The Definitive Race Director Checklist
Whether you organize a 5K or an ultramarathon, putting on an event is a complicated undertaking. From lining up your race supplies to securing your race permits, recruiting volunteers and marketing your race, there's so much to do.
That's why we put together a detailed race director checklist to help you keep on top of all your to-dos before, during and after race day.
Before race day
The majority of your planning and effort will go into preparing for race day. This means setting aside a good amount of time to focus on these tasks, and hopefully giving yourself a few months before race day to do so.
The high-level plan for your pre-race planning is as follows:
- First, line up everything you need to be able to launch your race for registrations. That's you go-live point. In this first phase you should focus on understanding whether putting on the race is feasible, and building out your event brand for launch.
- Launch your race as soon as you're ready.
- Then, start working on your race supplies, vendor hires, volunteers, sponsorship and marketing.
Before launching your race
When, where and what type of race am I putting on? What am I calling it? How much will it cost? These are the questions you should focus on answering to get yourself ready for launching your race into the world.
1. Pick a race format and event distances
Are you going to be hosting a charity 5K on city streets? Is it a 5-mile trail run on private property? Is there a combination of kids races, adult races, and relays?
Think about the type of race you are trying to create and how the market might receive it. Familiarize yourself with the races currently offered in your area and consider how yours will complement the local race calendar or stand out as a new offering.
Don’t overdo it though. Biting of more than you can chew can end up seriously compromising your chances of making your race a success. Start small with perhaps only one or maximum two event distances, and plan to grow from there - you can always add more event options in subsequent years.
2. Pick a race date and time
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'll want buy-in from the running community and conflicts with other races won't help. Do a quick check on Running In The USA or other race calendars to see what other races are taking place in your area around your race's proposed date.
- Competing major events in your area. Major non-race events happening in your area can also take away demand from your race or complicate logistics for your event through increased traffic, shortage of accommodation options for participants etc.
- Major national holidays. With the exception of Turkey Trots, Santa Runs, New Year's Runs and other races that are centered around specific holidays, you should try to avoid scheduling your race on major holidays when people may be traveling or have other plans.
- Past weather trends for your area. Weather can be uncertain, but looking at past weather data can help give you a rough idea of what the weather might be like on your preferred race day. Take that into account when choosing your race date.
3. Pick an event name
You probably already have a name in mind for your race. If you don't, try to stick to these rules when coming up with one:
- Keep it short and simple. Your event name should be as short and catchy as possible. Don't include unnecessary information in the name, like what organization the race benefits, the venue where it will be held etc.
- Do not copy or imitate other event names. That can get you in trouble, and does a disservice to your event.
- Make sure you don't inadvertently end up violating someone else's trademark. So don't name your event The Color Run if it's a color run event, and don't call it Ironman-anything if it's a triathlon.
Make sure to 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 or if it has already been trademarked by someone else. Also, check to see if the website domain and social media handles are available before committing to your choice of name.
4. Design a race logo
You’ll want your race logo to be unique and stand out from other races. Your logo should be distinctive enough that participants are drawn to it, and professionally designed, so it looks good on race shirts, medals and marketing materials. Try to keep your logo simple and free of unnecessary clutter, with your race name clearly visible.
5. Map out your race course
There are lots of great free tools you can use to design your race course.
Check to see if there are any construction works planned around or near your course as the race draws nearer, and adjust your plans accordingly. You should consider potential traffic restrictions, and how participants, volunteers and race crews will be able to get to points on the course where you need them to be on race day (your start line, aid stations etc).
Will you have a finish festival? Where will you put your bag drop area? Answering these questions will help you understand the needs your event site should be able to cater for.
Think about how the following areas will fit in and around your course map:
- Start and finish line
- Registration/race day check-in/packet pickup areas
- Parking area (not only for participants, but also volunteers, staff and emergency vehicles)
- Bag drop area
- Medical/first-aid tent
- Race HQ tent/station, information tent, merchandise tents etc
- Water stations
- Food/drinks tents
You should always walk, run or drive your race course before finalizing your race course. You might pick up something that you wouldn’t have been able to by just looking at a map. Maybe the course is too hilly or rocky. Maybe there are parts of it that are not easily accessible by emergency personnel. You can only begin to address these questions by being on the ground.
6. Set your entry fees
Setting your entry fees too high could hurt demand for your race. Setting them too low could risk sinking your race finances.
