Before many racers have roused from a fitful night of pre-race sleep, volunteers are setting up aid stations, manning the post-race food and organizing medals.

We whiz by them snatching cups of water as they cheerfully encourage us through sweltering heat, pelting rain and on mornings where they would probably rather be running or doing something with their families. In our finish line focus we might give them a nod and a half coherent thank you, but usually they’re gone from our mind before we’ve reached the photographer as we’re already prepping for that happy, “here’s my new bling” shot.

Extra Special Volunteers

While it’s always an energy boost to zip past the Lululemon crowd with their hilarious signs and insta-dance parties, one of my favorite moments came last year at the Best Damn Race in Orlando.

The race benefited the Autism Society of Greater Orlando and as such, many of their members volunteered at the aid stations to continue the mission of working on independent living and social skills.

Now that’s a smile you don’t soon forget and it felt like every runner took an extra moment to recognize the person handing them water or a medal. It didn’t slow us down or detract from our focus on hitting new personal bests—it enhanced it.

Saying thank you, smiling and connecting with another person, especially in those lung-burning, leg-aching moments can be just what you need to shift focus and continue pushing. Sure that still makes our efforts to recognize them sound selfish; just consider it another reason to recognize the investment they are making in our success.

I challenge you in your next race to find at least one volunteer to give a heartfelt thank you. After all, if they stop showing up you’ll have to carry your own water, look for traffic and bandage your own blistered feet.

A few small ways to say thanks:
— Try not to douse them with Gatorade when tossing cups
— Don’t snap when they tell you no, it’s just what they’ve been instructed to do
— Make eye contact when grabbing water
— Say “thank you” when passing those blocking traffic
— Say hello before or after the race
— Post a note on the event’s Facebook page or website about someone who stood out

Have more ideas or know a great volunteer that deserves a shout out? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!

Not volunteering, but still want to encourage racers? Check out these tips and hilarious race day signs.

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.