Race Wisdom

Avoid race-day disasters by following these tried-and-true-practices.

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Pre Race

Goals and Commitment

Be clear on your objectives for putting on the event.  Raising money for a charity, exposure for sponsors, the desire to provide a service to the running and walking community, etc.  You need to understand the commitment demanded to make your event successful, and decide if you and your team are ready to make the necessary sacrifices.  If you are not committed enough to make the event outstanding, then it will benefit no one.

The key to any event is to make it beneficial for everyone involved.  This includes participants, volunteers, sponsors, charities, and especially race committees.  Ask yourself, “Why will someone come to my event when there are so many to choose from?” Decide to whom you intend to appeal and how best to reach and satisfy those individuals.

Coordinating Team

It is crucial to organize a team of coordinators and divide responsibilities.  Make sure your coordinators are committed or you will end up doing everything yourself.  Delegate responsibilities depending on individual strengths.  Examples of areas to cover are sponsorship, race applications, T-shirts, course set up, volunteers, food, finish line, awards, marketing, entertainment, etc.

Practical Experience

Talk with other race directors to get idea of what to expect.  Make sure you are going into this with your eyes open.


Fixed Costs

·         Race Applications, type setting and printing

·         Marketing

·         Mailing, labels and postage

·         Awards and prizes

·         Tents and tables

·         T-shirts, artwork and design

·         Police and ambulance

·         Barricades and cones

·         Music

·         Insurance

·         Banners

Variable Costs

·         Bathrooms (1 per 75-100 participants)

·         T-shirts, blanks and printing

·         Computerized results

·         Mailing entries and results

·         Race numbers and pins


When soliciting sponsors, always ask yourself what you can provide for the sponsor.  There are not many sponsors who are just looking for a tax write-off.  The more you can do for a sponsor, the more you will be able to receive in return.  Without sponsorship, many races would not exist for very few could break even on entry fees alone.  The best thing you can do for a sponsor is to give them great exposure and identification with a consistently great event.  Make sure you are clear with your sponsors on what you will do for them and what they can expect in return.  Set up a way of recognizing sponsors depending on the level of their contribution. 

Don’t put off sponsorship until shortly before the event. Furthermore, don’t neglect the importance of a media sponsor.  They can help to publicize your event.  In addition, they can make your event more appealing to other sponsors.


It’s all, as they say, in the location.

·         Plenty of convenient parking

·         Easy access

·         Plenty of room for start, finish, registration, and refreshments

·         Clean, appealing areaCourse

Design a course that runners will enjoy.  Consider scenery, traffic, and turns.  Consider, also, the accessibility of you course to your volunteers.  It can be helpful to travel to other events and observe their courses.


Decide whom you are trying to target.  The shorter the distance, the more people that can participate.  Several things to consider:

  • 5K’s bring out the greatest numbers.  In addition, you are most likely to get the casual runners and families.
  • There are a great many road 5K’s now.  A simple way to make your event unique is to offer a different distance or different surface.
  • The downside to offering a longer distance is that it places a greater demand on your course and aid stations.


Always consider early registration deadlines.  This will allow you to better plan and project numbers, t-shirts, bathrooms, etc.  A recent option gaining in popularity is that of online registration.

Entry Fees

Look at what other events are charging and giving in return.  The price you charge should reflect the value received by your participants.  The more value you give, the greater you can expect your future return to be.  The price breaks for early registration should be substantial enough to highly encourage early registrants, but not so high as to discourage late registration.


Decide what you can afford to spend and how best to promote given your budget.  Be creative and know your target market.  It is very helpful to have your application or other promotional material out as soon as possible.  Take these materials to as many events and locations as possible.  It is very helpful to have an experienced marketing person that knows the ropes on your race committee.


Most runners have more than enough t-shirts, so they probably do not need another mediocre T-shirt.  Be creative and put a lot of effort into doing a great T-shirt.  This can be a big part of bringing participants and sponsors back to your event.  A great T-shirt can be a great advertisement for your event.  You need to find a balance on design in which you recognize sponsors, but do it in a tasteful manner and not one that looks like another billboard.