To help you arrive at a reasonable price, that won't be significantly above or below market:
- Consult industry reports, such as RunSignup's annual RaceTrends report, to get a ballpark for what the average entry fee is for your race distance.
- Check out similar races in your area and see what they charge for events of similar distance to yours. Make sure to be reasonable when comparing your event to other, more established events. A popular 5K in your area can command higher prices than your first-time 5K.
As a second step, think about adding tiered pricing to your entry fee, like early-bird pricing to incentivize early registrations. Here, too, look at and learn from what other events like yours are doing.
7. Build a race budget
Races can quickly get expensive, if finances are not carefully controlled, so putting together a solid budget early in your planning process is absolutely crucial.
Start putting together a list of items and services you'll need to pay for (based on this checklist and your own plans for your race), and plug in your best guess for each of these expenses. As you start reaching out to vendors and obtaining actual quotes for things you plan to purchase, update your list of estimates with actual numbers.
You race will have both fixed costs, that don't depend on the number of participants you have in your race (e.g. permits, insurance), and variable costs (e.g. swag, food), that do. It's a good idea to calculate your break-even level, that is, how many participants your race needs to break even, and keep that figure in mind throughout your race planning process.
8. Start the permitting process
If your race runs on public roads, parks, trails or private property, you will have to obtain permissions from the relevant authority.
Who that relevant authority might be in your case will depend on your choice of venue and the location where you plan to organize your race. If you're closing down public roads, you'll likely have to seek a permit from your local city council or local government. If, on the other hand, the race is held on trails or a national park, you may have to speak to the Department of Parks and Recreation (US) or the National Trust (UK).
Besides permitting, it may also be a good idea, depending on the type of race you're putting on, to reach out to and start to liaise with other public services in your area, like the police and fire departments.
9. Write a Terms & Conditions doc
As a last thing, 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 T&Cs document can save you a ton of grief down the line, so spend some time getting this right (you'll likely reuse almost all of this for future events). Think about your disclaimers, data protection and data use policy, liability waivers, and your cancellation and refund policies.
Launching your race
If you've done everything up to this point, it means you're ready to launch your race and start accepting registrations (and donations, if your race has a fundraising component).
10. Pick a registration provider
If your plan was to use paper forms for taking registrations, don't. It's the 21st century and there's really no reason why you should forego the convenience and many benefits a modern online race registration platform could afford you.
There are many online registration companies for you to choose from. Some may specialize in certain types of events or have features that may be particularly helpful for the type of event you want to produce, such as marketing integrations, fundraising modules and complex group registration and waiting list options.
Some questions to consider when selecting a registration provider include:
- What are the fees charged by the platform, and are payment processing fees included in the advertized platform fee?
- Will I be able to customize my race registration page to match my race’s brand?
- What built-in marketing tools does the registration provider offer to help me increase sales?
- How customizable is the registration process? Will I have everything I need to collect all the information I need from participants when they register?
- What reports are available to help me track sales and understand how I acquire traffic and prospective participants?
- Does the registration company offer any tools (like dynamic bib assignment) to streamline race day check-in?
- What type of customer support does the company offer?
- Will participant payments be paid directly to my bank account or held by the registration platform for any period of time?
As a great all-round registration platform with tons of features and super-helpful customer support, we recommend RunSignup. They can help you set up all aspects of your race, and they pay participant entry fees directly to your bank account. They also offer a huge range of educational materials to help you grow your race and make the most of the event you put on.
After you add your race on RunSignup, you can spend some time playing around with the look and feel of your registration page, and, when you're ready, add your payment details to start accepting actual participant registrations.
11. Build a race website
Depending on your choice of registration provider, you may or may not need to set up a separate website for your race to provide people with additional information about your race, and use as a hub for directing traffic to from your marketing efforts.
If your registration provider offers the ability to add all the race information you need on their site, you may be able to skip this step, and use your registration provider's pages as your main race website. RunSignup's custom websites can do that, giving you a full race website that is easy to build and customize to your needs.
If, on the other hand, your registration company does not provide a full race website or offers a website that is not to your liking, you can set up your own race website using a website design company or one of the many popular website builders out there.
12. Open registrations
Have you set up everything yo be able to accept online registrations? Have you included all the key information (date, location etc) people may need to see before signing up for your race on your race registration page and/or race website? Then your race is ready to go live and start accepting registrations!
