In the case of for-profit races, maybe not. A volunteer for the “Rock-n-Roll” race series has sued the company, alleging that she should have been paid for the work that she did helping to put on the race. Read more here. Generally, races use volunteers to hand out water on the course, help to set up and clean up, hand out food after the race, etc. Competitor Group, the company that puts on- and makes a large profit from- the Rock-n-Roll series of races used a scheme by which a charity pays it to be an “Official Charity,” and then must supply volunteers to run the course. The lawsuit alleges that the company “is exploiting a volunteer labor force to avoid paying for necessary labor, a privilege not afforded for-profit companies under the Fair Labor Standards Act.”
Please keep in mind that there are many non-profit races that do in fact raise a great deal of money for charity and that do rely on volunteers to put on the race. Not-for-profit races support playgrounds, education, food banks, and other worthy causes, so don’t hesitate to volunteer for these events. However, beware of any company that solicits “volunteers” and then takes home money for itself- this can be a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage and hour laws.