Volunteers: The Unsung Heroes of Obstacle Racing

Volunteers the unsung heroes of obstacle racing

Volunteers hands offering water during a Marathon. Use of selective focus. Lots of Copyspace.

My wife and I are quite amenable when it comes to parenting techniques, however our collective experience led us to make one of only a few solemn vows: they will work early on in the service industry. At 9 and 10, neither really understands this concept or the unshakable truth that, if they have any aspirations for a vehicle or other youthful norms, they will learn the trade of service.

Seems harsh, right?

My wife paid off her first car and worked her way through college as a restaurant server. She later went on to become a highly celebrated nurse, known for her excellent interpersonal skills and bedside manner. I washed dishes and hosted in several restaurants. I remain socially awkward, however I treat all service industry staff with the highest courtesy and respect.

Stuffing bib packets at the Asheville Spartan Super

You see, it’s all about gaining perspective, which is why OCR volunteers make the best OCR enthusiasts. In fact, I believe every race participant should volunteer on a course at least once. Here’s why:

Meeting the Staff

Race venue staff are unique creatures. Many are young and single and spend much of their time traveling between venues for weeks at a time like soldiers on deployment. They love this sport, yet on race day, when the excitement, music, and adrenaline fills the space, we hardly notice them or their sacrifice and contributions.

Not so to a volunteer.

Staff members, like a platoon leader, often lead a small band of volunteers on jobs as diverse as course build to trash pick-up. It is within this small, intimate milieu that volunteers connect the human element with the legend of the venue. Volunteers have an unparalleled vantage point, understanding the long, muscle-aching hours suffered by the individuals who make each event a reality.

Distributing dozens of tables at the Ft. Bragg Spartan Sprint

Lifting the Veil

OCR events are magical places. Music thumps across the venue on race day like the heartbeat of a giant buried beneath our feet. Flags and banners flutter in the wind, beckoning participants from far and wide. The scent of food and beer rides the breeze, enticing the appetites of the muddy hoard. Merchandise flows at the speed of commerce at the demand of devoted fans.

So often we take the glory of OCR events for granted, but never stop and wonder how it all came together.

Volunteers and staff arrive many days before an event begins, performing dozens of tasks which transform vast swaths of acreage into glorious OCR battlegrounds. From constructing obstacles to offering water on the course, volunteering offers a glimpse behind the curtain of a veritable land of Oz. In doing so, perhaps you take just a moment on race day to appreciate those monkey bars you helped build only days before. Maybe you become just a little more sensitive when you see trash strewn carelessly about the grounds. A sense of pride and ownership comes over you knowing you were part of the magic, a contributor to the memories forged on race day.

The Ft. Bragg Spartan Sprint venue before and after volunteer work

Street Cred

Volunteers are like nomads, a people without a country, free agents in OCR. They, of course, make connections and friendships with race staff, but their pre-race point of view make them excellent spies. Privileged information on course build, parking, and venue layout make volunteers the most popular and respected individuals on social media, as they often share candid, real-time photos of the course during their shifts.

The cool kids of OCR aren’t the podium winners. They’re the volunteers.

Reaping What You Sow

Even with all the good feels associated with volunteering, it isn’t simply an altruistic urge which drives us to serve. Volunteering is arduous work, often long hours of demanding tasks go into every race, so indeed compensation follows. Rewards for service vary by venue, but often include swag like t-shirts and hoodies, free meals, and even free or heavily discounted races. Many folks make volunteering part of their race culture, often traveling around the country like groupies and serving/racing weekend to weekend.

Heather and Andrew running Ft. Bragg Spartan Sprint

Bringing it Home

No one receives a medal for volunteering, and my daughters won’t have any tangible evidence of being part of the service industry during their formative years. That being said, the time indeed leaves an indelible mark, a chevron of experience which contributes to making them better humans.

The same applies to OCR volunteers.

Volunteers make great participants because they understand and appreciate the race. In many ways, volunteering is the ultimate obstacle of any course as no other race task leaves you with a greater sense of accomplishment. For this reason, I highly recommend that everyone volunteer at least once in an OCR event. The friendships and connections made, the perspectives and appreciation gained for the sport are invaluable and contribute to making OCR participants the best of the sporting world.

For more information on how you can volunteer, check out the website of your favorite venue or local event websites.
Tough Mudder Volunteer
Spartan Race Volunteer

Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen is an adventure and OCR enthusiast from the swamps of southeastern NC. When not training for his next race, he enjoys spiced rum and then spending his wife's money on training gear and more races.
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