One thing you shouldn't worry about is opening registrations for your race "too early". When it comes to getting people signed up - particularly for a new event - there's no such thing as "too early". Opening up registrations earlier will give you more time to promote your race, and a higher chance of reaching your participation goal.
13. Open fundraising
If you race is fundraising for a cause, this is a good time to make sure you're also maximizing your chances of receiving donations as people sign up for and start training for your race.
There's two main ways to fundraise through your race online:
- Set up registration checkout donations. This means adding a step in your registration checkout flow that will ask people for an optional donation contribution to your charity or cause as they sign up for your race. That donation will be included in your participant's checkout and be paid out to you along with their entry fee.
- Set up participant fundraising pages. This will allow each of your registered participants to set up their own fundraising page, raising money for your chosen charity or cause. Money participants will raise from family and friends through these pages will also end up in your charity's designated bank account.
Registration checkout donations is something your registration provider should offer. Participant fundraising pages is something you can get either through your registration provider or a separate fundraising platform.
14. Start recruiting volunteers
Recruiting volunteers is another thing you can't get on to soon enough - so do make sure to put a plan together as soon as your race is launched.
In terms of finding volunteers, there's several options to explore. If you are organizing the race as part of a charity/non-profit, you'd want to leverage your organization's own contact lists first to sign up volunteers for the race. If you are doing this through a for-profit, you can still team up with a charity and get them to cover a big part of your volunteer needs, in exchange for a fixed donation or percentage of revenue.
Whatever your circumstances, make sure to plan for a 50% no-show rate to avoid disappointment on race day. So over-recruit and hope more people than you need show up on race day (much better problem to have than having to scramble for volunteers at the very last minute).
15. Put together a risk assessment/emergency plan
Making sure you have properly assessed potential risks in your race and established procedures for managing emergencies is key to helping you deliver a successful, safe event for participants, volunteers and spectators.
Obviously, a 100-mile mountain race will require a different level of contingency planning than a local park 5K. But it's good to be prepared either way for whatever curve balls life may (reasonably) throw at you.
In thinking through your contingency plan, ask yourself the following:
- What may (reasonably) go wrong during the race? Examples may include participants being injured or unexpected bad weather hitting the race.
- What do I do when something like that goes wrong?
- Who in my team should be responsible for dealing with different types of emergency incidents?
- How will I or people in my team be contacted, if something happens on race day?
- Who should be in charge of making the call to cancel or postpone the event? How will this decision be taken?
Effective, clear and speedy communication is key in emergencies. So make sure everyone knows who to call and who calls the shots on race day, should an emergency arise.
16. Obtain liability insurance
Most local authorities will require events to have at least some level of public liability insurance in place before issuing a permit for your race. And you would want this too, as the liabilities involved in putting on any kind of event can be significant.
To obtain liability insurance, you can go through either a sports governing body, like USA Triathlon or UK Athletics, or seek out help from a specialist insurance broker providing liability cover for races in your part of the world.
17. Certify your race course
This step is entirely optional and probably not necessary if you're looking to organize a fun run or a local fundraising 5K.
Officially measuring and certifying your race course could have some benefits for your race, like it being included in lists of certified races by sports governing bodies or your results being accepted as qualifiers for other, larger races (which may, in turn, help make your race more attractive to some participants). But there's a cost involved in this, so think whether this is something you'd want to do.
If you don't want to have your course officially measured and certified, just make sure your course distance is as close to (or slightly higher than) your event's advertised distance, as measured on your GPX race course map.
Purchases & hires
18. Hire a race timer
Having a professional race timer around on race day, can help your race operations in all kinds of ways, not only timing. But before you go ahead and hire a race timer, you should probably ask yourself whether you really need one or not.
On the one hand, hiring a timer will mean accurate race results with zero hassle, and a professionally set up start/finish line. On the other, hiring a race timer or race timing team comes at a cost of several hundreds, or low thousands, of dollars. So it's a significant expense to avoid, if you can.
As a rule of thumb, if your race is going to have more than ~200 participants, will be advertised as a certified, chip-timed race, or you want to have someone experienced around to help with race operations, then hiring a race timer is probably the right choice for you.
