Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Process of Planning a Race Part 1

Race Planning Part 1

So, you’ve decided you want to plan a race – a 5K, 10K, or even a Half or Full Marathon? Even better, you wish for the proceeds to benefit a worthy cause? I love it! You’ve come to the right place.

Before you get started, you should know that planning a race is a LOT more work than it seems. Don’t let me dissuade you, though – it’s completely rewarding and all worth it in the end.

Here are a few things to think about in the early stages of race planning:
  • Choose your cause – why are you hosting this race? Will it benefit a certain charity or good cause? Make your cause clearly known when advertising.
  • Date – what time of year do you want to hold your race? Pick a date that’s seasonally appropriate for your area. Down south, a Half or Full isn’t a reality past March and most 5K’s/10K’s are held in the late Fall/Winter/early Spring.
  • Time – What time of day do you want to hold your race? Is it a morning run? Is it a night time run?
  • Location – does your area have a beautiful place where most races are held? Can you adopt a new route to make your race more exciting or more appealing to runners who run a lot of local races? I’ve found that throwing a new element into a race draws a bigger crowd. For example, last year (2013) was our area’s first Gleaux Run. It was also the area’s first night-time run which drew a crowd of over 800 people (that’s HUGE for our area).
  • Route – pre-measure your route and mark it off with signs to make sure runners know where to go. If you’re route is an out and back course, make sure the turnaround spot is clearly marked. This is super important – it could turn your 3.1 miler into a 4 miler in an instant...and you don’t want that to happen!
  • Approvals – you’ve picked your location, now who do you need to contact to approve your decision? For my area, I had to contact our City and the Marshall who is housed at the City offices. Also, the center where our race is being housed had to approve our route.
  • Registration – do you want your runners to register by website? Mail-in forms? We decided to go with and mail-in registration forms. It’s easier if you give people more than one option.
  • Fee – how much do you want to charge? Compare your race to other local races and see how your pricing compares. You won’t want to charge an exuberant amount if other races aren’t charging that fee. For example, we don’t give out medals to runners for 5K’s in our area, so a typical race costs around $20 or $25 dollars. Each runner receives a t-shirt.
  • Water/Electrolyte replacement during your race – if your race is a 5K or less, chances are you won’t need electrolyte replacement along the course. Make sure you have plenty of water for the race itself and also enough for runners post-race. We’ve found that water bottles are best (and if you’re supporting a worthy cause, most places are willing to donate whatever you need...all you have to do is ask!)
  • Water stops along the course – how many do you want to have? If it’s an out and back shorter course, having one stop that accommodates both sides of the road works best – we try to place the tables right past the mile 1 stop, that way runners hit it right past mile 1 and again right past mile 2. Also, be sure and include plenty of water for runners after they cross the finish line.
  • T-Shirts – call around in your area for the best pricing. In most cases, the more t-shirts ordered (the bigger the race), the less money each t-shirt will cost. Some places charge a setup fee and others don’t – be sure and ask up front.
  • Logo – do you know a graphic design artist? Can they create a logo for you? This will also help with the cost of your t-shirt company. If the t-shirt company has to build a logo for you, they will usually charge you an additional fee.
  • Volunteers – you’ll need plenty of volunteers - setup, registration, and water stops along the route.
  • MC/DJ for the event – do you want to include music while runners are waiting around for the race to begin? If so, find a DJ who will be willing to play music for your event. An MC with a good speaking voice is nice to have, too – they can make announcements for you and host your opening/closing ceremonies and awards program. Also, if your MC/DJ does not have sound equipment, you’ll need to book that as well. Make sure you have a clear script written out and send it to your MC ahead of time for review.
  • Advertisement – Facebook, word of mouth, radio, television, signs around town – all of these are great ways to spread the word about your event. One important factor is to be consistent with your Facebook page. Answer participant’s questions and keep them up to date on race happenings – this will help them feel more involved and be committed to your cause. It will also encourage them to return next year!
  • Start and Finish line – from pipes holding up a banner to balloons tied down by weights, I’ve seen it all when it comes to start and finish lines. One thing’s for certain – make sure your finish line is marked off clearly for runners to see.
  • Bibs/Timing – is this a fun run or are you going to include timing for the runners? Is each runner going to have a bib with a timing chip on it? Our area offers a timing company who comes in and takes care of the logistics for you (for a small fee). Check out your area and ask other local race directors what process they’ve used for timing/bibs.
  • Prizes – are you going to give out prizes to the top runners? How about age category prizes? It’s up to you what you want to do, but I believe you should at least include something for the top 3 male/female runners.
There you have it, a basic overview of everything it takes to make a race happen!
Have you ever been involved in race planning? What was one crucial tip that made a difference for you? Did I forget anything in my list? Can you think of anything else I need to add?


  1. I have never been involved in race planning but have volunteered at expos and on race day. It is always good to help out when you are not racing!

    1. Volunteering is great! I couldn't agree with you more! :)

  2. I was so hoping you'd put together a series like this! I'd love to plan a race sometime... it is such a wonderful way to raise money for charity!

    1. Thanks for the idea!! :)

      It's a lot of work, but oh so worth it in the end!

  3. Awesome post!!!!!!

  4. I have been helping plan the Fox Valley Marathon (in St.Charles, IL) for the last 2 years, and have ran the race in some form the last 3 years. It IS a LOT of work, but you are so right, it is SO worth it.

    1. That's awesome!! What a great way to give back! :)

  5. Wow. Great list. You covered tons of topics, good advice.


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