Ultra volunteering – we talk with Volunteer Coordinator of Kaszubska Poniewierka.

Estimated reading time: 8 min.

Volunteers have permanently inscribed in the “landscape” of runs in Poland. Without them, practically no sporting event can take place. However, it is especially the trailrunning events that gather true enthusiasts of volunteering, ready to go even to the other end of the country, endure sleepless nights and disinterestedly hard work for the benefit of the participants. Volunteer Coordinator of Kaszubska Poniewierka – Łukasz Zwoliński – talks about the essence of volunteering.

Mariusz Adamczuk: Łukasz, we can meet on ultra races for many years. Sometimes you are there as a runner, but you often play the role of a volunteer. What is the secret of what attracts you there?

Łukasz Zwoliński: Ultra races are a certain asylum, enclave, space in which you can calm down. This is the time for me. A time when I feel an integral part of the world around me. When I am in motion surrounded by wonderful and wild nature, I have the impression that everything is in place. On a daily basis, we are bombarded with a flood of unnecessary and useless information, which are often formulated in such a way as to affect our emotions. During ultra events, I cut myself off from this. I feel really free. Additionally, I like challenges and I like to verify my capabilities. It is a good tool for building self-confidence and gaining real satisfaction.

MA: Running ultramaratons is a huge effort and it is always a challenge, and how is it for volunteering?

ŁZ: My adventure with volunteering started very innocently. I was fascinated by the races and competitions. I planned for them each of my free time, mostly during the weekend. I knew that I love to do it, that it makes me happy. At first I volunteered with a sense of duty that I can not just be an ordinary recipient of the euphoria and joy associated with the competition and I have to give something back from myself.

At some point, the combination of events caused that the burden of responsibility during the organization of one of such events fell on me. I remember this as a huge challenge. Without much experience, I had to suddenly coordinate the work of a large group of people and ensure that all participants returned from the race satisfied. Despite the fact that it was a small event on a short distance, it cost me a lot of work. That’s when I felt for the first time that the effort put into the organization far exceeds the effort made by the participant during the run. After this experience, I took part in volunteering several times at events taking place all over Poland, for example at the Bieg Rzeźnika (Butcher’s Run – one of the biggest trailrunning events in Poland).

MA: What is the difference between being a participant and a volunteer?

ŁZ: Actually, probably there is not much difference. I treat volunteering as the next step in initiating the world of ultra racing. Runners have a very limited perspective during the competition. They see volunteers on the route only for a moment and sometimes there is even no interaction between them. Organization of a long-distance running event consists of many processes and tasks that usually start a few days before the start. There are a lot of people involved in logistics work, route marking, running a race office and route security, without which no event is possible. They create the atmosphere and they are the heart of the event. It is from their commitment, creativity and initiative that the greatest depends on what memories the participants will take home with them. Volunteers are people with big hearts, often they do not sleep longer than runners, at the same time doing no less effort. They deserve absolute respect.

Last weekend I had the pleasure to participate in the Dolnośląskie Mountain Run Festival (DFBG) as a volunteer and competitor. It was a great experience. First, we served runners on the route of Run of 7 Summits (B7S) at the aid station in Międzygórze, which several hours later I passed running KBL (KBL is the name 130km distance). After reaching the finish line, I returned to the route as a volunteer, supporting the aid station in Orłowiec. I wonder if the people for whom I filled the flasks at the time realized that I had not slept on the previous two nights (haha).

MA: Less than a month and a half left until the next edition of Kaszubska Poniewierka, the event very well known for the volunteers’ commitment. How do you think, what is the reason why our volunteers support this competition so exceptionally? Where do all the people come from?

ŁZ: I wonder myself, they are amazing. They have a huge amount of positive energy and are a great inspiration for me. I am not an effusive person who hangs and manifests with my own emotions. However, in contact with these people it is difficult for me to be serious. It is a great pleasure and joy for me to be able to cooperate with them. Most of them are passionate people like me. However, there are also people who are looking for new experiences. One of these people is my fiancée, whom I met on Kaszubska Poniewierka. Volunteering can change lives (haha).

MA: You work with volunteers for many years, not only on the occasion of Kashubian Poniewierka. What do you think makes people decide to go to the other end of Poland or take a few nights in a row to help others?

ŁZ: There are several factors that have a big impact on the motivation and commitment of people. I think the atmosphere is the most important thing. The volunteer must feel good in the place where he is and should do what he wants and what he likes. We always try to match the tasks to the individual, not to look for a person to complete the task. The volunteer must know that he/she is important and that he/she is an integral part of the event. He/she must also be given the greatest possible freedom to be able to show his/her own initiative. We do not cache or restrict people. Everyone can bring something positive from each other. We try to help others in the way we would like to be helped. Often this is how it happens, because the volunteers’ team changes every year and very often people who previously participated in Kaszubska Poniewierka as participants come to help.

MA: During the race, you manage many groups of people under strong time pressure, and as we know, it is not always so that everything goes according to plan. How do you organize such a job?

ŁZ: During the event there are so many things happening at the same time that there is no time or opportunity to manage all of this live. All processes and tasks must be planned before the event. We do it in the form of a manual, which is a precise and detailed instruction for the volunteer. Each location or task is stored in it using the appropriate symbol, which we use in communication during the event. We respect the time of each volunteer and we care about efficient organization.

MA: What event was the biggest challenge for you and what were the difficulties?

ŁZ: Perhaps the biggest challenge for me so far was the Butcher’s Run Festival in 2018. First, I coordinated the work of the aid station in Roztoki on the route of the Butcher’s Run (main distance). The work of this point has been quite prolonged due to waiting for the last competitors who got stuck in the mountains. Immediately afterwards, without rest, I went to coordinate an aid station in Natura Park on the route of the Butcher’s Run Ultra, where there were plenty of snacks and warm food. It was very intense 48 hours at maximum speed. I sincerely doubt that any athlete, regardless of the distance burned more calories at the same time.

MA: Tell a bit about the needs of this year’s edition of Kaszubska Poniewierka. How many people do we need and what tasks are waiting for volunteers?

ŁZ: This year,new challenges are facing us in connection with the launch of two additional distances. It is connected with the need to increase the composition of the team of the race office and the logistics team. This year, we will need help of around 120-130 volunteers.

We are looking for people want to help us in:
1. Race office (11th, 13th, 14th September) (10 people)
– creating race packs
– running race office, handling bib packages
2. Route service (September 14th)
– route protection (40 people)
– handling of aid stations (30 people)
– protection of the start zone (4 people)
– security at the finish zone (20 people)
3. Route control (September 11th-14th):
– route designation (11th-14th September) (6 people)
– closing the route after the last participant (14th September) (10 people)
4) Logistics (3 mobile teams) (12th-15th September) (20 people)
– Transport of goods in accordance with plan
– Start support UKP100 / KP75 / KP50

MA: What in return can expect people who support Kaszubska Poniewierka?

ŁZ: As every year, ladies from the circle of rural housewives will prepare delicious local food. In addition:
– training
– a volunteer pack with breakfast
– insurance
– t-shirt
– identifier
– positive emotions
– integration event right after finishing the race
– a certificate confirming volunteering (always issued at the request of a volunteer).

We warmly invite everyone who is interested – come to Kashubia and co-create this unique event with us!

The application form for Kashubian Poniewierka volunteers is available HERE.