If, on the other hand, you think you could use that money somewhere else, and can spare a couple of people on race day to help out, you could explore other alternatives for your race timing, including things like race timing apps, which can give you accurate race results at a fraction of the cost.
19. Order durable supplies (e.g. tents, banners, mile markers)
By durable supplies here, we mean the sort of stuff that you wouldn't have to re-order every year, like banners, tents, race signage, mile markers, traffic cones, or an inflatable arch for your start/finish line. You may choose to purchase some of these things in your race's first year, depending on your needs, budget and ambitions, and be able to reuse them for many years to come.
20. Order participant supplies (e.g. shirts, medals, awards, bibs)
In contrast to durable goods that you'll be able to reuse from one year to the next, there's some stuff you'll need to order every year for your participants, like bibs, shirts, medals and other swag. These may include:
- Finisher shirts
- Bibs + safety pins
- Custom race bags
- Other swag and merchandise, like branded mugs, belt buckles etc
Bibs will be necessary for timing and for identifying participants around the course. Other than that, what you give away is entirely your choice, although shirts and medals are somewhat expected in most races these days.
While you're at it, think whether you want to also purchase some branded shirts for your team and/or volunteers. Wearing a distinctive event shirt will help make your crew more visible on race day, and it also adds a nice touch to the event.
21. Hire paramedics/EMT personnel
As the race director, you are responsible for the well-being of participants, team members and volunteers under your watch (you have what is legally known as a "duty of care"). So, although you may not have a legal obligation to provide on-site medical assistance on race day, it's always a good idea to try to do so. If you don't, you may be held liable if something goes wrong that could have been reasonably expected and dealt with.
When it comes to hiring medical personnel, not every race will have the same needs - a park 5K has very different safety requirements than a mountain ultramarathon. So, when trying to decide the level of medical cover your race will need, factor in the following:
- The distances and course configuration of the races you plan to offer. A looped 10K will need fewer medical personnel than a point-to-point 10K. And, obviously, a point-to-point 10K will need more medical personnel than a point-to-point 5K.
- The likely weather conditions on race day. Is your race going to be held at a time of year when temperatures are particularly high (or low)? Is rain likely on race day? All these considerations will affect your aid station and medical personnel requirements.
- The accessibility of your race course for emergency services. Are all parts of your course easily accessible by car? How long will it take for a first-aider or paramedic to reach any part of your course? If certain parts of your course are less accessible than others, you and your medical provider may decide to station more people there to ensure a reasonable response time in a medical emergency.
- The proximity of your race to medical facilities, such as hospitals. Similarly to the point above, the availability of nearby medical facilities matters. Is your race taking place close to a major hospital? What would be the typical time for getting an injured person from your race to an emergency room? Answers to these questions will inform your medical planning.
Independently of hiring an EMT team, you should also consider investing in one or more basic first aid kits, and perhaps getting yourself or others in your team some basic first-aid training.
22. Hire a race photographer
There's two reasons why you may want to hire a race photographer for your race:
- A chance to offer participants race photos of themselves (whether you decide to charge for those photos is a different story)
- A chance to capture amazing promotional images from your event that you can use on your website and marketing materials for next year's race
Both are equally important reasons to have a photographer present on race day, and you should seriously consider the benefits of giving away free race photos to your participants. It will put a smile on their face and help grow awareness for your race through photo sharing.
23. Hire a race announcer
Spending money on a professional race announcer is something different events will have different views on.
If your event is on a tight budget or if 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 to not take on the role yourself. You’ll have more than plenty to do on race day to have to worry about that too.
24. Hire portable toilets
We've written a whole article on figuring out how many portable toilets to hire, what type, and how to optimally lay them out, so we're not going to go into great detail here.
Suffice it to say the importance of having an adequate number of portable hygiene facilities on race day is to be underestimated at your peril. Lack of portaloos have humbled many a great race with torrents of post-race abuse from angry participants, so if you need to cut costs, look elsewhere!
When hiring portable toilets, make sure to specify delivery on the Friday before race weekend or - latest - the day before the race, in order to avoid disappointment.
25. Order race-day food and drink (water, bananas, sports drinks)
Purchasing food and drink for your race is something you can do closer to race day, and, ideally, you'd have as much of what you need delivered to you or - even better - delivered directly to your aid stations and/or start/finish line.
