Do you know which activity can put you in a better mood, reduce your stress, and enrich your sense of purpose in life? I’m not talking about running although, on most days, I get those benefits from running.
It’s volunteering that can make us happier and less stressed-out, according to recent research. Donating our time and skills is not only helpful for the recipients, but we’re likely to reap a lot of benefits as well.
Indeed, as a volunteer coach for my kids’ track team, I truly believe that I’ve gotten so much more from my experience than I’ve ever given. Seeing the kids’ face light up and watching their confidence soar as they cross the finish line, nail a long jump, or complete their longest distance ever is an instant mood-booster.
If you’re looking for ways to serve the running community or your community at large, here are some ideas for giving back.
1. Volunteer at a race.
Race organizers really depend on volunteers to keep races running smoothly. As a volunteer, you can help with race registration, crowd control, passing out water, or the very fun and desirable job of placing medals around finishers’ necks. If you’ve never run a race before, volunteering is an excellent way to test the waters before you sign up for your first race. You’ll get to experience the excitement and inspiration of a race and know what to expect when you run your first one.
To sign up to volunteer at a race, go to the race’s website and look for the volunteer opportunities. Or, reach out to the race director. If you’re interested in running the race AND volunteering, it’s possible to do both by volunteering before or after the race.
2. Clean up a local trail or park.
If there’s a trail or park near you that could use some cleaning-up, grab some garbage bags and a pair of gloves and get to it. If you have kids, get them involved . Better yet, if your kids are in Girl or Boy Scouts, plan an organized clean-up effort with your kids’ troop.
3. Coach or mentor other runners.
You don’t have to be a running expert to help coach or mentor other runners. If you have a friend or family member who has shown some interest in running, share your experience with them and help them get started the way you did. Offer to run a race with them, if they’re nervous to do it on their own. Your encouragement and support will make a huge difference to them.
Look for volunteer opportunities to help coach runners, such as a youth running team. Girls on the Run, a national running program for girls in grades 3-8, is always looking for volunteer coaches.
Related: 5 Tips for Helping a New Runner
4. Run for a charity.
Whatever your favorite causes or charities may be, there’s a way that you can run to support it. Some smaller races, such as 5K, are organized as fundraising events for a specific charity or cause. Part of your entry fee goes to the cause and you can also fundraise more by getting people to sponsor you. Many big races, such as marathons, offer charity runner spots, which means you can fundraise a certain amount of money for a cause to get entry into the race. If you’re interested in a specific race, look at the charity section on the race’s website to learn about their designated charities.
If your favorite charity doesn’t organize a fundraiser race or have charity spots, you can still raise money on their behalf by using a fundraising website such as Crowdrise. Or use the CharityMiles app, which allows runners to earn up to 25¢ per mile for their charity.
5. Donate your gently-used running clothes and gear.
If you have piles of gently-used running clothes just sitting in your closet, donate them to charities such as Goodwill or Salvation Army, or list them on Freecycle.org. Animal shelters could use old race T-shirts. Ask running friends if they’d like any of your old running gear that you no longer use. I know some running groups do running gear swaps among members so runners can give their old gear and gadgets a new life. If you don’t like to save your race medals, you can donate them to Medals4Mettle’s, an organization a non-profit organization that facilitates the gifting of marathon, half marathon, and triathlon finishers’ medals to children and adults fighting debilitating diseases.
Also see: 20 Random Acts of Kindness for Runners