Steps on Directing a Race
Choosing A Course: Plan and measure your course carefully. Whether the course is an out-and-back or a loop, choose a course that is easy for you to direct, and safe for the runners. The considerations in designing a good course are safety of runners, legal liability, and distance accuracy.
A safe course is free of traffic or has good traffic control. For trail runs, a safe course should be well marked and should not include any dangerous sections. Regardless of race type, make sure to put a legal disclaimer on your application form and buy some kind of event insurance.
A legal course is one that has been approved by any authority that has jurisdiction over the course. Make sure you contact the appropriate local government body and find out what you need to do for approval.
Make sure the course is accurately measured. Do not use a car to measure a course. The odometer is too inaccurate. You can use the car to "rough out" the course, but you must measure it more accurately. Three methods for measuring a course are a measuring wheel, an accurately calibrated bicycle odometer, or a GPS tracking device.
Setting The Race Date
Setting the date and time of a race can have a big effect on how many people will show up. In general, you want to pick a time of year when the weather is nice, when a lot of people will be around, and when they won't all be doing something else.
Date and Time: You should usually pick a Saturday or Sunday morning. Most times of the year, 9:00 a.m. is an ideal race start time. It's not too early, but it gives plenty of time for people to do other things later in the day. During the colder months, you might want to start your race later in the day to give things a chance to warm up. An evening race during the summer can also work. Other possibilities for race days are the mornings of floating holidays (e.g. Independence, Labor Day, etc). Thanksgiving or the day after can also work, though the weather is getting "iffy" by then and many people are with family out of town.
Weather: From a weather standpoint, The ideal times of year for running are late Spring, late Summer, and Fall. This would be the months of April, May, and September through mid-November. Temperatures are mild, humidity is low, and most courses are snow and ice free.
Conflicts: You should try to pick your race date so that it does not conflict with another major event that could draw away your runners. This means first that you should not "step on the toes" of other races. There are numerous races that are run every year. Some of them soak up most of the available local runners, and so it would be a mistake to try to run your race on the same day. Another thing that will draw runners away from your event is a University of Illinois home football game. If possible, avoid the whole weekend, but certainly avoid game time and the entire tailgate period beforehand.
Continuity: Don't make big changes to the date of your race from year to year. If your race was on the first Saturday in November last year, try to keep it that same weekend, or one very close to it on the calendar, unless you have a very good reason to change it.
To get runners to show up at your race, you have to design an attractive race and you have to publicize it.
Designing An Attractive Race: An attractive race is a race that draws runners either because the race has a great course, because it's a little challenging or unusual, or is associated with a worthy cause. If you are directing a charity event, make the charity a prominent part of your race promotion.
Publicity: It is important to get the word out about the race in as many places as possible. Within two months of your race date, you should start posting information and leaving applications around town. Many of the most effective places to announce the race will run the information for free; such as, the Second Wind Race Calendar or the News Gazette, but there may be space limitations. Include the name of the race, its date, time, place, charitable beneficiary, directions for registering, and contact information.
Registration Table: At the registration table you will need plenty of blank applications for race day registrants. Have enough pens for your volunteers and registering runners to use. Have race numbers or other means of identifying the runners. Race numbers can be bought at many running supply companies. The removable bottom strip on a race number identifies a runner and is removed at the finish line. It should be filled out at the registration table (or before the race for pre-registered runners). These numbered strips can be posted on a tally board to help determine winners, age group winners, etc. Make up a ruled tally board before the race and get some two-sided tape with which to post the race number strips. You can also hire Second Wind to provide computerized finish line results. Have plenty of safety pins with which to attach the race numbers to runner's clothing. You should have some thin-line indelible markers (e.g. "Sharpies") with which to fill out the information on the pull off strip of the numbers, especially if the weather is damp. Have some change for runners who are paying their fee with cash. Have a map or course description available at or near the registration table.
