The Definitive Race Director Checklist
Whether you organize 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 the type of run you are trying to create and how the market will respond to it. Familiarize 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. Pick a name for 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.
Do 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. Establish an entry fee and build your budget
Races can quickly get expensive, if finances are not carefully controlled, so putting together a solid budget is absolutely crucial.
First, you'll need to decide on an entry fee for your event or events (if you're offering multiple distances). 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 good ballpark for what your entry fee should be, depending on 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 that your first-time 5K.
Then, it's on to your costs. Start putting together a list of items and services you'll need to pay for, and plug in your best guess for what these will cost. 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.
We have a detailed article on building a race budget, so make sure to check that out.
Some of the costs you'll pay for your race will depend on the number of participants you have, and others won't. You should use your budget spreadsheet to calculate your participation break-even level. That is, how many participants you'll need for your race to financially break even, before starting to turn a profit. Always keep that very useful number in mind.
5. Research and select your race venue
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. Using private land, on the other hand, can sometimes provide more freedom, but will come with additional headaches, such as securing consent from private landlords.
6. Map the course and your event site
There are lots of great free tools you can use to map your race 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. You should consider potential 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 event site will need to address. Think through how you will arrange the following areas:
- Parking area (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 area
- Bag-checking area
- Medical/First aid tent
- Information tents
- Merchandise tent
- Water points (on course and in your start/finish areas)
- Food/Drinks tents
You should always walk, run or drive your race course before the event. You might pick up something that you wouldn’t have been able to by just looking at a map. Maybe it's too hilly or rocky. Maybe there are dangerous or confusing turns than need extra signage. You can only begin to address these questions by getting a first-hand feel for the course.
7. Draft an event timeline
You should prepare 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 your event site and race course during your race weekend. By drafting this timeline early, you can anticipate operational choke points and work to correct them prior to your 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 your 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 your event
It’s the digital age we live in. So there's no excuse for not having a decent website for your event.
Depending on what platform you choose for your online race registration (more on this is a minute), building a website may already be taken care of for you. RunSignup, for example, comes with a great-looking customizable website that you can link your preferred domain name to.
If that's not an option for you, you can use any good website builder, like Wordpress, Wix, or Squarespace, to set up your website in minutes. Add your logo, integrate a ticketing partner, add some key information about your race and - boom! You’re ready to go.
10. Obtain liability insurance cover
Most municipalities and local authorities will require events to have at least some level of public liability insurance in place before issuing a permit for your event. 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. USA Triathlon if you're putting on a multi-sport event). 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.
If you're based in the US, we'd recommend having a look at Nicholas Hill Group. They know insurance endurance events inside out and, if you're a Race Directors HQ member, they'll give you a 10% discount on your insurance premium.
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 helping 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 contingency plans ("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 to 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 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 is the price of the platform and are payment processing fees included in that price?
- Will you be able to customize your registration page to match your race’s brand? If you have a separate website, will you be able to embed a registration form on it?
- What built-in marketing integrations do they offer to help you increase sales?
- How customizable is the registration process? Do you have everything you need to collect all the information you need from participants when they register?
- What reports are available for tracking sales and understanding how you acquire traffic and prospective participants?
- For race-day check-in, does the company offer any tools (like dynamic bib assignment) to streamline the process?
- What type of customer support does the company offer?
- Are payments from your race going to be held by the registration platform or paid directly to you?
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.
You can add your race on RunSignup by simply filling in this form. 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.
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 things like NFC 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. Find and solicit sponsors
Sponsorships can help move the needle when it comes to covering race expenses and increasing your overall event revenue.
Planning your sponsorship strategy and approaching sponsors is too big a topic to tackle here (do make sure to read our comprehensive race sponsorship guide, if you're interested in getting smarter about sponsorship). But here's a few high-level tips 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 personalized 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.
Start by using our Sponsor Finder tool to quickly find suitable sponsors for your event that are actively inviting sponsorship requests online.
16. Think about awards brackets and your award 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.
17. 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.
18. 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 your volunteers.
Don't forget to add a cost item on your race budget for volunteers. Volunteers cost money to hire, train, transport to and from the event, feed, and generally keep happy. In many cases, when recruiting volunteers through a nonprofit, you will also need to make a donation to that organization. So make sure to budget for all that.
19. 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 .
20. 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 races only)
- Cups, water jugs and/or water bottles
- Food and drinks for aid stations and the start/finish areas for participants, volunteers and your team staff
- Audio equipment (MC and PA use)
- Lighting gear (if the race takes place at night)
- Pyrotechnics (if you feel so inclined...)
You can start your search for rated race suppliers in your area on anything from flags and banner to barriers and race arches on our race services directory.
