There’s no doubt about it:
Whether you organise a 5k or ultramarathon, putting on an event is a complicated undertaking. From lining up your race supplies to securing your race permits and recruiting volunteers, there’s so much to do.
That’s why we put together the definitive race director checklist to help you keep on top of all your to-dos before, during and after the race. Starting with….
Most of the work you’ll need to do for your race will be done before race day, from planning the race to making sure all your orders and permits are in at the right time.
1. Decide on a type of event
Are you hosting a charity 5K on city streets? Is it a 5-mile trail run on private property? Is there a combination of kids races, the flagship race, and relays?
Think about what type of run you are trying to create and how the market will respond to it. Familiarise yourself with the races currently offered in your area and consider how yours will complement the schedule or stand out as a new offering.
Don’t overdo it though. It’s a big mistake for first-time race directors to bite off more than they can chew and try to “do it all” in the first year for a new event. Start small and plan to grow; you can always add more event options in subsequent years.
2. Pick a date and time for your race
There are many factors to consider when picking a date and time for your race. Make sure you think about the following:
- The local running calendar in your area. You want buy-in from the running community and conflicts with other races won’t help.
- Competing major events. Not just races, but anything that might cause excess traffic, booked venues or just compete for your participants’ dollar.
- Past weather trends for that specific area. Weather is an uncertainty, but looking at past weather data can help provide an indication of what the weather might be like on your preferred race day.
3. Name your event and design a race logo
You’ll want your name and logo to be unique and stand out from other races. Your logo should be intriguing enough that participants are drawn to it and be professionally designed, so it looks good on the race T-shirt and other marketing materials.
💡 Check on Google to see if other races are already using your race’s name; this will help prevent problems in the future if the name is a common one. Also, check to see if the website domain and social media handles are available before committing to your choice of name.
4. Establish a registration price and build your budget
Races can quickly get expensive if finances are not carefully controlled, so putting together a solid budget is absolutely crucial.
How much are you trying to make from the race? Calculate the break-even point and set target registration goals to achieve your desired profit.
You should outline all your costs for the event and model varying ticket prices to see what level will motivate your target audience while not breaking the bank.
SEE ALSO: How to Write a Dependable Race Budget
5. Research and select your venue
Basically, you need to ask yourself this: is the race going to be on city roads or private land?
City roads will require you to secure permits and work alongside city officials. Private property can sometimes provide more freedom but will come with additional headaches, such as securing consent from private landlords.
6. Map the course and event footprint
There are lots of great free tools you can use to map your course. While most maps you will use are static, you should frequently check to see if there are any changes needed to the route or construction works planned as the race draws nearer.
In addition, you should consider traffic restrictions and how your participants and spectators will get to the site. Will you have a finish festival? Where will you put your bag checking area? Answering these questions will help you understand the needs your site will need to address.
Think through how you will arrange the following areas:
- Parking (not only for participants, but also volunteers, staff and emergency vehicles; you will also need to think about a parking overflow area)
- Registration/packet pickup
- Bag check
- Medical/First aid tent
- Information tents
- Merchandise tent
- Water points (on course and in the festival area)
- Food/Drinks tents
💡 You should always walk, run or drive the course before the event. You might pick up something that you wouldn’t have been able to tell by just looking at a map. Maybe it’s too hilly or rocky. Maybe there are dangerous or confusing turns. You can only start to address these questions by getting a first-hand feel for the course.
7. Draft an event timeline
You should have a master timeline that has set deadlines for pre-race, race day and post-race tasks (kind of like this document here with due times and personnel attached to each task).
You should also prepare an hour by hour outline for setting up, running and tearing down the race during your race weekend. By drafting this timeline early, you can pre-empt operational chokepoints and work to correct them prior to the event.
8. Inform city officials and obtain permits/approvals
Regardless of holding your race on private or public land, you’ll still need to share your plans with city officials and make sure you notify all necessary public services (ambulances, police, etc) about your event.
You’ll need to review whatever city or other local government policies may apply to your race and take note of all permits and approvals you’ll need to obtain before the event takes place. These may require reaching out to some of the following (this is not an exhaustive list and not all of these may apply in each case):
If you’re based in the US:
- Hospitals/other public medical and emergency services in the area
- Fire department
- Police department
- City government – Department of Special Events
- Health department (if catering/food services are being offered)
- Department of Parks and Recreation
If you’re based in the UK:
- Local hospitals and other public health services
- Fire service
- Police service
- County/local government events office
- Food Standards Agency (if catering/food services are being offered)
- National Trust
9. Build a website for the event
It’s 2018. You don’t have an excuse not to have a website for your event.
There are simple-to-use website builders, such as WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace, you can use to set up a website in minutes. Add your logo, integrate a ticketing partner, and add some key information about your race Boom! You’re ready to go.
10. Obtain event and liability insurance cover
Most municipalities and local authorities will require events to have at least some level of public liability insurance in place. And you would want this too, as the liabilities involved in putting on any kind of event can be significant.
In most cases, you will be able to benefit from special insurance rates from your country’s sports governing body (e.g. your country’s trail running association). If you want to look outside that, there are a number of specialist event insurers for mass-participation sports that understand the intricacies involved in putting on a race and can offer competitive policy rates.
