Shen Valley Track Club

Advice For Organizing a Small Running Race.
Joseph D. Rudmin, January 8, 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, and 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, and weekly discuss what you are doing, and ask questions.

Essentials: 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. A small race (less than 50 runners) should be short and sweet. A small race is not effective for fund raising, and little if any publicity is needed. Charge little if anything. T-shirts are NOT necessary. Publicize the event with your local running club. Pick an easily followed route that avoids traffic. Thank the runners at the start, thank the sponsors and volunteers, indicate if the course is closed to traffic, and ask if there are questions. Provide results immediately after finishing, or not at all. It is wise to use multiple timers. But, even if your timers fail, most runners at small races will be satisfied with just order of finish. Count the finishers to check that none are lost. At the finish, provide some drinking water, bananas or apples, and a restroom. Provide a couple small awards or $5 gift cards to the top man and woman. It is better to promise little, and provide much than vice versa.

Some of the best small races I have attended have had six runners starting from the host's home, with unique personalized awards, and an impressive spread of refreshments. Since the race is small, little is expected beyond the above essentials.

Concerns: My biggest concern with a small race is runners staying on course. Provide a course map at the start. Pick a simple route with few turns, if you can. An out-and-back course usually works best. Clearly mark the turns. I use small orange traffic cones, clearly numbered with magic marker, and big arrows pointing the direction to run. I tell the runners at the start of the race that a course map is put inside each cone. It takes me about an hour to set out these cones on a course. If volunteers will direct runners, then before the race, run with volunteers over the entire course, so that the volunteers 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.

My second concern is safety and liability. Avoid crossing motor vehicle traffic if at all possible. So run the race in a park, on a running track, or on dirt roads. With few runners, it is not hard to count laps. Avoid steep downhills, rocky ground, and slippery ground. A race can be run in rain or soft snow, but I strongly suggest cancelling the race if there is any ice. If it will be hot, be sure to provide plenty of water along the course. If you run the race under the aegis of a local running club, that club can often provide affordable liability insurance coverage.

My third concern for a small race is accurate and quick finish line results. 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. For a third alternative, you can use race numbers with tear-off tags, that you collect on a clothes hanger wire. This third alternative can be more expensive, since you have to order race numbers. So, it is more appropriate for a medium-sized race. I have had very bad experiences with chip-timing for small 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.

My fourth concern for a small race is appropriate prizes. If you charge nothing, then you can award nothing, but at least loudly recognize the winning man and woman after most runners have finished. I think that it is often a good idea to provide this recognition before the slowest runners finish. I have never known late finishers to be offended at missing the awards to the top runners, but I have known early finishers to be offended by the delay. If you charge for the race, then the top awards should be at least of comparable value to the entry fee, and would do well to exceed the fee. Generally a third to a half of your entry proceeds should go toward awards. The more age divisions the better, if you have the money or merchandise. You can also have creative awards, such as best costume, or last finisher, or a drawing.


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