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Jane, just email the organisers of your local race, or one you fancy helping at. I have done a couple now as have been injured of late and its good fun. A little bittersweet but worth giving something back.
The volunteers, marshalls and spectators at both ironmen i did have been so amazing, influential, uplifting, its made HUGE difference on the day. From the lady who peeled my wetsuit off my hypothermic body to the dude who put a blanket over my shoulders at the finish - i can well up just thinking about how lovely those people were! I always make a point of writing and thanking, and also saying thanks on the day to those on the road side. And smiling at them.
I've had both sides of the coin. I think that it really does depend on the race and the marshals. I always try to say thank you to the marshals and give them a smile/wave.
I really enjoy marshalling/general supporting duties. I take my pom-poms and generally go crazy in the hope that runners can soak up a bit of my energy. I helped at the Leeds Christmas 10k at the weekend and was stationed at the bottom of a short hill. I made so much noise as the runners approached me and shouted a lot of encouragement to all. I got a lot of positive feedback and thanks.
I always try to say thank you or at least wave to marshals on the way round a race. And if anyone has been particularly supportive I make a point of getting in touch with race organisers afterwards.