Things you'll want to think about offering are:
- bananas (quite a traditional post-race snack)
- other participant snacks
- food and drink for volunteers and team members (they have to eat too!)
When choosing items of food, think about the following:
- are they healthy and easily digestible?
- can they be easily stacked and transported by car to where they need to go?
- are they going to keep until they have to be consumed?
- will packaging and waste be easy to collect and dispose of?
26. Find and approach sponsors
The tasks involved in soliciting sponsorship can probably make up a whole different checklist on their own - so we won't go into that in detail here.
BUT...when you're ready to get started on your sponsorship efforts, make sure to check out the following resources:
- Race Sponsorship: The Complete Guide
- The Sponsorship Seeker's Mindset
- Finding & Approaching Sponsors
- Selling Sponsorships
Remember that as a first-year or unestablished race, your goal should be to build relationships with sponsors rather than extracting every last dime you can out of them. Think long-term. Find sponsors that align with your event and values, get them onboard and work to prove yourself to them. From that, good things will follow.
In-kind sponsorships are going to be a big part of your sponsorship agreements in your first few years. Do not pass or look down on them. Well-chosen in-kind sponsor contributions can help lower your your race costs and add value to your race experience.
Living as we do in the digital age, we tend to think that marketing = online marketing. But, that is definitely not the case when it comes to marketing races - or any kind of live event, for that matter.
Effective race marketing relies as much on offline as on online marketing, and you should consider each of the following to maximize your chances of hitting your registrations target.
27. Design a race flyer or poster
Your race flyers/posters are going to be the main asset in your offline marketing campaign. So spend a bit of time and money to design something nice.
Between the two, posters are more cost-effective than flyers, as they will be seen by more people, and more environmentally friendly too, for the same reason.
When you design your flyers/posters make sure to include all key race info (race name, location, date, distance, website, contact email/phone) in a clearly visible place. And try to add a QR code on your poster so people can easily grab a link to your site on the fly without having to memorize all the details of your race.
28. Put up posters in local businesses
Ask local shops, cafes and businesses in your area if they would put up a poster of your race on their window, or stack a pack of flyers near the counter. Focus on areas where your target audience congregates, e.g. gyms, health centers, college campuses etc.
29. Reach out to local running clubs
Where do your potential customers (=runners, cyclists, triathletes etc) hang out? Think:
- running clubs
- training groups
- spinning studios
- yoga classes etc
Reach out and share a discount code. Make the discount generous to help you bag early that first cohort of participants that will give you a solid foundation to build on. Make these obvious audiences the first targets of your offline outreach.
30. Set up a race ambassador program
Setting up a race ambassador program may not be something you could easily do in your race's first year. But it's a great channel to start cultivating as soon as your race launches (by identifying and nurturing good prospect ambassadors from your pool of registered participants), and something to keep in mind for subsequent years.
31. Reach out to local press outlets
Local journalists live for a good local story - and you race can be the next story they cover. All you have to do is find the newsworthy angle in your event, and run with it.
Is there anything special about your race's history, goal or mission? Is your race benefiting a worthy cause? Is your course highlighting local landmarks? Is a local celebrity taking part in the race? Reach out to your local media outlets (radio, TV, papers) and journalist contacts, and tell them all about it. You'll be surprised how easy it is to get their attention and get your story covered for free.
Besides that, try to recruit some of these outlets as your event's media sponsors. The free publicity you may get from that media sponsorship may be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars you wouldn't otherwise have to spend promoting your event in the local community.
32. Buy ads on local radio/TV
When it comes to buying ads on local radio or TV stations, most people think the cost will be prohibitive. However, the return you get from these kinds of promotions can sometimes be better than what you'd get mindlessly running Facebook Ads.
Check what the ad rates are for your local radio, TV, newspapers and magazines. Ask for numbers on ad reach and demographics. Negotiate rates aggressively, and see if you might be able to snap up a good ad slot at a discount.
Online marketing is about a lot more than Facebook Ads. In fact, running any kind of paid ad campaign should be the very last thing you turn to after having exhausted all other organic online marketing channels. So, let's take a look at each of these channels in turn.
33. List your race on race calendars
This should be your absolute no.1 marketing priority once all your race details are known and your registration page has been launched. This is because the earlier your race is listed on race calendars, the longer it has to draw attention and registrations from people searching race calendars for their next race to enter.
