Volunteerism: An Integral Part of Ultrarunning
by Michelle Halsne
Western States 100 Endurance Race (WSER) has more history and lore than arguably any other endurance trail run in the United States. Race directors look to WSER to set the standard in lottery guidelines, aid station perfection, advertising, swag bags, press and innumerable other strategies for putting on a successful race.
In my opinion, one the very best of WSER traditions and requirements is the mandatory service requirement. Every year more ultra races are including service as a requirement of participation. What a runner, whether new to the sport or a seasoned old-timer, gains from volunteering is amazing for the ultra-running culture; the trails we use, the races we love, our community, and the over-worked and oft underappreciated race directors.
As a result of volunteering on some cold mountaintop in the middle of nowhere, a racer might just remember to thank the aid station worker at mile 92. After a day of working on a remote trail it is impossible not to be a kinder more humble person. By experiencing a race from the other-side, one becomes inspired by the human spirit and inner strength (A WSER racer might need to recall these moments hiking up Devil’s Thumb). As a volunteer working aid stations, I have given massages to strangers, my clothes to new nameless friends, hiked water by the gallon up a single- track mountain trail, and most importantly, became a better race participant.
I would be a strong proponent race directors increasing the volunteer requirement to equal the runner’s predicted finish time. As a runner who dreams of a sub 24, I would love to submit my 24 hours volunteer hours to pay homage to hundreds of volunteers who have made my races successful. Next to running WSER, my most exciting event this year is being aid station captain at a Colorado 200 mile race. I’m looking for about 20 other dedicated folks to join me. It’s 4 days of supporting others achieve their running dreams, email me if you want to play email@example.com
I am sure that if you are sad, uninspired, lost or broken; the surest route to positivity is to give back to something or someone outside yourself. Ultra-runners are out on that trail to learn, grow, improve and reflect. All that and more is accomplished when we support others. Go get your 8 hours done so you can complete your race entry, but I challenge everyone to do more than they are required. Don’t wait to give your talents to any organizations that speaks to your heart. The person who needs you will be there and the person you need will show up too.