For The Runners: Runners like to have race numbers and a commemorative give-away (t-shirts are the most common) as a souvenir of the race. You should provide water or sports drink on the course. This is especially true during warm weather months. The drink should be offered to the runners in paper cups. Have plenty pre-poured and placed on a table for volunteers to hand out as the runners approach. A good rule of thumb is that there should be one water stop for every two-three miles of the race. On hot days, some race directors will station a volunteer with a hose set to 'mist' runners as they pass. This volunteer should be instructed only to mist one side of the road so that runners who do not wish to be sprayed can avoid it.
Course: If you don't have enough volunteers to staff every turn in the course, you should post signs at all turns. Prepare large, bright signs and post the signs where they are breathtakingly obvious.
Finish Line: The finish line should be prominently marked and the official race clock should be placed there. A clock and finish chute can be rented from Second Wind. The purpose of the chute is to keep runners in their finishing order while they are being processed by your finish line volunteers. The chute consists of a rope/flag border about 6 ft. wide and long enough to accommodate the maximum number of runners you think will be finishing within any 1 minute period in your race.
Commemorative Give-Aways: Most races provide some kind of commemorative give-away to all runners who enter. Most often, the give-away is a T-shirt. This can be the biggest expense so you may want to control costs by limiting the number of T-shirts you will give away. Put a statement on your race application like "T-Shirts guaranteed to the first X entries". Make 'X' big enough to accommodate your expectation of the number of runners likely to participate. Limiting the number of shirts you print also lets you avoid the cost and trouble of having more T-shirts printed after the race and delivering them. Start with a plain, short-sleeve shirt with a one-color silkscreen. If your race is successful, you can move up to a colored shirt with multi-colored screens, or a long-sleeve T-shirt for Fall races.
You can also break the mold with race give-aways. Possibilities include tank-tops, hats, sweat bands, and even plush towels.
Promotional Give-Aways: Some sponsors will give you items to place in runners packets, including advertising flyers, coupons, product samples, etc. Offering to do this for a potential sponsor is often a way to get prize donations. Directors of other races will also ask you to place race applications for their races into race packets, or to make their race applications available at your registration table.
Post Race: After even a 5K race, runners are thirsty and probably hungry. Provide water and sports drink. You can also provide fruit (bananas, cut oranges), bagels slice in half, or cookies. You can often find a sponsor who will donate food to a charity race. Some local grocery stores give store gift cards to charities. You can use these to buy whatever food you need for the race.
Prizes: Prizes are a draw for some of the better runners. They can also be a major cost of directing a race. Most local races offer medallions for at least the top three male and female runners in each 5 or 10 year age group. Door prizes of gift certificates or merchandise are another way to attract runner.
Sponsorship can make the difference between a race that just covers its cost and one that will make some money. If you are planning a race to benefit some charity, you should get as many sponsors as possible. Some sponsors will give you a cash donation. This can be used to cover the cost of T-shirts, race numbers, refreshments, and other race overhead. Some sponsors will donate prizes or things you can use during the race. For example, you can often get water donated to you. Many supermarkets will donate gift cards which you can either use as prizes or use to buy food for post race snacks.
Try to estimate how many volunteers you will need and get them lined up before your race. Volunteers can be useful in helping you get sponsors. If you are directing a large race, you should consider finding volunteers to help you stuff race packets before the race.
You will need plenty of help on race day. A rough outline of the volunteers you will need for race day for a small to medium size race (50-200 runners) is: registration table (3 or more), finish line (3 or more), unmarked course turns (1 per turn), mile markers (depends on how long your course is), finish tabulation (2 or more). Registration table volunteers can often do double duty during and after the races. You should have plenty of volunteers to act as course marshals to direct runners along the course. Runners appreciate having a person at the mile marks reading off times. At minimum, have a place marker at each mile so that runners can look at their watches at the appropriate points.
Once you have planned and measured your course, lined up your sponsors, taken care of shirts, prizes, and convinced a few people to run your race, you will want it to go smoothly. This means you should try to make everything work well, from the registration table to the awards ceremony.
Here are some tips:
The Night Before: Try to get enough sleep the night before your race. Try to get as much set up as possible before hand, including stuffing race packets, placing course markings, finding pens, change, etc.
Volunteers: Give yourself plenty of time to explain to each volunteer what his or her duties are. Try to circumscribe each volunteer's duty as much as possible.
