Tips on Organizing your First Race

Having organized a number of races from 100 to over 10,000 participants, I’ve gotten to learn a few things on organizing events. Here are some important tips to help you organize your first run.

1. Find a Venue, Secure Permissions

The first step is finding a suitable venue for the run. A number of things are important to keep in mind when looking for a venue.

  • Parking: Is there ample parking at the site for the # of planned participants you have?
  • Route: Is there a viable 5K route utilizing trails or roads (keep in mind, public road closures require further permitting, officers, and traffic control which will add to your expenses). Is the route scenic or good for runners to run through?
  • Costs: What are the costs associated with the venue? Is it an expense that the race can realistically not only break-even but make money on if you consider all the other expenses? See list of expenses here.
  • Requirements: What are the requirements to use the venue? If on public City property, often there are several requirements (e.g. minimum # of security personnel, # of portapotties, notification notices to impacted residences).

2. Have a Solid Marketing Plan

A marketing plan is equally, if not possibly more important than the venue. Often, the venue expense is dependent on the marketing plan, if you’re able to forecast enough revenue, you can secure better venues. If you’d like a more advanced guide, e-mail us here but some overview things to consider

Free marketing vs Paid Marketing: The big question is always ROI; how much money would it take to acquire a paid customer. There are free methods to reach audiences such as connecting with bloggers, PR and contacting News agencies, building content and targeting search engine keywords, and listing on free websites and publications, or marketing with daily deal companies such as Groupon and Living Social (see full article on thoughts on working with Groupon/Living Social). However, most traditional methods require a marketing expense. Popular paid outreaches include Google/Facebook/Instagram ads, news email blasts, and paid banners on high traffic websites.

The big question, you as a marketer, needs to ask is where should I invest my marketing budget for the highest ROI. We discuss that further in our advanced marketing guide you can find here. But the underlying principle to note is if you can bring out enough runners, #3 and #4 will become a lot easier. You’ll have the funds to pay for what you need.

3. Have Great volunteers

The number of paid staff required to host an event surprises many people. It’s because they don’t realize how vital volunteers are to the success of the run. I’ve seen 11,000 people runs put together by a team of 4-5 staff members with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

Generally, you’ll always want to have a base of about 30 volunteers for any sized event. As the event surpasses 1000 participants, more volunteers per station would be ideal to better service the participants. The important thing to note, however, is managing volunteers itself can be a tricky task. More volunteers doesn’t always necessarily translate to a smoother event as volunteers may often get off-track (particularly if you have high school clubs or groups coming in). We discuss methods on how to manage volunteers well and the type of volunteers to assign for particular roles in our advanced guide here.

“The Recipe for a Successful Run:
Venue & Permissions. Solid Marketing Plan.
Great Volunteers and Planned-out Logistics”

4. Plan out the logistics

The best way I can describe doing the logistics right is ensuring a list of about 300 minor but critical details are taken care of. And it simply just takes experience and mistakes learned to not redo those mistakes and ensuring the flow of the race is smooth and well done.

I would note- it’s also crucial to budget and spend money wisely as I’ve seen companies go bankrupt with millions of dollars in revenue while others with a fraction of that succeed and pay their charities generously. The million-dollar question every race director has to ask is how much do they need to spend to satisfy the majority of the participants.

5. THINK OF EVERY POSSIBLE DETAIL

A fun challenge we give to candidates wanting to organize events is planning a lemonade sale. Most people would list out the items they need with they typical: lemons, ice, water, pitcher, sugar, sign, cash box.
But what we look for are the people who go a couple steps further: the utensil to stir, where to store the ice, how often the ice needs to be replenished, the denominations of the cash, what kind of signs, how will the sign be posted, the tape for the sign, the sharpie for the sign, how will the sign be made visible, where to post the signs, how many lemons, how much sugar, what kind of help and how many people would we need, what if it rains, what kind of cups, how big the cups, sun lotion, a possible tent for visibility, chairs.

The idea is to be as detailed and thorough as possible in your planning. Think of every possible item you’ll need for your event. Believe me when I say—the less “loopholes” or what we call “fires” (things we forgot in our planning), the less stressful your day-of event will be.

In an event of 5,000 people the details become magnified. Forget to bring zip ties? A costly mistake that will not only ruin the flow of things but may ruin the entire race.

6. KNOW REALITIES VS ENVISIONING

Think a canopy will be a beautiful add-on to the lemonade sale? Try going through with the process first and putting one up. You’ll learn it needs heavy weights to weigh it down from blowing away, you’ll learn it requires 4 people to pop it up, you’ll learn it may be smaller than you what imagined.

One of the biggest failures and hard lessons I’ve had to go through was not seeing the reality of what we were trying to do. In my head, the idea seemed awesome and easy enough but when it came time to do it; the reality was a lot different than the expectation. In events, you do not want to make those mistakes.

Easiest way to overcome this is to actually do everything you wanted to do. It’s better to learn early the reality than to learn it on the day-of the event and not have an opportunity to change plans.

7. HAVE A PRIORITY LIST, SEE THE BIG PICTURE

In any given event, you’ll always run into things you may not get to particularly if you are short on time. For us, it’s vital to have a priority list; what would be okay not to have or happen and what would NOT be okay to not have or happen.

In the case of a race, our priorities are usually safety (e.g. is the course safe, are the police in place, are the cones and barricades in place, is there sufficient water).

Really, in order for you to have a priority list, you have to see your event from the big picture. Ironically, events are composed of hundreds if not thousands of little details but seeing the event from a big picture allows you to figure out what’s vital to the success of your event and what you may be able to do without.

8. DON’T PROCRASTINATE

Go through with every details that needs to be done as early as possible (as it would allow). There’s always a tendency to say, “We can do that later”. The problem with that, particularly for events, is because there’s SO much going on, you’re going to likely forget what you were planning on doing if you put it off.
If there’s an opportunity to complete a task and help move forward all the responsibilities and tasks you have, go through with it.

9. DON’T BE AFRAID TO FAIL

Last, but not least, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my years of organizing events is not to be afraid to fail. We have failed many times; some failures being minor, some being so bad, it left me depressed for weeks.

The beauty in failure is it’s arguably the quickest way one can learn. If you’re like me and never want to make the same mistakes again, you’ll inevitably learn from your failures.

I can’t promise it won’t feel good to fail; but there is an indescribable satisfaction one gets from looking back in life and seeing how they’ve grown. It’s often the failures in our lives that help us grow. It’s not to say look for failures but if it happens, embrace the opportunity to grow and you’ll look back one day and be grateful.

We hope your events will be immeasurably successful. We believe every experience helps shape people; and we truly want people to be shaped in a positive way through a great experience you put on in your next event.