Celebrating Serpentine’s Versatile Volunteers


Volunteering for Serpies is likely to make you see the athletic world differently – Serpentimes talks to two of our volunteers.

Whether you’re training at Battersea on a Thursday evening, competing in the National Cross Country championships, or just leaving your bag in the club room on a Wednesday night, the Serpentine Running Club relies on a huge number of volunteers each week to support the range of activities we all enjoy. I spoke to a couple of Serpies who have been giving some time back to the club to see how they got involved and why.

Serpie Institution

James Brown joined Serpentine in October 2011 and admits that for the first few months he wasn’t really aware of the role of volunteers in the club. However, the more he turned up for the regular weekly events the more he got to see that there were people taking on volunteer roles and he felt he should get more involved. James began by taking on smaller roles like gate monitor on a Wednesday night, and has since gone on to volunteer on all sorts of other activities. His favourites are the Jekyll & Hyde Park Duathlon (Serpentine’s home race in the Triathlon London League series), where marshalling puts you in prime position to admire the competitors’ fancy dress efforts, and the Handicap. “It is such a Serpie institution, with a great location, and the chance to catch up with friends”

Doing the clicks

Nicola Kerr also joined in October 2011 and started volunteering when she got injured during training for her first half marathon. She decided to volunteer as a way of still being part of Serpie events despite not being able to run. Nicola has helped out at the Cross County Nationals and Duathlon at the Velodrome, but like James she particularly enjoys the great atmosphere at the Handicap. Nicola told me about the first time she had to “do the clicks” on the stopwatch at the Handicap, where she was responsible for recording the all-important finishers’ times, and how nerve-racking she found it. “When there is a sprint finish and lots of Serpies are crossing the line in quick succession it can feel high pressure, but a second volunteer performs the same role, so you can cross-check the times and number of finishers afterwards. Other volunteers shout out the numbers of the runners for someone else to write down, so it is a real team effort.”

Meeting new people

The positives are that volunteering isn’t all hard work: for anyone considering putting their name down, James points to the benefits of free coffee, wine and cake. But even leaving these usual Serpie incentives aside, volunteering is a brilliant way to get fully involved in the club and meet lots of new people, whether you are new yourself or an old-timer. One of Nicola’s favourite parts about volunteering is cheering the competitors and knowing that an encouraging cheer can really help when it gets tough. “The Cross Country Nationals was something else, with mud and hills all the way round the course. I had nothing but pure admiration for everyone that did that.” James acknowledges that sometimes when you are watching everyone else competing you wish you were taking part too, but that a quick ‘thank you’ from a runner on their way past makes all the difference. Another benefit for Nicola has been how volunteering has changed her own running. “It has made me realise that no matter how fast you are, everyone struggles and pushes themselves at their own rate. It is really inspiring to see people’s determination in races.”

Getting involved

In such a big club, organising volunteers is an ongoing challenge. As James says “the Committee are doing a brilliant job, but there is only so much anyone can do when they have to also hold down a full-time job and, in many cases, bring up families as well”.

So, if you have been hesitating about whether to put your name down, why not get involved? Get more details about available regular roles. And for anyone looking to progress beyond the weekly volunteering opportunities, the club is actively recruiting members to send to a number of upcoming Officiating courses. If, like Nicola, you’ve felt nervous doing a role like timekeeping at the Handicap, one of these courses may set your mind at ease. There are lots on offer, from Timekeeper to Starters, or Track and Field judges and Endurance race officials. Learn more about these officials courses on the website and you can also e-mail the club’s competition co-ordinator to find out more.

Final tip

And the final tip from our two volunteers? Check the weather forecast before you set out, as you can get cold quickly when marshalling even for a short race – although Nicola made the good point that cheering and clapping keeps you warm!

Daisy Gladstone is entering her second year as a member of Serpentine and has already taken on the Race Organiser role on the committee, so should be getting to know many more of you over the next year.