Giving something back

I’ve been fortunate enough to take place in some incredible events over the years.

Behind each event there is an incredible team of people putting it together, planning, mapping routes, dealing with logistics, setting out signage, registration, supporting participants, marshalling, first aid, the list is endless…

And the bit most people don’t realise? Many of the people making your event run smoothly are volunteers…

Those hi-vis hero’s at parkrun? Yep, all giving up their own time so other people can participate…

The aid stations at the marathons and Ironman or other triathlon events? Yep, those people are also volunteers, giving up long days to stand on their feet handing out water or refreshments…

The lead cyclist on running or cycling events? Or the sweep cyclist? Another volunteer, often sacrificing their own training day to help others reach their goals.

Pacers at running events? Same here – they are giving up their own race to help pace other people to a personal best.

A few years ago when I first started cycling I was training for London to Paris 24hrs. The organising company set up a training ride, London to Brighton and back again, 135 hilly miles… It was largely unsupported, not sign posted, we had a GPX file and they had booked an area in a pub half way so participants could get some lunch and have a break. But even here there were volunteers… People checking the cyclists into the half way point making sure everyone made it, a bus picking up people that couldn’t cycle the full distance for any reason and 2 sweep cyclists… Anyone who wasn’t going to be back in London by dusk had to get on the bus… The sweep cyclists caught up with me and my friend Abi just outside of Croydon, having made some other cyclists get on the bus and be jumped forward by 10 miles or so… Abi and I were less than 20miles from the finish and had just over an hour of daylight left, these guys encouraged us, didn’t make us think we weren’t good enough, just quietly rode along with us, chatting, helping point out turn points etc. And we literally made it back to the finish point at Clapham a few minutes before the sun went down… We’d never cycled that far ever before, it was also far more elevation than we had previously ridden and we arrived back in London exhausted, with an average speed of 13.5mph, far steadier than the guys who rode with us were capable of cycling, but they rode with us all the same… no judgement…

A few months later Abi and I successfully rode London to Paris, with a pace that was far quicker than our London – Brighton and back training ride. And in part this was because that training ride didn’t break us, it encouraged us. It was the biggest ride we had ever done and it showed us we could do more, we could ride further…

After we completed London-Paris24 the same company asked for cyclists who had successfully completed the event to consider volunteering on some of their night ride charity fundraising events.

A few months later Abi and I volunteered as cycle marshals on a night ride that went from London to Brighton… Over the very route that had taken everything from us a few months ago we were now stronger, able to encourage others, able to ride over the hills far stronger and faster than we had been capable of some months before… We fixed punctures, reset chains, assisted people who fell off, stood in the pouring rain slowly cyclists down on dangerous junctions, cheered people over the top of Ditchling Beacon, and rode them to the finish line in Brighton, we watched people complete their biggest ever challenge, and we helped them to get there…

Since that event I have tried to volunteer as much as I can, I have marshalled at local parkruns, marshalled a few obstacle course runs, helped on a water station for the London Marathon, been a course marshal for local triathlons, and most frequently I have been a cycle marshal on a number of charity rides, Iv volunteered on the Moonrider Events, Ride the Night, and most recently this weekend I was a ‘Knight of the Night’ for the Nightrider event in London.

This was a long night… And the format is very similar to most night rides Iv volunteered at… Arrive at the start between 9-10pm, check in, collect staff clothing and tabards, pick up any necessary equipment, often tubes, pumps, puncture repair kits, control room contact details… Check for any changes of route or areas noted for potential problems, and head out to join the wave you are assigned, say hi to a few riders, and head off for a long night of cycling.

Once on the route, again format is very similar to marshalling other events, help point out turn points, identify any signage that’s been tampered with, highlight issues to the control room, help with any fixable mechanical issues, assist people who have taken a tumble, encourage anyone who is struggling and just generally make sure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable ride.

I set off with the 10.45pm wave and I didn’t arrive back at the start until 6am… This is a long night… All the marshals, volunteer cyclists, motorcyclists, refreshment volunteers, mechanics, control room staff, had a very long night… There were volunteers out on course until almost 9am! But they all had a common aim, to make sure that the participants made it to their goal and had a good time getting there…

Now I’m not suggesting that everyone should give up their Saturday nights, far from it… But I would ask that if you enjoy taking part in events you consider giving something back…

Good at encouraging? Why not marshal on course – be it at parkrun or a bigger local event?

Good at persuading people to carry on when they think they have already given it everything? How about volunteering as a tail walker at parkrun? A sweep runner or cyclist at another event? A trek master at a hiking event?

Injured and unable to participate? How about barcode scanning at parkrun? Handing out medals at a local event? Running a water or refreshment stand at an event?

And honestly it can be so much fun! I have had some of the most fun and rewarding experiences volunteering, and Iv also made some great friends through it… So how about making a mid year resolution, for every 10 events you participate in consider volunteering for 1?

Let me know if you do, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

The Nightrider images in this blog post were provided by Sportive Photo Limited if you rode in the event and would like to purchase your images they can be viewed here.

One thought on “Giving something back

  1. npadgen says:

    As a participant in this year’s Nightrider: THANK YOU! I’ve volunteered at a couple of non-sporting events and I know how much work it is. For you to do that AND help out the rest of us is just great.

    It’s only slightly annoying that you did it an hour quicker than me while still looking after all of us MAMILs struggling around!!! 🤣🚲


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