To see what race calendars already list your race, run a listing report using our Race Calendar Wizard tool. With that as your baseline, reach out to other race calendars that list races like yours and submit your race details. Or simply click to submit the listing report you just ran from your Race Calendar Wizard dashboard to make sure your race gets listed on as many qualifying race calendars as possible (usually 25-35 for a typical road race).
34. Reach out to local influencers
This is just fancy talk for "find some people who run in your area and have a large following, and ask them to post or tweet about your race".
This is a very effective grassroots way to spread the word about your event. And it shouldn't cost a lot - a free race entry, nice race shirt or other cool swag could be enough to get these guys to agree to helping you promote your race.
35. Reach out to online communities
This is kind of the equivalent of the offline reach-out to running clubs we already covered above. In the online version of this, look for relevant Facebook groups you can participate and start networking in.
BUT...don't just barge in there shouting about your race or trying to sell entries! You'll just piss people off, and get banned from groups faster than you can say Jack Robinson.
Instead, be helpful, become part of the community, and cultivate relationships (this is where your future race ambassadors will likely be coming from). And, after a while, politely reach out to group admins to ask if you can drop a word about your race and what the rules might be around that - and also offer them a couple of race entries to give away to group members as a sweetener to get them on your side.
36. Paid advertising
Paid advertising is the easiest thing you could do (just click that Facebook boost button, right?), but the absolute last thing you should do. It will be tempting to start spending money on paid ads early without a clear strategy. Resist that temptation, and work your organic channels first.
When the time comes to spend money, use your ad spend on retargetting campaigns, so you can get people who have previously expressed an interest in your race over the finish line (so to speak). Be thoughtful, particularly about your Facebook ad strategy, and spend money only when the numbers indicate that the return will justify the expense.
When it comes to pacing your ad spend, go for proven winning strategies, like running ads around price increases. And always keep an eye on your copy to keep your ads engaging and hitting the right notes.
37. Mark the course
Depending on the type of race you're putting on, you may need to do quite a lot of prep work before race day to mark your course. If it's a road race on public roads or some other public venue (e.g. a park) you'll likely be expected to do any marking at the very last minute. But for something like a trail race, you will have to plan for marking your course before race day.
If you are marking a trail race course, make sure to do it right. Use only the best, most eco-friendly materials you can get your hands on, and plan to have as close to zero impact on the course as you can. Basically, you should aim to leave things exactly as you found them, and that should be the guiding principle in everything you do on the trail.
38. Send volunteers "when/where" info
Depending on the size of your volunteer force and the structure of your team, you may have a volunteer coordinator managing all communications with volunteers.
Regardless of who gets to reach out to volunteers with instructions, make sure someone does way before race day, with perhaps an additional reminder scheduled to go out closer to race day.
Your instructions should tell volunteers:
- where they need to be on race day
- what time they need to get there
- how to dress on race day
- what (if anything) they need to bring with them
- whom to contact if they have questions or if they expect to not be able to make it
39. Charge and test all electrical and electronic equipment
You should already have made plans for access to a power supply on race day. But, it still doesn't hurt to go into race day with all your equipment fully charged and tested.
Things to charge/test include:
- mobile phones
- two-way radios
- your PA system (including microphones)
- lights and lighting fixtures
- point-of-sales (POS) machines, if you plan to take card payments for race-day entries or merchandise on race day
You should probably also think about your WiFi access. If you're going to need WiFi on race day, beyond your phone's mobile data plan, have a plan for how to secure it.
Lastly, think of power backup. If you're employing a timer, chances are they will have a backup power system to cover their own needs that they may let you share (check with them they're ok for you to do so). If not, and access to a power outlet is not guaranteed, consider renting a small power generator, if you think you may need one.
Race day has arrived, and you're ready to go! Here's a list of things to take care of to make sure you nail your big day.
1. Set up your parking area
The first thing you should look to set up on race day is your parking area, because that's where people (including vendors and other members of your team) will be coming through. So make sure that's set up early in the day, and signs are put up in nearby roads letting people know how to get to it and how to navigate around it.
2. Set up your start/finish areas
Next, it's time to set up your start area. For most races, that's where you'll also set up yourself and your team, and also where you'll need to set up your participant check-in, medical tent, bag drop tent etc. So set aside a comfortable amount of time to go through all that.