Decide how much you can spend and try to be creative.  You may be able to get a sponsor to donate some awards.  Weigh out carefully how important awards are to your event and commit your budget accordingly.

Race Day

Pre Race

Meet with your race committee 2-3 hours prior to the race or the evening before.  Have maps and lists of assignments for volunteers.  Be specific about where they are to go, and what their duties will be.

Set Up: Put up tents, tables, any banners, and refreshment areas.  Prepare parking areas and bathrooms the day before, if possible.  (Make sure to have plenty of toilet paper.)

Mark the course: Mark all turns and set up mile markers.  This should be done before runners even begin to arrive.  Never assume runners will know where to turn.

Parking:  Have a key group that has met prior to race day to make sure that parking goes smoothly, or you can have major problems.

Registration and packet pick-up: Find key people that are organized and able to handle a crowd.  Experienced people can be a big help.  Registration has the potential to be a major problem if not well planned out.

Volunteer Coordinator

Volunteers are one of the keys to a great event.  Make sure to take care of them.  One person should be stationed to direct and answer any volunteer questions.  Make sure that all volunteers know who this person is and where they will be.


Set up food so that it is contained so that people don’t hoard food, yet make sure that the area does not jam up.  Keep the food fresh and present it well.  Make sure to save some food for those at the back of the pack, or you will be neglecting some deserving people.  When considering food selection and set up remember to consider ease of consumption and clean up, as well taste appeal.


Plan about 1 bathroom for every 100 participants.  Make sure to have plenty of toilet paper.


Someone should be present to take pictures. They can be very helpful in promoting subsequent events.  Give photographers ideas of where they might get the best pictures.


Make sure to have plenty of water and cups on the course and at the finish.  Set this up before the race.  It can ruin a race and create a major health risk if there is not enough water available.  Make sure water station volunteers know how to hand water to faster runners.  Put trashcans down course from the water station to make clean up easier.

Split Timers

Have a person in charge of getting timers to mile stations once the race has started.  Make sure timers are enthusiastic and loud when they yell out times.


Test music and sound system prior to the race.  A good sound system and music can really enhance an event.  In addition, it makes it easier to provide announcements to your participants.

Lead Vehicle

Make sure the lead driver is positive of the course.  A wrong turn has damaged many a race.

Race Start

Make sure that you have communicated with coordinators and everything is set to go.  It is always advisable to have someone drive the course just beforehand to make sure that everything and everyone is ready.  Precede the start with regular announcements leading up to start time: 20 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes until the start.  Mention water and aid stations, weather and traffic precautions, finish procedures, etc.  Confirm that timers and lead vehicle are ready, and then proceed with the start.  If there is a walk event, decide whether to start simultaneously or a few minutes later.

Banners, Signs, and Clock

It is nice to have a large clock at the finish, as well as nice looking banners at the start and finish.  It is helpful, too, to have signs labeling your mile splits.  These things help to make the event look professional, as well as aid runners in finding the different areas of your course.

Traffic Control

Have a map of your traffic control assignments and make sure that all of your volunteers understand their responsibilities.  Always err on the side of extra volunteers for traffic control. Try to anticipate any area where cars and runners could meet.  It is a good idea to use vest and/or flags.  Make sure that everyone has a way out to their post and a way to get back.

Maps and Volunteer Lists

It is always helpful to have course maps, parking maps, finish line layouts and a list of volunteers and their positions.

Finish Line

This is probably the easiest place to really ruin a race.  It is critical to map out your finish line plan carefully and to have some experienced people working at the finish.  You may want to hire a professional finish line company.  If you do hire someone, make sure to find out whether he or she will staff the finish, or whether you will need to.  Always make sure to use plenty of backups such as tic sheets or video.  Your finish line set up will depend on how many participants you have as well as the event distance.

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