race started I had heard Kelly from Spinning out of Control say that she’d love a coffee on course. And then I found out that Heidi had packed a bit of instant coffee. When we discovered that Sunday was Kelly’s birthday (the race started on Saturday), I knew we had to have a coffee ready for her arrival! I had been watching their dot all day and night, with my friend John also on the team. And then we saw on the race Facebook page that they had been redirected to a short course (and wouldn’t reach our checkpoint after all). I was so disappointed! But then we saw their dot move… and it continued to come closer to us. And then, around 6 AM, they got close, and we could hear John’s laugh.

When they arrived at our site, not only did we get to wish Kelly a happy birthday, but we got to give her a mug of hot coffee! She was very appreciative.

The birthday girl and her cup of coffee.

After munching on some snacks, they headed out. We wished them well and hoped they would make it to the finish line (they did!).

The sun came up and teams were still arriving at CP 16. Over the course of the night we heard how much trouble some teams had finding CP 15, the one we set out (and the one they visited before coming to us). We weren’t surprised!

We had so much food that we encouraged teams to take some with them, more so as the last few teams came through. One was completely out of food, so they were very grateful.

We did make s’mores for some teams, and one racer even made one for himself. I hand fed another racer whose hands were too dirty (you’re welcome Chris L!).

In the end, I think we had 12 teams come through our checkpoint.

Planning how to get to CP 17.

When the last team left our campsite, we packed up our things, and waited until we were told by race HQ that we could leave. We set out for CP 15 to collect the flag and SI reader, this time by canoe. We had trouble finding the place we intended to leave the canoe, trouble finding the path we wanted, and after a while of seemingly getting nowhere (or getting nowhere fast!) , we wondered whether it would have been better to just park at the logging road and get to CP 15 the same way we had originally put it out. But it was too late by then. It seemed to take forever, with us having to add distance to avoid climbing and descending super steep hills. We made it there, eventually! And then we headed back to the canoe, paddled to the takeout, and loaded up the van.

We went back to race HQ, dropped off the flags and SI readers, had some post-race food, and drove home!

We had so much fun at CP 16.

In 2020, Heidi, Rebecca and I will be at the start line to take on Wilderness Traverse ourselves!

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Race report: Road2Hope 1/2 Marathon 2016

I will remember this year’s Road2Hope 1/2 marathon not for my finishing time, but for the runner I met around the 15k mark. He told me that his butt was hurting, and that he was in the middle of radiation treatment. And that he ran a 1/2 marathon last weekend. And that he does it to get through it all. It’s all about perspective.

As in previous years, I spent Saturday morning volunteering at race kit pick-up at Confederation Park. This year, I was assigned to “same day registration”, which was a fun spot to be. It was amazing how many people arrived at the very last minute wanting to register and pay for the 5K race starting at 10 AM. Some people arrived just 5 minutes before the race was to start. Seriously. Ditto for the 10K. And the number of people who registered to run a marathon the next day?! Who decides the day before a marathon to sign up? Apparently the beautiful weather brought the last minute runners out in droves. I also had the pleasure of volunteering alongside my friend John, not knowing that he was going to be there helping out too.

Before heading straight home to put my feet up in preparation for the next day’s race leaving, I chatted with my friend Kristi who came from Ottawa to run the marathon. Then I stopped at MEC to buy a backpack for my broken-footed son, picked up my daughter and went clothes shopping with her, got groceries (forgot that I drove there and walked home with my bags), made dinner for everyone, and then put my feet up! Life as a mom! I was still debating whether I should even run the 1/2 marathon, because my butt/hip had been bothering me for about 1 1/2 weeks (out of the blue). Worst case scenario I could make it to the 10K mark and get on a bus for relay runners taking them to the finish line.