If you've chosen to hire a timer, they will also be working side by side with you on setting up their timing equipment and your race's start/finish line arch. Keep that in mind, and be prepared to provide them with any help they might need, including access to power outlets, WiFi etc.
3. Put up banners and race signage
With your parking and start areas set up, it's time to put up any promo banners/flags and also signs directing people to the start line, bag drop areas, restrooms etc.
4. Lay out cones and mile markers
Time to start building out your course.
Coming into race day, you should have a detailed map of where things like mile markers, turning signs, traffic cones etc should be placed around the course. It should then be pretty straightforward dropping everything off at the right place.
Make sure to fix everything in place really well, particularly if you expect a lot of wind on race day. Last thing you need is mile markers flying around the course!
5. Set up your aid stations
Setting up your aid/water stations means:
- getting tables and chairs to them and putting those up (also think about tents or umbrellas to protect people from the sun or rain, if necessary)
- making sure volunteers get to the stations and are set up to go
- confirming that all food and drink reaches the stations way before race start
If you can, aim to have all food and drink delivered directly to each aid station. That goes for your volunteers too: get them to report directly to the captain or team leader at their allocated aid station, then ask those team leaders to check in with you to let you know that everything and everyone is in place as expected.
6. Put up trash collection points
These will likely be close to your aid stations, so something for your aid station teams to do.
Aim to have separate bags for recyclable, compostable and general waste, and try to have a volunteer present who can help direct waste into the right waste receptacle. You'll be surprised what a poor job participants will do of properly sorting their own trash mid-race.
7. Do a final quick run/ride/drive around the course
It’s always a good idea to do a quick run-through of the course after everything is set up. This can help you identify if there needs to be additional flags or directional signs, or even pick up obstructions or hazards that may have suddenly appeared on the course.
If driving around the course is unrealistic - either because of the terrain or length of the course - plan to have marshals and on-course volunteer teams perform a check around their duty station and report back to you.
8. Conduct race team and volunteer briefings
It's always a good idea to do a race-day morning briefing with all team members and volunteers, to make sure everyone knows what they're doing and to answer any last minute questions. This is also a good opportunity for you, as the race director, to get your troops fired up, and thank everyone in advance for going off and giving all race participants an awesome race day experience.
If some of your volunteers have been asked to report directly to their duty stations (e.g. finish line, aid stations around the course), make sure a similar briefing takes place by team leaders there, and check in with each team not present in your main briefing to answer questions and make your presence as the race director felt at every point around your race.
Lastly, makes sure everyone in your team has contact details for every person they may need to contact throughout the day (your contact details being top of the list).
Basically, this should look a lot like the scene from a rocket launch: "Engine?" "Check!", "Electronics?" "Check!", "Life support systems?" "Check!"...You get the picture. :)
9. Check in with timers
Your timers should be on location quite early setting up equipment and performing their own equipment checks. Show up with a couple of cups of coffee and maybe a donut or two, shake hands, and discuss any last-minute updates to your race plan.
10. Check in with EMT personnel
Like timers, your hired emergency personnel (first-aiders, rescuers, paramedics) will be on their own schedule, running their own team briefings and equipment checks. Show up, shake hands, bring donuts. :)
11. Check in with police and other pubic services
Depending on the type and size of race you're putting on, it's likely you would have been designated a liaison or contact person in the police, fire department etc. Check in with them at an appropriate time to make sure they have everything they need from you, and you can expect everything you're relying on from them.
12. Test your PA system
Nothing's worse than being all set and ready to start the race, and then blowing a speaker or struggling to make audio work. So do one final test of your PA system to make sure race start will go off without a hitch. Also make sure your start gun or bullhorn is ready and available near the start line.
13. Conduct awards ceremony
Awards ceremonies typically follow after most of the runners have finished the race. So you should make sure all of the awards and certificates, winners podiums and any promo/sponsor backgrounds are where they need to be, and have been set up, before race start.
14. Start the race (on time!)
There's no bigger pride a race director can take than starting the race on the dot. So be that race director, and make sure your race starts on time!
15. Confirm all participants are safely off the course
Pretty obvious. Hopefully you'll have a vehicle or member of your team sweeping the course to make sure there are no people left behind before you start tearing everything down.
16. Pick up cones and mile markers
Leave nothing behind, and keep a checklist of the items you put up to make sure everything gets taken down or accounted for.
