Organizing a Race

Organizing a race for your community, school or church can be a fun and profitable event if it’s done right. There are many details and behind-the-scenes tasks that, with a little planning, could make your race a huge success. If you’re thinking about organizing a race, time can be the most important factor. Try to give yourself between 6 to 9 months to plan and organize the event. A successful running race is a combination of many smaller efforts that come together for a fun race and overall event…and these all take time, so try not to cut your planning period too short.

Some running races have become rock-n-roll concert events, block parties, and even a kid’s carnival. Depending on what your hopes and desires are in organizing a race for your community, there are some basic planning steps, building blocks, and tips to get you started. Use the items below to help get you started:

  1. Race Timers / Managers
    One of the irreplaceable components of a good race, is a competent race timer. These organizations book-up early on, so you may need to plan around their schedule. A good race manager can cost anywhere from $200 to $500+ depending on the length of your race, the number of expected runners, and the race promotion activities. At a minimum, they should provide a finish line clock, race chute services (record place & time of runners), and race result listings by age category, gender, and overall in both electronic and hard copy formats. They should also have the capability to officially measure your course and possibly even put the distance certification package together, if you want to have a certified course length. Having a good race timer / manager is critical to your event’s success – check other local races to scout out good prospects for your race timer.
  2. The Race Committee
    Once you have a date and your race timer lined up, form your committee. Our committees usually have bi-weekly meetings to discuss sponsor, promotion, t-shirt, food, and other updates. There are so many details that go into organizing a race…make sure you have a team of people that are willing to help in the planning efforts.
  3. The Benefit
    Having a noble cause usually brings people together to support the goal. For example, if your race is going to help build an addition on the school; rehab a playground for the kids; or raise money for a charity, it’s likely to get a lot of support from the community. Organizing a race around a good cause and publicizing it will help attract runners, sponsors, and volunteers…all of which you’ll need for a successful event.
  4. Sponsors
    While the entry fee from runners helps raise money, the real foundation of the fund-raiser usually comes from the sponsors. Chances are that your race will attract many local runners from your community and it’s a great target audience for the local vendors and companies in your area. Come up with a tier of sponsorship (Example: Elite-$1,000+; Gold-$500-$999; Silver-$250-$499, etc…). Show the potential sponsors the benefits of being a sponsor: their name & logo on…500 t-shirts…5,000+ fliers…20+ posters; etc… You can also try to solicit some product samples, gift certificates, or other freebies as door prizes. Some t-shirt vendors may even give you free shirts if you allow their logo to be on the back. Some car dealerships will gladly sponsor your race if you let them be the pace car. There are many ways to “sell” your sponsorship slots. Remember: these businesses depend on your community to survive…it’s a win-win!
  5. Volunteers
    On race day, there will be many people there to run and many more that came just to cheer them on. You’re going to need help! You’ll need people to hand out the bib numbers and safety pins; people to be on the running course as marshals; people to run the water stops; people to help with the finish line and post-race food and drinks; and people to help clean-up the area when the race is over. Sometimes a free T-shirt, food and the fun of being at a lively event is enough of a draw…and sometimes you’ll really need to do some heavy recruiting! Organizing a race is a team effort - use your committee to help solicit volunteers. Try the local school and community service corps, scouts, and other groups. It’s a lot of fun…and chances are that once they volunteer for the first time…they’ll be asking to come back for next year’s race!
  6. Race Promotion
    Getting the word out for your event can be an expense…so make sure that you spend those dollars wisely. A good timer will help in managing and organizing a race (see Item #1), and he or she should also help promote your event because a successful race reflects well on them and their business. Signing up for on-line race calendars is usually free – make sure that you do it early on (4-6 months before the race). Some calendars, such as Runners World, also offer periodic promotions such as free race bags and bib numbers. Some of these bags include samples and other goodies like energy bars, pens, etc… Don’t pass up on the freebies…runners love them…and they don’t cost your race a thing. Get fliers printed to hand out at the local running stores, other area races, and for distribution amongst the schools, churches, and community gathering spots. Get a few weather-proof posters for busy intersections and the store-fronts of your sponsors. Start these efforts early to spread the word about your race
  7. City / Township Coordination
    Unless you’re lucky enough to have a race on park trails or private property, most races involve road running…and therefore road closures. A big part of organizing a race is coordinating these road closures with the local police. Make sure that you give them a local map showing exact locations where you’ll need them to drop off barricades. You could also ask if they’d be willing to have a police officer block traffic at the critical spots. The longer the race, the more spots you’ll have to block traffic, post road guards, and construct barricades. Jog the course yourself or ride your bike along the route, and get a good plan to the township a few months in advance.

Hopefully that gave you some insight into all the facets and details involved in organizing a race (& didn’t scare you off ;-). A race can be a cornerstone event for your organization or community, and while it can be a lot of work, it can be a very rewarding event that brings your community together for a good cause. Best of luck!

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