It usually goes like this. “We need to raise some money for (insert worthy cause here)” said person number one. “I know, let’s have a 5k race” said person number two. Now they’re in the danger zone. It looks so easy. Pick a day, pick a route and put out some flyers. How hard can it be? As a race director for almost 30 years, my first thought is to scream out NO!!! DON’T DO IT! But as a runner who loves to do races, I say bring it on. Just know what you are getting into. So for any first timers out there, I will throw out a little advice. This is all based on my mistakes made over the years in the hopes that you can avoid them. I was the race director for the Carnation Triathlon and am now the director for the Alliance Rotary Castle Run. Lots of fun but a huge amount of work.
- Know why you want to put on a race. Are you trying to raise money? Are you part of a community festival that doesn’t have to make money but just wants to have a race as part of the celebration? Are you in charge of a group trying to promote fitness and a race at the end is the ultimate goal? Knowing why you want to do it, makes all future decisions much easier.
- Get permission. Didn’t know you had to do that? Well you do if you are using property that’s not your own. Running on a street falls under the jurisdiction of the local governing body whether it is city, township or county. In my case, the Castle Run has to have permission from the safety service director in Alliance. They have been great to us but make sure you contact your officials first. Tell them what you want to do, when you want to do it and have a route in mind.
- What kind of a race? There are more 5k’s out there than you can count but mainly because that is a popular distance and at just over 3 miles it’s not too much to watch over. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you might consider a different distance such as a 10k or 15k or 4.37 miles. Yes it doesn’t have to be an even number. Sometimes it can be cool to make it a race between two landmarks or a loop around some area or out and back to something. Want an easy distance that almost nobody does? Try a 1 mile race. There are a lot of people out there who want to see what they can do and it doesn’t hurt for very long. So distance is one factor. Surface is another factor. Run on streets or trail or cross country or a combination? It’s up to you. For longer races, do you want to allow relays? Or maybe it should be all relays and no individuals. You are the director and it’s your rules. What time of day? Most races are bright and early. Some are at night. In hot weather you want to avoid mid-day temperatures. Is it all running or do you want to have a walking category? Or do you want to make it multi-sport and do swimming, cycling, canoeing or kayaking, or skipping or hopping? I haven’t seen the last two and I don’t think they will catch on but who knows?
- Now, you have decided on what kind of a race you want, let’s pick out a route. This is important. First rule: don’t cross a drawbridge. If a boat is coming, that bridge is going up and anyone who hasn’t crossed it yet is going to get to rest for a while. Yes this has happened. Luckily not to me as we don’t have any drawbridges in our area but it’s not conducive to making for happy runners. Rule number two: avoid crossing train tracks for reasons very similar to the ban on crossing drawbridges. Rule number three: try not to cross major highways. It can be done but unless you have a really big race that does great things for the community, your local law enforcement agencies and the non-runners in the area greatly appreciate not having their routine interrupted by a bunch of stupid people out running down the street while the unhappy drivers are being held up by the cop (who would rather be home). Now if your race becomes an iconic event, then sometimes it can be cool to shut down the main drag in town, like for the 5th Avenue Mile in New York City. How cool is that to be running straight down 5th Avenue without dodging cars?
- When to have your race? Typical weather patterns are a factor. I will not be signing up for a half marathon in South Alabama in July. On the other hand, Fargo ND is not ideal for a race in January. Just think it through as to when you would like to be running in your area. What day of the year is the next as to when. If you can pick a date that is all your own, that’s awesome. Look at race calendars for your area and see what other races are out there and try not to pick matching dates. The Castle Run is every Labor Day. It’s easy to remember, most people aren’t working that day. So, there are a lot of runners and volunteers available. More on volunteers later.
- Last in the concept phase is to decide if you are having a top notch race with all the bells and whistles and the accompanying price tag, or a bare bones no frills race with the low entry fee? Neither is right or wrong. Both have their disciples. Each has its challenges. If you want to attract sponsors, the glitzy high profile race is more likely to draw sponsor fees. Another way to attract sponsors is to benefit the right charity if you are raising money for a cause.
- The last topic for this edition is raising money via a race. GET SPONSORS! The only way to raise vast amounts of money is to get it from sponsors. Participant’s entry fees will hopefully cover the cost of putting on the race but that is it. And there are lots of costs depending on just how glitzy or bare bones you decide to go. Awards: decide how many, what age groups, finisher medals or just performance based awards and ALWAYS HAVE SEPARATE AWARDS FOR MALES AND FEMALES. 57% of road racers are now female. Don’t make them fight with the guys for awards. Yes I have had my ass kicked many times by girls but for the most part it’s an unfair fight. So give the girls their own category. Apparel giveaways: most races do t-shirts. These can be cheap cotton or a tech shirt, short or long sleeved. We used to do long sleeved but it wasn’t until we switched to short sleeves that I saw a lot of people wearing Castle Run shirts in town or at the gym. Now we also use hats as an option. Some bigger races will even do sweatshirts or jackets. If you are going the bare bones route, you don’t even have to do t-shirts. Most runners have more t-shirts than they can ever use so many would prefer not to pay for one and race at a discount.
- Post race food: Always have water. If you have nothing else, make sure you still have water. This is more than comfort. This is safety. As far as other things go, let your imagination be your guide. At the 4th of July race in North Canton, we were given a mini-Italian dinner by Carrabba’s who was a race sponsor. Most races will have some fruit and other miscellaneous items but post race food is a chance to make your race memorable.
- Results: Make sure results are available relatively quickly. Almost everyone wants to know how they did. Not just their own time but deep down they all want to know how they stack up against their peers. Don’t let little Miss “Oh I’m not racing, I’m just here to enjoy it” fool you. She wants to kick some ass even if she doesn’t admit it to herself. So have a timer and a way of posting results. Online is the best. If you announce awards after the race, which you should, do it quickly and don’t drag it out. People want to get home.
- Safety: Last but most important is safety. It doesn’t matter how much money you raised or how many participants you attracted. If someone goes down in your race and you can’t fix it. Your race is an unqualified disaster. We did have a participant experience a mild heart attack in the Carnation Triathlon many years ago. Luckily we had an ambulance crew on standby and our gentleman who was in his late 50’s recovered quickly after a short hospital stay. This is why the race director should never ever ever run in their own race. You have to be available for whatever unexpected event pops up. You can have the best crew ever of volunteers and you need a lot of volunteers, but you still need to be available instead of out at mile 7.
So if all of this hasn’t scared you off, get online and download a race director’s checklist. Runner’s World has a nice one but there are lots out there. Let me know when your race is. I just might like to try it.
Keep running my friends!