LAST UPDATED: 22 May 2023
Race Director Certification Courses: Are They Worth It?
Is a race director certification program right for you? We look at what's involved and whether it's worth the time, cost and effort.
Ok, so putting on a race isn't really open heart surgery. Still, there's many things to pick up - and many things to get wrong - so is there any value in signing up for a race director course or certification program?
Race director courses are not for everyone, both because race directors come from all kinds of different backgrounds with all kinds of different experience. But they me be for you if you're looking to boost your credibility, get up to date with industry best practices or expand your professional network.
In the rest of this article we take a look at what race director programs are available out there and what they aim to achieve, weighing the pros and cons of signing up to help you make a more informed decision.
What are race director courses?
Race director courses and certification programs offer training and insights into the race planning process and the unique liabilities and challenges associated with organising races.
They’re usually monitored and run by sports governing bodies, like USA Triathlon, and other industry organisations, like the RRCA, and involve a combination of online coursework and/or in-classroom training followed by an exam.
What benefits do certification programs offer?
Race director courses can provide you the opportunity to potentially set yourself apart from other race directors and completing the training will often entitle you to certain privileges, such as the inclusion of races you direct into certified-RD-only race calendars and the use of special logos and other materials on your website that signify your certification status.
Other benefits of taking a race director course or certification program can include:
- An introduction to best practices on planning and organising events, race budgeting and marketing, event health and safety, managing publicity etc.
- In the case of in-person training, opportunities for networking with other race directors from a variety of racing backgrounds
- Opportunities to learn from others, particularly race directors operating in similar sports
- A platform to help you showcase your expertise to the world
When is a good time to take a race director course?
There is no right or wrong time in your race directing career to take a race director course. That's because most courses cover everything from the basics of how to create a race budget to more complex matters such as emergency procedures and insurance coverage. So there's always things to pick up, however experienced you may be in putting on races.
Do I need certification to be a race director?
In most jurisdictions and for most types of races, there is no formal requirement for certification if you want to be a race director. Depending on your business model, however, and reason for being a race director, certification programs can be help boost your credibility with organisations seeking to employ professional race directors or event managers.
In a quick poll of our Facebook race directors group we found attitudes towards race director courses in the race director community varied significantly. Only about 20% of respondents said they had completed a certification course with 41% saying they were thinking of doing one and a massive 39% declaring no interest at all in race director courses.
Thierry Rouillard, a veteran race director from Florida with 18 years of experience, said his reason for attending the training was to gain more credibility with organisations seeking to hire race directors. In his experience, the classroom was diverse: half of the students had never planned an event and about a third had never even raced one. The rest were veteran race directors much like him.
Paul Albon saw race director certification as an opportunity to learn and grow his understanding of the industry so he could better assist his tri club in organizing races. For the faithful tri club member from Warwickshire, England, certification wasn’t about "ticking a box", but gaining real skills he could put to good use.
Then there's D Wiedeman, a professional race director at All-Out Multicourse Productions who saw certification as a way to increase her credibility with participants and advertise the high standards of quality and safety she aspires for in her events.
Popular race director certification courses
There are two main certification programs that race directors can undertake in the US: USA Triathlon (USAT) and Road Runners Club of America (RRCA).
USA Triathlon is the main governing body for the sport of triathlon and the sanctioning organisation for multisport races in the US.
USAT offers one of the most comprehensive race director certification courses. The 16-hour online course costs $350 and covers:
- Race directing best practices
- Insurance/risk management trends
- USAT event-sanctioning compliance guidelines
Additional benefits available to certified race directors including:
- annual membership to USA Triathlon
- special access to USAT's insurance programs and pool of race sponsors
- race sanctioning fee discounts
- marketing and other advertising opportunities in USA Triathlon magazine
Certification is good for two years, after which time race directors must either continue on to Level II training or go through Level I recertification.
You can now get 20% OFF USA Triathlon's race director certification course through our membership program. For more information on this and other member benefits, click here.
Road Runners Club of America provides an online race director certification course consisting of six modules, each taking between 60-90 minutes to complete and costing a total fo $250.
The course includes information on all aspects of organising and marketing a mass-participation event, including:
- Race budgeting and sponsorship
- Course design, course safety and risk assessment
- Registration and attracting participants
- Working with volunteers, municipalities, hotels and other vendors
- Race logistics, race timing, scoring and awards management
To complete the course, race directors must take a 100-question exam with a passing grade of 85%. Once certified, race directors can also enjoy a number of exclusive benefits, such as:
- Extended insurance cover for events run by certified race directors
- Access to RRCA continuing education resources
- Inclusion on RRCA's directory of certified race directors
“Completed the RRCA RD course last fall. Great program and the new book is a great resource.” Richard Brown, Race Director for Run Toledo
Certification is good for four years and requires 20 hours of continuing education to renew, as well as paying the $20 annual membership fee.
So, is race director certification worth it?
In the end, race director certification courses have a part to play – from credibility to networking to education. They can help jumpstart a race directing career or further educate experienced race directors looking to take the next step in their professional race-directing careers.
But each director is different and has different needs. Some greatly benefit from spending a weekend focused solely on coursework related to becoming a race director, while others similar benefits simply by being out on the course, learning the ropes by working in other events or by being mentored by more experienced race directors.
Wiedeman believes there are many great hands-on learning opportunities available to race directors. “Work under an experienced race director, or at least volunteer in several different capacities at many other events, before becoming responsible for the safety of all who will join you on race day,” she says.
She also says you need to realise that loving the sport doesn’t automatically make you a great race director. Event management is so different than just being an athlete. So it's important to be ready to admit you’re a better athlete than race director and be prepared to take a step back.
Then there's the issue of recertification. Many race directors we spoke to were fairly enthusiastic about the value provided by certification courses. However, the cots/benefit analysis seems much less clear in the case of the various recertification courses available to race directors wanting to retain or extend their certification status.
Being certified doesn't seem to dictate how successful you can be as a race director. But it may help broaden your career opportunities as a professional and can provide a one-stop course for people starting out or wanting to refresh their knowledge of the industry.