Registration Table: Have plenty of race applications, pens, and a good starting pool of change. Try to have a map or description of the course available at the registration table. Stop by the table from time to time to help answer questions that the volunteers or runners might have.
Communications: If your event is large, and especially if you have volunteers stationed over a wide area, it might be a good idea to rent or borrow some walkie-talkies.
Starting Line: Use a bullhorn to give the starting instructions to runners Keep your starting instructions brief. Do not try to explain the entire course at this point. Give only important safety related instructions, or things the runners must know about within a few hundred yards of the start. If you are using a lead car or bike, point it out to the runners. Give clear instructions about your starting commands. Use something loud to start the runners, like a starting gun or bull horn squawk. Finally, start on time, but never early.
Course Marshals: A course marshal is someone who makes sure that runners go the right way, that the last runners find their way back, and that no one cheats (though this is generally not a problem). Most marshals are stationed at turns in the course to direct runners. You can decrease the number of marshals you might need by using a lead car or bike. Make sure the driver or rider knows the course! Course marshals should keep an eye out for stragglers so that they can help you determine when all runners have finished and if runners have gotten lost. The lead car can also circle back after the leaders have finished to scoop up people who might be too tired to finish the race.
Timers: The timekeeper at your finish line is the most important timer. Make sure that person knows how to use the timekeeping equipment. If your starting and finish lines are at different locations, make sure that the finish line timer knows when the gun goes off. Use of a walkie-talkie or cell phone may be necessary. Other timekeepers along the race route are appreciated by runners. If you have enough volunteers, station someone at each mile mark to read off times to the runners as they go by. If you cannot spare volunteers for this duty, at least make sure that the miles are clearly and accurately marked.
Finish Line Help: You should have at least a few volunteers other than the timer stationed at the finish line. When runners arrive in clumps, it is the timer's job to determine the finishing order. The other volunteers keep the runners in order and moving through the finishing chute while removing the tags from the bottom of their race numbers or otherwise noting their names and finishing order. If you are using race numbers, the pull-off strips generally have some holes in them. Fashion a long symmetric hook out of a metal clothes hangar and use it to keep track of finishing order by threading the holes of the numbered strips onto the hook in finish order. Impress on the finish line help the importance of keeping the finish order and of not dropping the numbers! When a number of finishers have accumulated, a volunteer can tape the strips onto the tally board. Go to Race Support for information on services provided by Second Wind.
Tabulation: Once some finishers have accumulated, you should start tallying results. You should strive to get the results completed as quickly as possible while maintaining the accuracy of the awards. It's probably a good idea to keep the tally board away from the runners who are awaiting the results of the race. They can get in your way as you try to determine category awards. Give them some food to keep them happy while you and your volunteers compile the results. If your are using runner numbers, have a volunteer write the finishing times on the pull strips on the tally board for each runner. If you are using a data base program, make sure your runner number, finish order, and time entries are accurate so that the computer can sort properly. Start compiling the list of award winners as early as possible. Write out the overall winners and category winners on a separate sheet to help the awards ceremony go smoothly.
Awards Ceremony: You should strive to have your awards ceremony within a short time after you have stopped timing the race. Start the awards ceremony by thanking all your runners for coming. Next, thank all of your sponsors and encourage the runners to patronize them. While waiting for the awards to be compiled, you can give out the door prizes. Next, give the overall winners' awards first and mention their times. For category awards, give the awards for both sexes in each category, rather than going through all the categories for one sex before going to the other. You should strive to deliver awards to the overall winners if they cannot attend the awards ceremony. Wrap up the ceremony by asking the participants to spread the word about your race for next year.
After The Race
Clean-up: Make sure you go through your venue and course and clean up after the race. This will assure that you will be allowed to use it again next year!
Results: Runners like to see their race results published. Try to have this done as soon as possible after the race. Compile the results in a plain text computer file and email to the News Gazette.
Thank-You notes: Send thank-you notes to sponsors. Try to give some kind of acknowledgement (race T-shirt, thank-you note) to your volunteers.
For More Information
Please visit the RRCA webpage on Guidelines for Safer Road Racing for more detailed information.