Volunteer Count versus Race Size
I am curious to get some information from existing events in the form of how many volunteers you have and also how many participants you have. Any additional information such as how the participants are distributed (marathon/half marathon/relay runner/etc) as well as whether you feel your volunteer to participant ratio is adequate would be appreciated. Lastly, any opinions on the ideal ratio would also be of help to me (is it okay to have less volunteers that are instructed and trained well or do you ideally want more volunteers when you have a bigger event to provide a good experience for your runners?).
It is really difficult to come up with a formula for "x" number of volunteers for "y" number of runners. Races vary widely in the numbers of volunteers. I recently heard about a 10,000 runner race with 6,000 volunteers. My 12,000 runner race goes off with about 1,300.
Certainly longer races generally will require more volunteers since the on-course services are more frequent.
It may be better to think about the various functions of your race -- number of water stops, # of sentries needed on course, race day packet pick-up or not, etc., do you have gear check or serve post-race food, etc. and try to estimate a number of volunteers for each function and then add up the total.
We have to know a lot more about your race before we can judge race day volenteers needed.
The fact that you don't know suggests you also don't know how many to optimally distribute to each job, therefore you will need a good percentage more than the minimum possible.
You will be surprised at the number of volenteers you will need prior to race day, do to all the prep. The more you can prep prior to race day the less will go wrong on race day.
Try to get the following done prior to race day:
- All pre-reg packets made up
- All pre-reg shirts pulled and ready
- All pre-reg into the computer system
- All volunteers trained on their jobs- preferably at a prior race
- All jobs spelled out in written instructions
- Course maps distributed to all
- Schedule of events for each thing that will happen, including start time and ready time.
- All site setup done - including putting up tents, finish line, port-o-potties electrics, lights and sound system.
- Volunteer emergency instructions and phone contact lists
- Wooden markers pounded into the ground marking mile marks and water stops will be. (You don't want race day confusion on where the tables for a water stop are meant to be dropped and where the stop's volenteers are meant to go)
- Instructions for on course volenteers telling them to park of the course, and for each water stop captain telling them where to park their crews.
I am sure there is more, but you get the gist of it. There are countless checklists out there. The key is, the more you prepare in the days before the race the less the problems on race day.
Getting all the tents and finish line up the night before is very useful.
We even do that for some of our club 5k runs. Much better than battling stuff in the dark of pre-dawn on race day.
Wooden stakes with reflectors on them help you find the mile marks and water stop locations if you have to put out the stuff before the sun is fully up. (We are in the tropics so early race start times and late sunrise)
If you are using electronic timing the only things that seriously increase the number of volenteers needed is the number of:
- Race day packet pickups
- Race day registrations
- Number of corners on course needing course marshals
- Total number of runners affects numbers needed to give out meddles and collect chips.
- Total number of runners x number of water stops x distance between stops x heat = some idea of number needed on early water stops.
To ease registration backlog marathons don't allow last minute registration and require packet pickup the day before. A 5K can't do that and would normally expect some of both on race day. This takes volenteers who know which way is up so you are best getting some people who have done that before to manage registration and chip pickup. Your timing company may help you out with how to staff this.
The number of Race Marshals you need to guide runners on your course will entirely depend on the location and design of your course.
If it is well marked, fully coned on the corners, and held in a public park that is closed to vehicles, then you may need only one or two.
If it runs several miles, winding through the streets and making a number of turns you may need many. Often a good idea to have two assigned to each corner, that way one can stop cars while the other directs the runners.
Never depend on police to guide the runners, they are their to stop cars, not keep your runners on course.
Water stops are where good training can makeup for hoards of volenteers, and good table prep can prevent disasters. Generally better to have several tables, more than you think you need, and spread out several table lengths apart. Always have too many cups and more water than you think. You can always pickup the excess later.
Local running clubs can give you a good guess on the minimum number of adults needed to staff a water stop based on where you are geographically, the expected temp for that time of year, the distance between stops, the expected size of the race and the distance. If you are using inexperienced volenteers then double the number, same thing if using a high proportion of kids or teens.
GO to similar races, of similar distance and size, and see how many people they use, and where their races could be improved. Remember you goal is to hold a better race than them, so take what ever they are doing as just a starting point.
GO and volunteer at local races. You will learn a lot more by doing than by watching. If you are lucky the organizes of those races will take you in under the arm.