The First Time
There’s been an explosion in the number of races on the calendar in recent years. Everyone it seems fancies themselves as a race organiser. And why not? If you have a good idea, can find a suitable course and have the resources to make it happen then it can be a rewarding venture.
However there’s a lot of competition out there and participants are seeking a higher quality experience so it’s not for the faint-hearted or ill prepared. On a positive note, if you do stage an event successfully, there are many benefits - an enjoyable occasion that brings your community or group together, great profile for your club or charity and a boost to funds that is always welcome.
So what are the key things you have to get right find yourself on the runABC shortlist for race of the year!
The Big Idea
The starting point is having the motivation to arrange an event; the desire to stage a club event or raise funds for a good cause or do something that is commercially viable. With that in place you then need the inspiration to be able to produce an event that will capture the public’s imagination and attract a large enough entry to cover costs and hopefully leave a surplus. Trail races and obstacle events are growing in popularity as organisers look to create something that is different from the more regular 5 and 10ks. The phenomenal growth of parkrun has meant that it is now more difficult to build something around that short, convenient distance. An interesting course, either in an urban or a rural setting, is always a winner and good start/finish facilities are important too.
Ok, you come up with an event idea so how do you make it happen. The course is the first key decision. A convenient and easily accessible route is the goal, possibly one that has been used previously for races. However the more popular and centrally located your intended course the greater likelihood of competition for use and conditions attached to permissions. Often there are critical numbers beyond which point conditions become more stringent. So decide early about your maximum field. It might be wise to err on the side of caution in your first year and take the opportunity to ‘trial’ things for future years.
What Resources Do You Need?
Clubs, groups and charities are well placed to recruit volunteers both in the run-up to an event and on race day itself. Decide early on the tasks that have to be carried out, and delegate. Someone to finalise the route and decide how it is to be marked and marshalled, someone to handle the arrangements at the start and, more significantly, the finish. How are your going to time your runners? It might be a smart move to find someone with experience in this area or to get advice from other local race organisers. Drink stations will be required for all but the shortest races and runners will be expecting refreshments post-race if not a full-blown goody bag. What you offer will depend on your entry fee and how successful you have been in attracting sponsors.
Partners And Sponsors
Finding sponsors can make a big difference. Contact your local leisure centre and your local specialist running retailer. Ask any contacts you have to see if you can find a decision-maker at a local company that might be interested in being associated with your event. Support might be financial but it is more likely to come ‘in kind’, but 500 bottles of water will be very welcome. Local sports stores are often geared up to help with things like race numbers and start/finish signs.
Letting The World Know
Publicity is everything. Try and find someone with a PR/marketing background to help you to formulate a promotional plan. You’ll need to have a good website presence, backed up by social media, which may be linked to online entry, not as complex as it first appears and a great way of bringing in cash in advance of race day. If you are planning a bigger event in excess of 200/300 it might be worthwhile working with a specialist company like StuWeb or Entry Central.
Don’t dismiss tried and trusted promotional tricks like flyers - hand them out at other races or make them available at your local running shop - or simple telephone contact - a call to Jack at Smalltown Striders might bring a visiting party. And a local newspaper story could be a real boon - provide them with some snappy text and a good photo, that might swing it.
On The Day
Sound planning means that race day should run smoothly but always build in a little contingency - have a few extra volunteers ready to fill in for a ‘no-show’. Have a full list of mobile numbers for your team to ensure smooth communications throughout the day. Have first-aid arrangements in place, there are always casualties and have a plan in place for a genuine emergency. A clear chain of command is important, we’re not suggesting a dictatorial approach but your volunteers will want to know who’s calling the shots.
A well-organised finish with runners efficiently funnelled away from the line is important. A worthwhile goody bag will win you plaudits as will post-race hospitality and an efficient prize-giving. If it’s possible offer your runners a race T-shirt. In 2017 it really has to be a technical tee but remember all the free publicity you’re going to get!
Invite your sponsors and make them feel part of the occasion. If they enjoy their day they are more likely to offer continued support. Runners are always looking for the results - make sure they are available online as soon as possible.
Even with the best of planning, some things will have worked out better than others. The actual event will throw up lots of comment. ‘How will we cope with that bottleneck at Mile 3 next year?’ ‘Can we increase the capacity - we had to turn away 30 runners on the day.’ ‘We ran out of medium tees before the end.’ and so on. It’s worthwhile to evaluate all the feedback and to act to improve your event for the next time.
Saying ‘thank you’ is crucial. Contact all of your supporters/partners/sponsors with a message of thanks describing how their contribution had made a difference. Look to reward your volunteers - a gift, a special night out? It’s nice to be nice, and it’s smart too. Sustaining good relations means you can go back to people and tell them about next year’s bigger and better event.