Before going to bed, I turned my clock back an hour, set my alarm for 5 AM, and went to sleep. Sunday morning I woke up at what I thought was 4:45 AM. My husband asked me when I was getting up. I said “in 15 minutes” and tried to fall asleep again. Ten minutes later I got up, turned the alarm off, put my contacts in, brushed my teeth etc., went back into my bedroom and saw that my clock said 6 AM. What?! I was supposed to be at Confederation Park at 6 AM! Alasdair’s clock said 7 AM. I asked him if he changed it, and he said he changed it to match mine. How did I mess up the clock change 2 years in a row? Maybe it was fate, telling me that I shouldn’t run because of my butt/hip. I said to Alasdair, “I’m not going.” I wasn’t dressed, hadn’t eaten breakfast, and the last shuttle bus from Confederation Park to the start line at Dofasco Park was in less than 40 minutes. It takes 25 minutes to drive to the shuttle bus. Then Alasdair said, “Would you be any worse off if you went and missed the bus?” So, I decided to go. I quickly dressed, grabbed my breakfast to go, and took off. I drove about 200m before realizing I had forgotten my phone. Drove back. Then headed for the bus. Once I got close to Confederation Park, I hit the stop and go traffic of everyone else also running late trying to get to the bus, so I ate my breakfast in the van, and took everything out of my backpack that I would need for the race, scrapping the need for baggage check for the first time at this race. I figured I might not have time to make it to the baggage check at Dofasco Park. It was 6:45 AM when I parked, but thankfully there were still buses leaving and I even had time for a quick pee before walking to the bus. Phew. I would get to race after all. Alasdair texted me to say that in the night, I reached over and did something to my alarm clock. If that’s the case, I did it while asleep!

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Pre-race at Dofasco Park.

When we arrived at Dofasco Park around 7:15 AM, I headed straight for the portapotty lineup, and chatted with other runners while waiting for my turn. Unfortunately, there was no time to look for my friend Kristi, with the marathon starting at 7:30 AM (and the 1/2 just 15 minutes later). I left the portapotty, and headed straight back to the end of the line, knowing that I would need to go again! While in the line the announcer said “5 minutes to the start of the 1/2 marathon”, but he was 5 minutes early. People started panicking, wondering if they would make it through the line. I did. And then I arrived at the race start and he said, “5 minutes to the start of the 1/2 marathon”. The runner beside me said that the earlier announcement was the 5 minutes to the 5 minutes warning! Race conditions were perfect, with a forecasted high of 10 degrees Celsius (in the afternoon) and winds of just 5 km/h.

At 7:45 AM, the race began! I had lined up just behind the 2:00 pacer, knowing that with my butt/hip issues, running a sub 2 hour 1/2 marathon would be a stretch (I’ve only done it once before, in May of this year), and that doing it on my own was unlikely. But as the race started, I quickly lost the pacer (because of the sheer number of runners) and had to run quickly to catch him and the group. For the first couple of km’s, things were rather congested, and running in a pack with a pacer didn’t help, but things eventually spread out. I spotted a few police officers running ahead of me in full gear, and knew that one of them must be Josh Turner, with the Hamilton Police, running to raise aware for mental health and the Canadian Mental Health Association. I heard a couple of runners behind me wonder why they were in uniform, so I turned and quickly told them. I had hoped to catch up and introduce myself (he’s also a triathlete and we follow each other on twitter), but he was called into action for a fallen runner and I never did see him again.

I was amazed that as I ran, my butt/hip weren’t bothering me. I was hopeful that I could actually run the entire race. The course changed slightly this year, so that runners did an additional 1-2 km before reaching the Red Hill Valley Expressway and running about 6k downhill, meaning that once you reach the bottom, there is slightly less running to do along the waterfront trail. I kind of liked the new route.

Things were going well and I was staying with the 2:00 pacer. He had mentioned that we would make up some time on the downhill, but as we ran down it, he didn’t seem to be going too fast. It’s always tricky with the downhill, because you want to go faster, but don’t want to burn your legs out. Just before we left the Red Hill, I started to fall back from the pacer – even while still running downhill. At that point I realized that I just didn’t have a sub 2 hour race in me. The cardio wasn’t there. I had a gel, and continued to run as fast as I could manage. Eventually I lost sight of the pacer.

And then I met that runner at 15k, the one who was in the middle of radiation treatment. I told him that he must be in phenomenal shape, to have run a 1/2 marathon the weekend before, and then the Road2Hope. And that’s when he said that he does it to get through. What an inspiration.

