By Harry Corish
Former long-distance runner and Olympian Steve Brace – who ran in the 1992 and 1996 summer Olympics – believes volunteers are the bedrock for everything Run 4 Wales achieves.
It is these volunteers who give their hard work and time to allow this charitable organisation to continue its good work promoting physical activity for all.
Brace, now head of Run 4 Wales, won the 1989 and 1990 Paris Marathon and before also leading them home in the 1991 Berlin Marathon.
He knows what it takes to run in all types of organised events and stresses the importance of the role volunteers play in helping Run 4 Wales successfully manage the Cardiff Marathon, the Porthcawl 10K and the Cardiff Bay 10K.
This month has seen Volunteers’ Week – a chance to spotlight and promote the work done by millions of volunteers in so many different fields across the Uk.
Run 4 Wales, set up in 2012, is a not-for-profit charitable foundation that invests into grassroots sport and community projects.
They have done a remarkable job in building such a large operation in Wales, but it is their volunteers – known as the Extra Milers – who ensure that the big events run smoothly.
“Run for Wales celebrated its 10th anniversary recently, and volunteering is at its core,” says Brace.
“Over the years, we have built up a portfolio of events along the south Wales coast, so we have built up a loyal group of volunteers.
“For instance, 2016 was a crucial year when we had the World Half Marathon in town. It was such a big event that we couldn’t have run it without volunteers; there’s so much work that goes into shutting down the city and ensuring the day runs as smoothly as possible.
“There was so much to do and so we have a variety of jobs such as marshalling, the team at the start line, people giving out water, our ‘gurus’, a team of cyclists at the front to make sure the day runs smoothly. It’s like a military style operation.”
Brace believes these volunteers set the culture and the tone of the organisation and have shifted this culture over the years, making sure the races are enjoyed by everyone.
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“They play a crucial role. The volunteers are the interface between the public and the event.
“People keep coming back in all sorts of weathers and their dedication is crucial for us as, without them, there wouldn’t be any event.
“I’ve come from the performance perspective and it’s these big names that create a prestige for the event, but it’s also the local running clubs and communities that do so much to ensure all the people participating and the public have the best time possible.”
Run 4 Wales are not the only organisation who rely heavily on the willing hands supplied by armies of volunteers.
She Runs – a very popular and successful women’s social running group based in Cardiff – also owe so much to the volunteers who keep over 1,600 members moving on the capital’s streets.
They also give up their time to ensure the smooth running of events like the recent Pegasus Ultra Run.
For many volunteering in those social spheres, it’s the opportunity to help, lend a hand, and feel they are doing something worthwhile that is just as rewarding as the physical activity done by those they are assisting.
“For many people it is not just the running side of things they enjoy, it is the social aspects of the day and helping people.” Says Brace.
“We have such a diverse group of people that help out and I think that is the beauty of what we have created over the last ten years.”
Brace explains that marathons are not just about the running itself, but about the culture that has been built up around it and the sense of occasion that a marathon can bring, to both athletes and spectators.
“Lots of people like to make a day of it, they like to give something back. Community groups like to get involved to be a part of it and there’s lots of people who are happy to see the city or want people to enjoy their time in the city as well.
“There are people from ethic minority groups, church groups, scouts, college and university students and running clubs.
“It is this group of people who set up the day and make it the occasion it is with their infectious passion, which drives the sport forward.
“There’s lots of foreign students and people from around the UK who like to sample to culture and the city around here which is always brilliant to see. For many people, they come to enjoy the day out and the experience.”
Brace says that while volunteers give a lot to the organisation, Run 4 Wales is passionate about giving back to their volunteers as well; helping them to grow and develop is a huge part of what the organisation sets out to achieve.
“You do see some people who are timid, maybe in Cardiff for the first time. It really helps communication and team building. Without a doubt we see people grow in so many aspects, building confidence and understanding, it’s brilliant to see.
“We get a lot of repeat volunteers throughout the year and over the years and it’s been great to see these people grow.
“It’s not always fun, but there’s something for everyone and it’s a great community to be involved in.
“There is something for everyone. There is always something to do that can help.
“We understand we are taking people on a bit of a journey and helping them to grow as well.”