Have you ever wanted to organize a race, but wondered how to even begin the daunting process? With so many moving parts and participants, coordinating such a large event can be difficult – but it doesn’t have to be impossible! After I organized my first major race event – the Miles for Microcredit race held in Calgary – I took away a couple of key learnings which will definitely inform the process next time I plan something similar.

As a runner, you register for the race, show up at the starting line, run, and collect your finisher’s medal. It’s hard enough as a participant – but you’re getting off easy! You are not exposed to the thousands of things that the race director did to pull together the race. The job of a race director can be daunting, but I hope this guide alleviates some of the errors that others have experienced before you, as well as steers you in the right direction to ensure that the first race you organize is a success.

Set your goal

Are you hosting the event as a fundraiser for a non-profit organization? Are you trying to make some supplemental income? The first step should be to set the target amount of money you either want to raise for the charity or for your own pockets after deducting all the expenses, and clearly define the purpose of your race.

Big picture plan

There are hundreds of races available that you will be competing with. Additionally, if it is a fundraiser, you will be competing with other charities. You will need to differentiate your race from others.

  1. Type – People enjoy running 5k/10k because these are common distances to target new personal bests. These can work, but I have also seen a lot of success from creative ideas such as obstacle course races, stair climbing, or trail running.
  2. Location – If you are going for the basic 5k/10k race, pick a course that people are familiar with and is convenient, such as bike paths located in the inner city. If going for the unique approach, this will determine where you are located (i.e. a big staircase).
  3. Date –Avoid winter (November to February for most of Canada). Spring seems to be a good time since people are starting to get back into running. Summer can be difficult due to vacations and competition from other events. Fall is also ideal since it is generally less busy for people. Pick a month that works best for you, then research to make sure you are not directly competing with another similar event.

Get into the details

The next step is to pick a method for individuals to sign up for the race. There are lots of good and affordable options such as the Running Room or Race Roster that will charge a percentage of the registration fee.

The ability to offer chip-timing greatly depends on how many people you have registered, so try to hold of committing to this until the last possible moment. The reason is that it is expensive at approximately $1,500. I would say if you expect to have less than 100 runners, then do not get chip timing.

Ask your friends and family to volunteer. Target for 10 that will help with varying tasks on the day of the event, such as timing, registration, and water

Safety first, so talk to an insurance representative and make sure you have proper coverage.

Talk to the Running Room. They have great resources to help non-profit races such as a start/finish line arch and timing clock.

Get water jugs donated by another organization such as Mountain Equipment Co-op.

How much to charge

Beyond the benefit of possibly setting a new personal best and knowing a portion of the fee is going to a charity (if applicable), the runners will likely need an added perk to incentive them to register.

 1.    T-shirts – these are probably the most common since you can bulk order for reasonable prices. Personally, I have received so many shirts of the years from races that I don’t wear, so I would not recommend this unless it’s what fits your budget.

 2.    Medals – Finisher medals are probably the most iconic thing people think of from races and make cool decorations at home. Don’t break the bank on medals though, because they can get costly. Try to find a reasonable price and unique item that will make your event memorable.

The important thing is that the cost of registration should cover the cost of the swag, in addition to the other expenses.

Marketing

Get the word out as early and as often as you can. Blanket social media with posts. Have your friends spread the word. I don’t think it is possible to have too much marketing. Just make sure that your message is consistent and looks professional (i.e. invest some time and money into a website). Print out posters to put up at gyms and athletic storage, as well as cards to hand out to runners at other events.

Sponsors

Your ability to secure sponsors will determine how much money you are able to raise. A safe rule that I go by is that the fees you charge for the races should cover all the race costs (timing, medals, t-shirts, etc.). Then the sponsorship money is what you net at the end. Looking at it the other way around, you shouldn’t be relying on the registration fees to make money above your race costs.

It is important to sell the race to the sponsors. Provide them the benefit of getting their logos at the event, on the website, and on marketing materials. If the event is a non-profit race, target people who have donated in the past.

 

Key takeaways

If this is the first race you are organizing, don’t expect to have 5,000 runners and raise $100,000. Set optimistic goals, but don’t be upset if you don’t hit your targets. The first year is about learning how to organize a race, and sustainably building your brand so that you can grow the next year. Have fun and know you are making a positive difference in people’s lives!

Whether or not you’ve decided to build up a massive race or a small marathon, you’ve got to follow the process!