Once I reached the waterfront trail, I knew that I wouldn’t have to run too long before I reached the turnaround, which was just past the 18k mark. I wasn’t really paying attention to my watch and my pace times by this point, just trying to keep moving forward as fast as I could. The last couple of km’s are always tough, but in the last 3, my calves started to tighten up. I noticed this year that there was a lot of first aid coverage in the last km of the race, including lots of paramedic students.

As I ran I tried to figure out exactly how many minutes over the 2 hour mark I would finish. In the end, I crossed the finish line in 2:06:06, which was a little disappointing, but satisfying nevertheless. It’s just a race.

Volunteers at the finish line gave me a bottle of water, a race medal, and an emergency blanket to stay warm. I went through the food tent, picking up a piece of Roma pizza, a cup of soup, a banana and an apple, and after eating the hot stuff, walked to the van to change into warm dry clothes. I was planning to stay to wait for Kristi to finish her marathon.

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Post-race at Confederation Park.

I decided that a hot chocolate would be just the thing, and asked someone if they took credit or just cash, and was told that it was free!  The Tim Hortons van was giving out free coffee and hot chocolate to anyone who wanted it. And amazingly, there were only about 5 people in line ahead of me. That drink warmed me up and I actually had to take my winter hat off for a bit!

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Enjoying my FREE cup of hot chocolate from the Tim Hortons truck.

I headed for the finish line, and chatted with Emma for a while as she waited for her husband to finish his marathon. She ran a speedy 5K on Saturday!

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After spotting Kristi coming down the finishing chute, I left the finish line area and found her just coming out of the food tent.

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With Kristi after she finished her marathon.

One day, I will break 2 hours on this course!

Race statistics:

Time: 2:06:06 (5:55 min/km)

Women aged 40-44: 52/96

All women: 398/749

All runners: 854/1343

Race report: Wasaga Beach Olympic triathlon

What a relief to have calm waters in Georgian Bay at Wasaga Beach for the Olympic triathlon on Saturday, after last year’s waves made me seasick and caused me to throw up in the water! With a temperature of around 27 degrees Celsius feeling like 31 with the humidity, and cloud cover for most of the race, the weather conditions were actually pretty good!

We arrived at the race site around 8:30 AM, with Keaghan and Ailish in tow. I racked my bike, went through registration to pick up my race bib, t-shirt, swim cap, timing chip, and to get body marked, and then went to the volunteer tent to get the kids organized. They were assigned to volunteer at the finish line for the Olympic race – specifically, to removing timing chips from athletes’ ankles. This may be Ailish’s least favourite volunteer assignment, having done it before and having experienced the sweatiness and stinkiness of many, many ankles.

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With one of my favourite volunteers!

I went back to transition to get myself organized and all set up, only to discover that another athlete had moved my bike to take the rack location I had chosen. Not cool! I decided to leave that section of the rack completely, because who knows what she might do to my stuff during the race!

After I was all set, I went back to find the kids down by the finish line, where they had found some shade to hang out in until they were needed. That time came sooner than expected when Jason Vurma (Multisport Canada VP and Operations Director) asked the kids (obviously volunteers in their race crew t-shirts) if they’d like to hold the banner for the first finishers in the Try a Tri race. Only a small amount of brotherly/sisterly love (read fighting) occurred during this task – from what I could see.

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Keaghan and Ailish holding the tape at the finish line of the Try a Tri (they were told to hide behind the posts, so that they wouldn’t be visible in race photos, which are taken from the other side).

I went back to transition for the pre-race meeting, only to suddenly realize that we hadn’t paid for parking, so I ran back to the car and dealt with that! I listened to the end of the pre-race meeting, then headed to the water for a very short warm-up swim. I was to be in the 4th of 5 waves, with all women 35+ and relay swimmers.

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Pre-race.

1500 m SWIM

For the most part, the swim wasn’t very congested for me, and I was only swum over a couple of times by people in the wave that started 3 minutes after me when they caught up. I think I swam pretty straight, but had a hard time in the last section sighting the yellow rooftops that were close to the swim exit – at least one person thanked me after the race for suggesting them, because the Recharge with Milk swim exit is brown and pretty much impossible to see. A black and white cow print would be better! In any case, I was prepared for a slow swim because every single one of my triathlon swims this year have been slower than my 2015 swims. I was somewhat surprised to see “only” 39 minutes on my watch – I beat last year’s time by less than a minute, but that was in crazy waves and had me stopping more than once to retch! (So, the improvement wasn’t really an improvement.) I swam until my hands started to hit the sand, then got up and walked a bit before running the rest of the way out of the water.

