My first race marshal experience: top tips for runners

Recently I marshalled at Vitality 10,000 in London with BA Athletics Club / Shepperton Running Group, which was my first experience of volunteering at a major event. I volunteer for parkrun in various physical capacities such as marshal, timekeeper or tailwalker but this was the first time I was part of a huge closed-road race with paying customers, large numbers of the public to deal with and several hours on my feet.

Seeing an entire race from a spectator’s point of view is brilliant. Being able to encourage runners when I know exactly how they feel is really rewarding. Watching the spectrum of participants, from the super fast ones, to the middle-pace ones, to the guys nearer the back is not something you ever get to see when you’re in a race itself. It’s very insular when you’re focussed on your own time, your own goal, your nerves and how badly you want it to all be over!

So, I thought I’d share some insight from a marshal’s perspective, now that I have seen the race “from the other side”…

  1. Your name on your top is a great way for us spectators to shout personal encouragement. If you don’t have your letters ironed on, why not run in a charity or club top? That way we can give your club a shout out, or a generic “Go parkrun” to those in their apricot and milestone vests (and the specific parkrun if I can read it in time). On that note, The Stragglers is a running club, in case you ever hear “come on Stragglers!” and think it’s an insult 🙂
  2. Having headphones in might be a great motivator for you but then you can’t hear our wonderful motivation or how far you’ve got to go! Maybe in the final KM or so take out headphones and soak up the atmosphere. We’re rooting for you!
  3. When you smile, it makes us VERY HAPPY! If you can’t smile, a thumbs up will do. A cheer back is amazing.
  4. Hearing ‘thank you marshal ‘ also makes us very happy, not because we expect gratitude, but because it’s nice to know we’re being helpful (see next bullet).
  5. We don’t mean to be annoying telling you it’s “only” 400m, or 200m, or 1KM to go. We just want you to feel positive, even if you wish the finish line was right there in front of you, not 400m away.
  6. We might shout some weird stuff, because sometimes we open our mouths and we’re not sure where it’s going. Like “Great bank holiday running!”. Wtf? We like to mix it up though, because “well done” gets a bit mundane after a while.
  7. It’s common for us (well, me) to suffer a complete mind blank. Like when I called my friend Dan “Mark”, and when I saw the Alzheimer’s Society team (who I ran for at Brighton Marathon) and yelled “Go on Stroke Association!!!” instead. Oops. Don’t take it personally!
  8. When we are cheering and clapping it’s great to see a little spring in your step. Even if you slow down after you pass us (we’re not checking!).
  9. We know you can dig a little deeper, even at the end. We can see it in you. You just have to believe us. That’s why we are shouting at you 🙂
  10. We’re there for each and every runner who gets out there and gives it their all. Remember you’ll always have someone in the crowd supporting you… a marshal! So give us a smile, thumbs up or hi-5 (ref point 3 and 4).

And of course, I shall take all this on board next time I run past a friendly race marshal! Happy running.


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