11. Write your race Terms & Conditions
Before opening your race for registrations, you’ll need to write a Terms & Conditions document your participants can sign before entering your race.
Writing a good terms document can save you a ton of grief down the line. So spend some time on this, as it’s critical you clearly set out your disclaimers, liability waivers, cancellation & refunds policies etc.
Luckily, we’ve put together a first-rate guide to help you write a solid T&Cs doc – and you can find it here.
12. Conduct a risk assessment
Making sure you have properly assessed risks in your race and established procedures for managing emergencies is key to help you deliver a successful, safe event for participants, volunteers and spectators. You can do this formally as part of a risk assessment (recommended) or through a combination of scenario contingencies (“if bad weather, do this”, “if course diversion required, do that” etc)
However you decide to go about it, make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to what will happen in emergencies, such as athlete injuries or deteriorating weather conditions. Make sure you draft and distribute a clear plan to all team members and local authorities that covers things like:
- Who in your team is in charge of different aspects of your race? Who is responsible for making decisions?
- How will you communicate with people on and around the course if the need arises?
- How and whom should someone notify if they see something awry?
- What procedures are in place for specific emergency contingencies during the race?
- Who is in charge of making the call to cancel or postpone the event?
13. Select a registration provider
There are plenty of online registration companies for you to choose from. Some may specialise in certain types of events or have features that may be particularly appealing for your needs, such as marketing integrations, fundraising modules and complex group registration and waiting list options.
Some questions to consider when selecting a registration provider may include:
- What is the price of the platform and are payment processing fees included?
- Will the platform be able to handle the number of registrants you are expecting to have in your race?
- Will you be able to white-label the ticketing page to match your race’s brand or embed a registration form on your website?
- What built-in marketing integrations do they offer to help you increase sales?
- How customisable is the registration process?
- What type of sales and acquisition analytics are available? What does the dashboard look like?
- For race-day check-in, does the company offer any hardware to streamline the process?
- What type of customer support does the company offer?
14. Hire a race timer
Assuming your race is timed, you’ll need to either hire a timing company or time the race yourself. If you don’t want to go down the chip-timing route, there are plenty of other alternatives to choose from including contact-chips and race timing apps.
One thing to make sure you do prior to race day is send your participants’ names and other key info to your timing company so that they have the correct data to use when assigning bib numbers and publishing results.
15. Hire a race announcer
Spending money on a professional announcer is something different events will have different perspectives on.
If your event is on a tight budget or it’s your first year and expect a modest turnout, you probably won’t see a need to spend money on a professional announcer.
That’s fine. If you do decide against hiring a professional announcer, please make sure you don’t make the mistake of taking on the role yourself. You’ll have more than plenty to do on race day to have to worry about that too.
If, on the other hand, in the words of industry veteran Mike Plant you know what a difference the voice of a professional can make, check out our race announcer listings for top-rated emcees and announcers in your region.
16. Find and solicit sponsors
Sponsorships can help move the needle when it comes to covering race expenses and increasing your overall race revenue.
Planning your sponsorship strategy and approaching sponsors is too broad a topic to tackle here. Here’s a few high-level tips, however, to help you manage the process more efficiently:
- Start early. Finding the right sponsors and getting them to agree to a deal will take time. So don’t waste any.
- Be flexible. When it comes to sponsorship, there is no one-size-fits-all. Sponsors will be looking for personalised proposals, so that’s what you need to put together.
- Plan to deliver. Keeping sponsors is even harder than getting them in the first place. So have a plan on how you intend to deliver on the commitments you make.
17. Outline awards brackets and ceremony timeline
Will you be offering prize money to the top male and female finishers? What about awards to the top three finishers in various age groups? When will the awards ceremony take place? These are all things you need to consider ahead of time and share on your website.
18. Sanction or certify your race course
To bolster the credibility of your race, you might want to consider certifying your course. There’s a number of bodies offering course certification services – you can find some of them here.
19. Recruit volunteers and staff members
Your volunteers (or absence thereof) will make or break your race. They are one of your most important assets so it’s paramount you spend time recruiting and training a strong volunteer team.
Use this race director checklist to understand the various parts of the event that will require staff and then take a look at our volunteer management guide for advice on finding, training and recruiting volunteers.
💡 Wherever you decide to advertise your volunteering needs, make sure you share the broader vision for your event and highlight any “freebies” you are prepared to give to volunteers for their help.
20. Promote the event
“If you build it, they will come”, right? Well, actually, no, they won’t…
You need to actively market your race across a number of channels and have an integrated marketing strategy in place to increase registrations. And you can get help with all that by reading our ultimate (yes, ultimate) guide to promoting your race.
21. Order race supplies
When it comes to managing race supplies and equipment, you will need to calculate how many of each item you’ll need for your race and line up deliveries in a way that works with your event timeline.
In terms of the things you’ll need, most races will require a combination of the following to operate a smooth and safe event:
- Barriers or other fencing materials
- Start/finish arches
- Traffic cones
- Power generators
- Tables & chairs
- Portable toilets
- Flags, banners and other promo materials
- Bike racks (cycling/multi-sport