2016-08-27 | 2016 MultiSport Wasaga Beach Triathlon (Saturday)
Done the swim!

I got to yell a hello to Keaghan and Ailish as I ran past – they weren’t yet on finish line duty.

I had my smoothest wetsuit removal so far this year, so yay for small victories! A quick change of gear and pee stop and I was on my way!

40 km BIKE

During the pre-race briefing, we were told that the bike course had been changed the night before because they would have less police coverage at intersections than expected. It was turned into an out and back. This course is a pretty fast one, although there are a few hills. For the first 15 k, I was averaging right on about 30 km/h, which I was pleased with.

2016-08-27 | 2016 MultiSport Wasaga Beach Triathlon (Saturday)
Near the beginning of the bike ride.

I passed more people than passed me (but there weren’t too many behind me after the swim!).  One guy had me confused and concerned when he rode close to the shoulder on the other side of the road (the side for oncoming traffic) for at least 500 m! I finally caught him and hold him to ride on the far RIGHT side of the road. He just looked at me. Weird. He passed me later, and rode on the right. I later passed him and never saw him again. If I had seen a race vehicle I would have flagged them down – it was so dangerous!

Around the 15k mark, I started experiencing an abdominal cramp that just got worse. I tried to alter my breathing, I lifted my right arm way up and tried to stretch it as I rode – nothing. No change. I had to slow my pace. I started wondering if I’d even be able to run. I imagined myself joining the kids and volunteering at the finish line. It was quite painful. At one point, I thought it was gone, but nope, I felt it again. And then, at just before the 30 km mark, it totally went away! I picked up my pace again and tried to finish strong. Despite my cramp issues, I forced myself to keep drinking my gatorade and to down a 2nd gel.

Back in transition, I quickly changed gear, peed again, and headed out on the run course.

10 km RUN

This 10 k course at Wasaga Beach has historically been one of my fastest ever triathlon run paces. Last year, I ran it at a pace of 5:45 min/km. But right off the bat, I knew I wasn’t going to beat that this year. My first kilometre was 6:05, and I got slower from there. On the bright side, with the kids at the finish line, I got to see them 3 times, when I started my 1st loop, 2nd loop, and when I finished. I spotted Emma and Alasdair within the first kilometre (it’s a 2 loop 5 k course), as well as Kristin my new Monday morning swim buddy. They were all finishing their first loop. The cloud cover was particularly nice during the run, meaning that it wasn’t too hot! I did end up pouring water over my head at some of the aid stations though – felt so good. I encountered Emma, Alasdair and Kristin again later as they were heading for the finish line and I was starting my 2nd loop. So depressing to see others finishing and to know that you have to run the loop again! I think I prefer out and back courses – though with 2 loops, athletes do get to see each other more frequently! I had no issues on the run, other than being limited by cardio. My legs felt fine! In the end, I finished the run at a pace of about 6:20 min/km, and the triathlon with a final time of 3:11:37, about 6 minutes slower than last year. I got a great high five from Ailish as I reached the finish line!

2016-08-27 | 2016 MultiSport Wasaga Beach Triathlon (Saturday)
Getting a high five from Ailish at the finish!

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A rare smile! Must be at the finish!

After the race, I found Alasdair and we enjoyed a carton of chocolate milk – so refreshing after a long workout. In fact, Alasdair (and Emma!) had entered a contest earlier in the year, and both ended up being the Recharge with Milk racer of the day. The title came with a pretty sweet prize pack – a free race entry, chocolate milk for a month (valued at $30), a cooler on wheels, and all kinds of Recharge with Milk swag (a sweater, hat, race bib holder, ice pack, towel, and more!).

We watched the awards, and before packing up our stuff I checked the race results and noticed that I didn’t have a run time or finish time. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. I went to the Sportstats tent and gave them the finish time on my watch, which they used to give me an official result and a run time.

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Post-race. [Photo credit: Ailish]
Before leaving Wasaga Beach, we spent a while swimming at the super crowded beach (though the water wasn’t too bad!).

