Coach Mike Mead

June 2010

Road Race Management Basics

I get calls a few times each year from individuals interested in putting on a road race for some sort of a charity. These days a majority of road races are held to benefit many worthy causes. However, I’m discovering that many of these road races supporting charities are organized by folks with little or no experience in running or race management. If you consider putting on a road race or know someone who is, be sure some of the road racing basics are covered.

First of all, if you do not know anything about running off a footrace, be sure you seek out someone with race management experience and consult with them. It may cost you, but it’s well worth the investment if you plan to have a successful event.

Next you need to plan at least 12 months out from your event. I’ve had folks contact me in the past who were trying to put on a road race in less than 90 days! Not gonna happen! A well planned and organized race takes a great deal of time and the more the better. It takes time to contact and secure adequate sponsors. You need to layout a good road race course and that takes time to measure. Depending where the course runs, you may need permits and that takes time, too. You’ll need to secure timing, awards, T-shirts, volunteers and that takes time. Get the picture?

Earlier I mentioned course lay out. First you want to determine the course distance. The most common distance is 5K – 3.12 miles in length – but they are a dime a dozen. You may want to consider a longer distance like four miles, 8K (4.97 miles), 10K (6.2 miles) or longer. Keep in mind the longer you go the more volunteers you will need.

When measuring your course, get someone who knows how to do this. A rookie mistake is jumping in the car and driving the distance. BIG mistake! The course needs to be measured with either a bicycle or hand wheel that measures the shortest distance that takes the tangents into consideration. You cannot do that driving a car, nor is a car odometer that accurate. Make sure you mark each mile and make them visible for the participants on race day. Veteran runners expect each mile to be marked and a volunteer stationed at the mark yelling out the race time as they pass. Someone at the mile mark mumbling splits is useless.

When considering your course, make it safe and interesting but do not make it too difficult or you will not get repeat participants. Avoid nasty hills or dangerous traffic issues. If your course has several turns, be sure they are well marked on race day. All turns need to be marked on the ground, signs posted and a volunteer stationed at the turn. Be sure the volunteer is instructed to direct the runners in the right direction. A race director’s nightmare is having folks running off course.

Another area that gets overlooked is awards. Runners like being rewarded for their efforts. One tradition that novice race managers are unaware of is “double-dipping.” I attended a recent race where the overall runners were also awarded for winning their age group. It may have been fine if each age group ran five or 10 deep, but this event only went two deep!

When drawing up race details for your race flyer, it’s good to include the breakdown of your age groups and the number of awards for each age group and overall winners. Make potential racers aware if you award master’s (runners 40 and over) and grandmasters (50 and over) awards since these age divisions turn out the larger numbers in participants. Also, let potential participants know about awards and if you are doing random drawings. I’ve been at races where they had nice awards or neat prize drawings (like airline tickets!) but did not promote them.

So, if you still think it’s a good idea in putting on a race, be sure you plan ahead. If you do a good job, you could be on your way to putting on a popular race for a worthy cause. Just keep runners in mind!