This week we look at four more hi-vis roles in a little more detail: Marshals, Tailwalker, Pacers and Water Marshal. These roles are out on the course looking after parkrun participants ensuring both safety and encouraging everyone to the finish line.
It’s a great opportunity for parkrunners to say Thank you for their time given so everyone can enjoy their Saturday morning exercise but is there more into it than we think? Let’s just find out below;-
At Exmouth we are required to ensure a minimum 7 marshals at varying points along the course and all need to wear official parkrun yellow hi-vis jackets. These are all core-volunteer roles ensuring parkrun can go ahead safely.
They are located at The Octagon (a three-way split so seeing lots of action!), Pavilion Car Park entrance/exit, Harbour View Café/HM Coastguard slipway entrance, 2 marshals RNLI Lifeboat Station (east and west), Orcombe Point flagpoles turn-point and of course our very own famous Jelly-Baby marshal located by the top shelter turn-point opposite The Cavendish Hotel. There can be more depending on participant numbers and safety points (due to contract works being carried out on the sea-front) so some may double-up at given points.
They are of course not just a pretty face standing around with a smile. There is a little more to it than that!
The first rule of thumb is all Marshals must have immediate access to a mobile phone in case of an emergency. This is a safety requirement.
The main parkrun description of a Marshal role is:
Every event will have different requirements for a Marshal role, depending on the complexity of the course, the number of participants and location/course specific issues. The main tasks performed by Marshals are:
Directing participants during the run and navigating them safely around the course.
They warn runners of any specific safety issues which may be prevalent on the course and may have identified positions where Marshals need to give warnings (examples include: places known to get slippery, tight bottlenecks, where rowers/kite-surfers and even horses are known to occasionally cross including other users such as cyclists on the route etc).
Look out for distressed or unwell runners - While distressed runners will be rare over the 5k parkrun distance, Marshals should be aware of runners looking unwell, and should feel able to (tactfully) ask if they are ok or suggest they either slow-down, rest a little or (in exceptional circumstances) withdraw from the run in the interests of their own health and wellbeing. Most runners will have that I don’t want to give up or need help attitude but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Remember, all runners participate at their own risk and should have considered their own personal fitness but it is still nice to be vigilant and ask anyone if they are ok.
Our Marshals are very good at cheering on participants - we are frequently congratulated on how welcoming our events are and first time experience runners always appreciate this; this is largely due to the excellent support, care and attention our Marshals give to them on their way around, particularly those at the back! Everyone is welcome at our parkrun of all abilities, run, jog or walk and the distance is the same whether you run a sub15 minutes or walk 60 minutes plus. The affects are still the same.
Marshals actively guide and encourage all participants as well as ensuring that other users on the course are aware of the event. Most importantly Marshals are also the eyes and ears of the Run Director out on the course as the RD will remain in and around the Start/Finish zone unless called upon to attend another zone in an emergency.
Marshals perform a crucial function in a core-volunteer role in that if there are insufficient marshals for the day then the event may be deemed unsafe and therefore unable to go ahead. It is that simple! So if you're taking part and see them out on the course, please say thankyou (particularly if it's wet, cold or windy) and always follow their advice. They do appreciate this. We cannot ask parkrun participants not to wear headphones but we do ask that everyone remains aware at all times of other users and clearly listens to and is watchful of any instructions Marshals need to give. Circumstances can change swiftly during a parkrun event, so please remain vigilant.
After marshals have been briefed by the Run Director and given their blue bags with instructions/equipment, they will set off to the marshal point they have been allocated. In some cases signs and plastic cones will need to be placed at specific points. The information will be inside the blue bags you will have been given as to exactly where these should be placed. A brief description with photos show precisely which direction the signs should be faced. Please be aware ALL marshals have responsibility to ensure the safe return of these back to the finish area after the event to be checked back in.
It is worthwhile noting the two furthest outer turn-point Marshals at Orcombe Point and The Cavendish Jelly-Baby Marshal should keep an eye out on their way back for any signs/equipment which may have been left and if possible anything which may have been dropped by parkrunners (i.e. barcodes etc) and brought back to the finish area. Any personal items of lost property can be handed in to the Ocean Centre Reception who will hold until claimed/collected.
In an emergency Marshals may be asked to assess a given situation, provide basic advice and contact the Run Director (if needed!). Luckily this is very rare and not likely to happen but no need for concern and it is better to be prepared and ready for what to do. Simple instructions are on the briefing notes you will have so just briefly read them through. Should there be a real emergency, someone requiring immediate medical treatment then it may require a quick call to the Emergency Services and then let the Run Director know the situation. The Run Director is there to help so the number is shown on the email you will have received confirming your volunteer role on the Friday evening, the day before the event. Please save this number to your mobile phone contacts in advance as this will save time to call. This number never changes but the Run Director usually does on a week by week basis. The instructions remain the same.
There are two Defibrillators available and accessible for parkrun and members of the public to use in an emergency. One defibrillator is located outside the @RNLI Lifeboat station by the outside door entrance ready for use and the other is located at the Exmouth Pavilion. There are simple to understand user friendly instructions on how to use the defibrillators if needed. Please ensure you make the call to the Run Director in the first instance. Time saves lives! It may also be possible there will be other parkrunners out on course closeby who have medical/first aid experience who may be happy to stop and help, so please ask. Qualified Nurses and Doctors do run parkrun quite frequently!