Race stats*

Given the technical issues with timing, race stats aren’t quite accurate. In my age group there were 17 athletes, but final times for only 14 of us.

Time: 3:11:17 (7/14 women aged 40-44, 81/126 women, 208/344 athletes)

1500 m swim: 39:57.5 (11/17 women aged 40-44, 72/126 women, 242/344 athletes)

Run up (from beach to transition): 0:38

T1: 2:17

40 k bike: 1:22:53.5 (11/17 women aged 40-44, 64/126 women, 233/344 athletes)

T2: 2:25

10 k run: 1:03:28.2 (7/17 women aged 40-44, 63/126 women, 209/344 athletes)

 

10 Reasons to volunteer at a race (a running race, bike race, or a triathlon)!

Whether you’re an athlete who benefits from race volunteers, or you’d put yourself in the “spectator” category, you should consider volunteering at a race – you won’t regret it!!

In the past few years, my husband, kids and I have volunteered at running races (Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope 5k, 10k, and half marathon), bike races (Paris to Ancaster), and triathlons (Multisport Canada Triathlon Series). There are so many reasons why you should too!

#1: Choose a role – there is one for everyone.

Depending on the race, you could:

  • help out at race registration, handing out t-shirts, swim caps, race bibs etc.
  • fill little cups with water and hand them out to athletes along the course
  • make inspirational posters and hold them up for athletes to see
  • direct athletes to run or bike a certain way – “left!”
  • work the info booth – answer questions pre-race
  • hand out water bottles and medals at the finish line
  • remove “stinky timing chips” (as my daughter would say) at the finish line
  • make noise and cheer for any and all athletes – you may be surprised how much the encouraging words of a random stranger can lift your spirits!
  • pull out an instrument and play songs (on request if you can)
  • hand out food to finishers

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Alasdair plays for the sprint triathletes during the Multisport Canada Wasaga Beach weekend.

#2: Give back to the racing community. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always have the energy during a race to thank the many many volunteers who help put on a race. Give back by becoming one of them. If you’re a racer, you’ll know how important volunteers are to a race – they stand there in all weather waiting to hand you a cup of water or a sugary beverage. They point you in the right direction so you don’t go off course. They pick up your garbage.

#3: Be a role model to a little person.

Teach the little people in your life the value of giving back. They will realize how doing just a small thing can really help someone.  They may learn to be more grateful when it’s their turn to race, or when they play on a team led by a volunteer coach.

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My son hands a drink to my swim coach Mat Reid, of the Fighting Koalas Triathlon Team.

4. Learn how things work, so you can race too.

Are you considering signing up for your first race? Go spend a morning volunteering in the race environment and you will learn tons! For example, if you’re thinking of registering for your very first try-a-tri, you could volunteer near the transition zone, pointing people in the right direction, while also watching and learning from them.

5. Get free food and t-shirts, and maybe even a guaranteed race entry.

If you’re an official race volunteer, you’ll get a t-shirt to make you more identifiable, and food to calm your rumbling tummy. For some races, if you volunteer at a race one year, you’re guaranteed entry the next (not free entry!).

6. Make someone’s day.

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Make someone smile!

Come up with a great sign, and athletes will remember it for a very long time. The best one I’ve seen yet said simply, “This is a motivational sign.” You may make athletes smile, laugh, or believe that yes, they CAN do it!

7. Feel good!

You will feel very much appreciated, by the race organizers, and by the athletes! When else can doing so little mean so much to so many people!?

8. Be inspired by the athletes.

You will see athletes of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. You cannot help but be inspired by their athleticism, talent, determination and perseverance.

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My daughter hands out water at the finish line.

9. Earn volunteer hours.

If you’re a high school student, earning volunteer hours may be a requirement. Why not earn them while doing something awesome?

10. Have fun!!

Last, but certainly not least, volunteering is a blast! I love it. It is so much fun to be able to help athletes when they are working so hard to do their very best. You get the opportunity to meet new people, try new things (when else is it okay for your child to write with permanent marker on a person?), and put your talents to good use.

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My son plays for a rider during the Paris to Ancaster bike race.

The smiles and thanks from athletes make it so worthwhile! When you’re figuring out your race schedule for this year, slot yourself in to a volunteer role or two – I sure will!