17. Dismantle water stations
Have a plan for collecting leftover food and drink from your waster stations as they're been dismantled. If it's a few bottles of water and a couple of snacks, let local spectators have them. If it's more than that, have a plan beforehand to get those leftover supplies to a homeless shelter, food bank or other charity that may need them.
18. Take down banners and race signage
Again, keep a checklist to make sure nothing is missed.
19. Collect trash for landfill and/or recycling
You'll be surprised how much waste even a pretty lean race can generate on race day (roughly about a pound of waste per participant). So collecting, sorting and dispatching your race waste may require some help.
Check in with your city council or the appropriate local government department to see if they offer a waste collection service for events. You'll probably have to pay for this, but not much, and it can help make your life much easier.
20. Tear down your start/finish areas
This will probably be the last thing you'll do, as people linger around the finish line, picking up their stuff and having a good time recounting their race exploits.
Results & team debriefing
21. Post race results
How quickly you can post race results and how will depend on a number of things, including your timing setup and whether you have a race timer helping on the ground. At the very least, aim to have some - even preliminary - results posted online on the same day.
22. Debrief team members, timers, EMT personnel
Debriefing your team is an essential part of learning lessons from the race that can be used to improve the race in the future.
Did anything go wrong during the race? Where there any noteworthy incidents to report? Could anything be improved for next year? Ask your team colleagues, volunteer leaders, and hired personnel for feedback that can make your race planning better next year.
After race day
Race day is gone, but a race director's job is not quite done yet. Some of the most important work in your schedule, like leveraging your race's buzz for publicity and learning important lessons for the future, will be happening over the first few days and weeks after your race.
1. Send a "thank you" note to volunteers, sponsors and other stakeholders
It takes a village to make an event come to life. So you should take your time to share a proper "thank you" with your team, volunteers sponsors, city officials, and everyone who has helped in the event. This is a nice gesture that will help foster relationships and make people feel appreciated.
Separately from the "thank you" note, commit to sending sponsors a fulfillment report, laying out how your event helped promote your sponsor's brand and objectives before, during and after race day. You don't have to go overboard with this - even a short couple of pages will do, if there's nothing more to share - but try to do it. It will help you come across as a reliable, professional partner, and also show sponsors you care about and look after their interests.
Got any leftover medals and swag from race day? Think about giving them away as mementos to volunteer leaders or even making desktop plaques from them to present to sponsors, city officials, your local police and fire department chiefs etc.
2. Send out your race survey
As the saying goes, you need to strike while the iron is hot. So if you're planning to send out a race survey, the best time to do it is over the first few days after the race. That is because your participants' recollection of the event is still quite fresh at that point, and they're still emotionally involved with your event to make getting a response from them more likely.
You should have prepared your race survey well in advance, and should only be looking to distribute it at this point. So think hard about what you want to put in it in the weeks and months before race day.
3. Send out press releases
You have so many things to shout about: the amount of money your race raised for charity; the record number of participants that attended; the economic impact your event had on the local community. So write it all up and send it out to local papers, radio stations and online media. Just stick to the rules, and you'll be surprised how many people will pick it up.
4. Write up a race report
This is not something every race director will do, but it's something we highly recommend you doing as soon after race day as possible.
A race report is basically your diary of everything good, bad or noteworthy that happened on race day. If there were any medical incidents you or your teams had to deal with on race day, you should include those in your report and make notes on how they were dealt with. If there were unforeseen emergencies, weather-related disruption, volunteer mix-ups, you should note them in your report with as much detail as you can. Anything that could help you better prepare for future races, you should take note of in your race report.
5. Do a race budget post-mortem
Another thing many race directors will fail to do - at their peril! - is a budget post-mortem.
All things considered, did your race make a profit? Did you hit your registration/fundraising targets? How much did you overspend on supplies and other expenses? Were there costs you hadn't initially anticipated? What was your marketing return and cost of acquiring participants through paid ads?
This is the time to tally it all up, and learn invaluable lessons from it for the future.
6. Set up a date for next year's race!
Yes, it's rinse-and-repeat time!
You may as well put a date on the calendar for next year's race as soon as you can. This will help you get started early with your marketing plan and give you a head start on putting together next year's project timeline.
That's it! You can put your feet up now, and break out the margaritas. 🎉 🍾 🕺 🥂 🎊