Shen Valley Track Club

Advice For Organizing a Medium-Sized Running Race.
Joseph D. Rudmin, January 7, 2011.


Context: I have frequently run in 5K races since 1983 and I am a member of two local running organizations. I have organized and hosted two small races, and helped with many races, including a few medium size ones. I have never been a professional race organizer. A more experienced race director may have better advice than what I provide here. If you do not have experience organizing a race, find someone who does have that experience, ask questions, and weekly tell him what you are doing. You will likely find such a person in your local running organization. As with any project, keep a lab book, in ink, with a table of contents, to record your successes, failures, and contact information, so that you can build on your experience, and pass it on to your successors.

Financials: A medium race (50 to 500 runners) should be well organized, theme focussed, and locally publicized. A medium race can be effective for moderate fund-raising, if it is well publicized and has a popular benefit. So, the benefit should be chosen carefully and described clearly, and publicity should be appropriately targeted. Charge a fee comparable to similar nearby races, and offer sponsorship to local businesses. Many of those businesses have a monthly marketing budget, so it is best to ask early in any month for sponsorships and donations, and it is best to ask several months in advance. Those donations often include gift certificates for awards and free product, such as water, bananas, and bagels, which can be used as refereshments after the race. About a third to half of the registration receipts should go to race awards, and half the receipts should go to the local running organization, in exchange for liability insurance coverage, advice, publicity, and volunteer support. So, the business sponsorships and donations can significantly augment returns. To help with early cash flow, and to gage the effectiveness of publicity, a non-refundable discounted registration fee of about 25% should be offered for preregistrations. On race day, there should be a separate line to service preregistrations. The advice from the running organization should be followed, for both practical and political reasons. If a fee is charged, then race T-shirts, mugs, or some similar commemorative item should be given to runners. The cost of this item should be covered by the donated business sponsorships, or the race organizers, so that the race registration fees go entirely to the benefit. Otherwise, the race may be legally regarded a for-profit event, and therefore be subject to taxes and other numerous regulations.

Publicity: At a minimum, notify the local running organization about the race a few months in advance, or even a week in advance. If the organizers seem reasonably well prepared, the running organization will notify its members by email, website, and newsletter. For effective targeted publicity, create a flyer and distribute it to runners at other local races. The flyer should show the race's location, length, date, time, registration fee, beneficiary, and contact information, and include a registration form. One can also list awards, and a website or radio station that will announce cancellation in event of adverse weather, such as thunderstorm or significant ice on the course. The registration form should tell to whom to write checks, and where to mail the form, and include the liability waiver and participation agreement. You can also create your own website to show the same information as that on the race flyer, and maybe even allow registration over the web.

Registration venue: To shelter the crowd, the registration and awards should be held in a public facility, such as a park shelter, or a school gymnasium. Therefore, the race will likely cross roads. So, the race director should notify the local police department about the race a few months in advance, and expect to pay for police assistance at every traffic light, and other major road crossings. Non-police volunteers should direct runners at every minor road crossing. Pick an easily followed route that avoids traffic as much as possible. Clearly mark the turns with signs, or arrows on traffic cones, or chalk markings on the road. If the course is well chosen, and the number of preregistrants large enough, police might be willing to close the course to traffic. If the race course is closed to motor traffic, then the race directors should notify locally newspapers and radio stations, so that those closings can be publicized a few days in advance.

Volunteers: The number of volunteers needed for a medium-sized race depends on its length and the complexity of the course. The volunteer who starts the race should thank the runners at the start, thank the sponsors and volunteers, briefly desribe the race course with its major road crossings and water stops, indicate if the course is closed to traffic, and ask if there are questions. Most races have about 1 water stop every 3 miles: A 10K race typically has 1 water stop at the half-way point, and water at the end, in addition to restrooms, bananas, apples, quartered oranges, and bagels at the end. Any leftover fruit that is cut will likely be wasted, so cut less than you expect to be consumed. Ask a volunteer on a bicycle to lead the front runner, and another on a bicycle or in a van to follow the rear runner. Alternatively, a volunteer stationed about half a mile from the finish can wait a significant time after the rear runner, and then run to the finish to report that the race is over. Before the race, run over the entire course with the volunteers who will direct the runners, so that they see the route run. You can drop off the volunteers as you proceed. Misinformed volunteers misdirect runners at about half of the races I run in. They have perfect confidence in their imperfect knowledge. A finish line chute can be made of a couple rows of traffic cones, each topped with a PVC tubing T-joint, and a rope passing through the T-joints. At a minimum, the finish line chute needs a volunteer to direct racers into the chute and others away from the chute, a timer, and a volunteer to record order of finishers. It is wise to use multiple timers, and multiple volunteers for every position, if they are available. But, even if timers fail, at least provide order of finish. Before the race, discuss with the timers and those collecting tags how to handle corrections such as unregistered finishers entering the chute, and accidental times recorded, if the timer uses a printer.

Results and Awards: Offer awards for order of finish by age group, and offer some awards by random drawing. You can also have creative awards, such as best costume, or last finisher. The awards for the first runner of each age group should be comparable to the entry fee for the race, and the award for the first man and woman overall should be significantly larger. In my experience, one of the most resilient finish line techniques, which gives results even before the race is over, is a results board to which one tapes the finish line tags torn from runners' race numbers. One volunteer collects the tags on a hanger at the finish line chute, and then hands the hanger to a volunteer who posts the tags on the results board. The results board should have a separate column for each age group. Each tag should show the runner's name and age group. In most races in my experience, at least one runner is misassigned to an age group. A correction can be made quickly and easily on a results board. Since some people have sloppy hand writing, a race volunteer with legible handwriting should write the names on tags before the race. The Shenandoah Valley Track Club's race board is a 4'x8' sheet of plywood.

Computer Results: As an alternative to a results board, I have written some timer programs that can be used with runner names or numbers. Those programs with instructions are posted on this website. They make compiling results convenient. Alternatively, you can hand out numbered popsicle sticks or numbered note cards, and ask finishers to report their names to a finish line official. I have had very bad experiences with chip-timing for small and medium races. This method is very expensive, and results have usually been non-existent or delayed many hours. Delayed results is the surest way to kill a race, and make sure it is never attended again. I would consider chip-timing only for races with more than 300 runners.


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