Volunteering at Trail Races

If you’re into trail running + especially if you’re into ultra trail racing you’re probably well aware of the “season of lotteries”. The entire month of December seems to be dedicated to praying to the lottery gods while we wait for our names to be drawn out of a hat + put onto a list of lucky runners taking on a few extremely popular races around the world. Unfortunately, we won’t all get in.

However, missing a coveted slot in a lottery race doesn’t mean you can’t get involved + share the giddy excitement with all the runners come race day. Volunteer!

Last month we shared a few tips + ideas for giving back to the trail community as a whole. This month we’re taking it a step further. If you’re jonesing for an excuse to spend some quality time at a race but aren’t able to be one of the crazy few with a bib pinned to their salty shorts you should seriously consider becoming a race volunteer. After, of course, you’ve already ensured none of your run buddies need crew/pacers!


Silverton 100. Cat Bradley helping Jeremy Ebel.
Silverton 100. Cat Bradley helping Jeremy Ebel.


If you’re familiar with trail races you probably have a pretty good idea of what the volunteers do at each race — tell you where to turn left, prepare delicious aid station food, start up dance parties + help you undress/redress. That’s what you see, but there’s more!

What Race Volunteers Do

In the days leading up to the race you have volunteers coordinating aid station gear, food + people. Before the race starts volunteers are out marking the course + setting up aid stations. During the race you have volunteers on the course at aid stations + at confusing turns. After the race you have volunteers “sweeping” the course to ensure everyone is accounted for + all trail markers have been collected. In the days following the race volunteers take on the responsibility of donating unused food, cleaning up aid station gear + packing everything up for the next race.

Yea, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes! If you ever get the chance to volunteer at a race…do it! Even better, if you have friends who are curious about trail races get them involved as a volunteer, either by your side or on their own. It is quite literally impossible to explain the crazy that motivates us to run ultras but a few hours at an aid station will give even non-runners a motivational glimpse into the reality of the “why” behind trail running.


Jeremy Ebel and Emilio Larrazabal working together at the Silverton 100.
Jeremy Ebel and Emilio Larrazabal working together at the Silverton 100.


How To Become A Volunteer

Now that you know all the random things you can do to help out at a trail race [or, really, any type of race] let’s chat about how you can get involved. If you’re a planner you can look ahead at races in your area + dig around their website until you find information on volunteering. If you’re a bit more spontaneous with your schedule simply follow a few of your favorite races or organizations on social media + keep an eye out for last minute volunteer requests.

If you’re an avid runner, get involved in local running groups. Even if you can’t run with them regularly they’ll be a great resource for volunteer opportunities. Your local running store will also have a plethora of information on local races with contact information for potential volunteers.

What YOU Get Out of Volunteering

First off, it’s volunteering…no one is paying you to spend your weekend out in the sun, rain or snow. However, in our humble opinion, you get so very much more than a wad of cash for your time spent on a race course. You’ll stumble away from a late night aid station in the wee hours of the morning exhausted but jittery with motivation, promise.


Sweeping the Bigfoot 200 course with Jack Wiley, an AS Captain.jpg
Sweeping the Bigfoot 200 course with Jack Wiley, an AS Captain.jpg


Beyond simply filling your motivation meter up you’ll also meet some incredible people while you’re busy helping runners meet their goals. From person experience we know you’ll befriend runners, their support crews + fellow volunteers. You may be volunteering at a random race states away from home…then find yourself making plans to literally run into one of your newfound runner friends in another country at another race. What you get from volunteering in the moment is amazing, but the friendships + ideas you take home with you truly make it all worth it.

There are many other ways to volunteer [permitting, legal finagling, social marketing] + a multitude of other reasons to volunteer [corporate incentives, warm fuzzies, race strategies]…we’d truly love to hear what gets you outside + volunteering! More importantly, if you haven’t volunteered yet, we hope this post at least has you considering it in the near future!

Heidi Kumm

Heidi Kumm

Heidi Kumm is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. As a trail runner she has covered thousands of miles in the Colorado Rockies and beyond training for and running races from the half marathon distance to the one hundred mile ultra. Heidi is so stoked about finding adventure on trails that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world as they travel. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she’s here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes…safely.

Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!

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