These roles bring you face to face with all parkrunners as they go by and a real plus for many who welcome the chance to give you a wave and say thankyou. It’s a real bonus for all participating.
After all participants and the Tail-walker have passed by the final time, you will be able to stand-down, collect your signs/equipment and make your way back to the finish area for check-in. Job done!
Water Marshal – not a compulsory role at Exmouth but we have provided these volunteers on occasions during the hot and humid summer months we have experienced during our parkrun events. These volunteers carry and have access to additional water bottles while out on course to help assist anyone who may need hydration to help them proceed safely around the course.
We do of course ask all participants to arrive prepared and well-hydrated and carry their own water if needed. These marshals are simply there to help assist, particularly if participants suddenly feel faint through dehydrated and left their water supply back at the start/finish zone.
These marshals can obtain both a run credit and a volunteer credit if they wish. Also be prepared to go that little extra distance to pick up and track back to assist. You are unlikely to achieve a course PB in this role as your attention will be paramount in helping others. You should also have access to a mobile phone to contact the Run Director in case of any issues or emergencies should anyone require medical assistance.
This role does exactly what it says, sets off right at the back from the start point and stays with the last participant, run, jog or walk or maybe a combination of the three. The Tail-walker will be the LAST person to cross the finish line ensuring that everyone is accounted for. He or she may/may not want a time/finish token. This is purely personal choice so please let the Timekeeper know as you approach the finish line. If no time/token wanted then this will not count towards any parkrun milestone.
Our Tail-walkers must carry a mobile phone in case of an emergency on route, particularly as there can be a little distance between each Marshal point. They will let each marshal know out on the course as they pass by starting at Orcombe Point return that they can stand-down and to collect their signs/equipment and make their way back to the finish area. Volunteers fulfilling this role are able receive both a run credit and a volunteer credit so is quite popular with anyone who still wants to work towards their parkrun milestone of events, particularly if a visitor.
One of the great benefits of this role is the likelihood, but not always, that you will be able to chat to and encourage participant(s) at the back and get to know them by name with a friendly face helping them to pass the time. Please remember you must be prepared to be out on course for up to an hour or maybe slightly longer so also it is worth taking some water to prevent you from dehydration, especially in hot and humid conditions.
The Tail-walker may find the last participant they have been tracking suddenly decides to step-out and not want to complete the full 5k route. In which case you will then make every attempt to catch up with the next 'last participant' but remember they may be a little further up the course!
Tail-walkers also get to wear the coveted parkrun orange hi-vis jacket. The sense of achievement for all those participating and making it to the finish, many of whom may be on their first ever parkrun, is immense. You will become an instant hi-vis hero and feel your own sense of achievement in volunteering to help others achieve their goals!
This role is also a focal point for other local users while out on the course which can give them an indication of an official event taking place. You may be asked what it going on. Please keep it brief should you stop to chat. Also please keep an eye out for any dropped barcodes/lost property out on route as some participants may be looking for their belongings later on, especially barcodes they will need when scanning their finish tokens to get a time. It does happen occasionally!
The Tail-walker is compulsory at Exmouth and therefore part of the core-volunteer roles that need to be filled as it is at most events. Please note not all parkrun events operate with a Tail-walker, sometimes Marshals can be used as back-markers out on course directing their way round to the finish area if it is deemed safe enough to do so and the course allows for it.
Pacer– we normally use up to 5 volunteers for this role at 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 mins but can be other times depending on availability of volunteers stepping forward.
Pacer volunteers (5k only) agree to identify themselves to the other participants by wearing blue coloured tabards with the pace number displayed and try to complete the course in the agreed time, as evenly paced as possible. Some Pacers prefer to time their run in km’s and some in miles. This is a personal choice and what works best for you. It can of course vary dependent on conditions on the day, wind, rain etc and any obstacles you may encounter. Not every event has Pacers so is considered a bonus when volunteers step forward to help.
So basically this role does exactly what is says, keeping a steady even paced run around the course to finish on or just before the predicted time. Of course it’s not an exact science and is usually performed by regular runners who use a gps timing watch (but not always!) to help them around the course at an easier pace well within their own capability.
As such this volunteer role is not compulsory and therefore not part of the core-volunteer roles required. The event will still go ahead without Pacers but it is a helpful edition to participants to keep a steady pace and work towards their course PB’s. Many parkrunners also prefer to run in a group to help them keep pace and therefore is an ideal addition to help.
Point of note: We love to encourage everyone to help out, and over the coming months and years will intend to be a lot more proactive in getting children involved in all aspects of event organisation. It is our aim to collaborate more with other organisations, such as Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, Scouts and Guides and of course local schools and colleges, so that we can actively promote volunteering by children. Of course we do need a few rules and children under the age of 11 who want to volunteer must be accompanied at all times by their parent or guardian. Those aged 11 or over can volunteer without their parent or guardian, but should be within close proximity of a responsible adult volunteer providing the child/parent or guardian and volunteer are comfortable with this arrangement. Children can volunteer as Tail-walkers and/or Marshals if accompanied by an adult volunteer. Furthermore we do specify that Event Directors must be aged 18 or over, but the good news is that those under the age of 18 can be a Run Director, if accompanied by an adult Run Director.
All volunteers will be provided guidance and training from the event team, and a lovely high-vis jacket so that they can safely and effectively carry out their role.
Should anyone like to volunteer in any of these roles, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know which role and date you are interested in.
As previously mentioned you can always shadow another volunteer to gain some experience before taking on any role solo if you wish. Just ask!