21. Order participant experience items (aka swag)
In addition to supplies you will need for the race itself, you will also need a few things to enhance your participants’ race experience. Here's a few things you may want to consider:
- Bib numbers
- Finisher T-shirts
- Finisher medals
- Custom race bags
- Other memorabilia and merchandise, e.g. belt buckles, branded mugs etc
22. Hire a race photographer
Having a race photographer take snaps of your participants during your race is almost a must-have these days. (Whether you make the photos available for free or for a fee is another story...) So make sure you put hiring one high on your list of pre-race priorities.
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 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.
If, on the other hand, you know what a difference the voice of a professional can make, check out our race announcer listings for top-rated emcees and race announcers in your region.
24. Stuff race packets and organize packet pickup
If you have packets or simply race bibs to distribute, consider when and how you will make these available to participants for collection. Are you mailing them or are participants picking them up before or on race day? These are some of the things you'd need to think about.
If you are setting up race-day pickup, make sure your race packets are alphabetized and easy for volunteers to pull for runners on race morning. You don’t want to have to deal with long queues at pickup on race day, so thinking through these issues is crucial for efficient operations.
25. Charge radios, tablets and other team devices
If you’re using radios, phones or tablets for your race check-in, payments processing or other aspects of your race, make sure you charge all devices fully the night before. This can save you the stress of low batteries blinking at you during the race and rushing for plugs the morning of the event.
And that's pre-race done!
Race Day Checklist
You've made it to race day, which means most of the effort is behind you - but the bit everyone's showing up for is just about to get going. Make sure you've got the following boxes ticked to avoid trip-ups on R-day!
(You may find a different order of tasks more suitable to your circumstances. That's ok - you're the boss and every race is different.)
1. Brief your team members
As a race director, you should have a few people supporting you on race by taking charge of key areas of responsibility, like volunteers, logistics, event safety etc. You should also have a deputy race director as your right-hand person. All info should flow to you through these core team members who will coordinate everything else.
The first thing you should do on race day is to brief your core team so they can get on with their respective duties. Make sure your team have radios or some other means of communicating with you, and are given any last-minute updates about the race - as well as a chance to voice last-minute concerns! - as early as possible.
If you have delegated responsibilities to team members for liaising with public services, emergency services or other parties on the course (e.g. timing officials), this is the time to confirm everyone knows whom to reach out to and how.
2. Confirm road closures and deliveries are on schedule
Early morning road closures and site deliveries are common in the hours before the race begins and should be your number one priority when arriving on site on race day. Refer to your event timeline to make sure everything is arriving where it should at the correct time. Don’t get behind schedule!
3. Check equipment and set up start/finish areas
You’ll want to make sure you have your timing equipment (race clock, timers, computer system, recording sheets), signage (pace groups, seeding, instructional signs), power generators, finishers medals, speakers, finish tape and barriers/fencing ready to go hours before participants arrive.
After deliveries take place, have your team and volunteers begin setting up equipment and supplies. Erect tents, set up tables and place chairs where needed. Make sure your medical tent is up and ready to accept people, and that all team members know where it is located.
4. Set up your water stations along the course
Your race water stations should have been set up on the course and start/finish areas and stocked up with water, cups and/or bottles before race start.
5. Set up your signage and banners
Make sure you have all signage and banners installed in all relevant areas. Signage should help point participants in the right direction. You want to ensure that everything is clear and easily visible from a distance.
6. Brief volunteers
You should already have assigned volunteers to specific roles prior to race day, but, in some instances, changes may be necessary and resources may need shifting around. If that is the case, let your volunteers manager know what is required so they can get on with the job of allocating duties to people as required.
Small adjustments aside, make sure every volunteer is checked in against your volunteer management plan and briefed by their volunteer captain or group leader on their responsibilities for the day. Your team will need to know who is on the course at any one time and what they're doing there.
7. Go over 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 directionals, 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 area of responsibility.
8. Distribute hotspots, tablets, and test point-of-sale system
If you’re accepting race day registrations or simply selling merchandise, you’ll want to be able to accept credit card payments. Hotspots can give you a WiFi connection and tablets can help run transactions. You’ll want to distribute these and test the POS system before participants arrive.
9. Welcome and chaperone sponsors
Sponsors - if they plan to attend your event - will begin to arrive early as well.
Greet them and make sure they have everything they need to set themselves up in the relevant areas. Make sure everything you have promised sponsors is delivered and your sponsors are happy with arrangements on the ground.
If you think it will be necessary, assign a member of your team this very important task.
10. Test your PA system
Nothing is worse than being all set and ready to start and then blowing a speaker or struggling to make audio work. Test your PA system and music setup to make sure the start will go off without a hitch. Also make sure the start gun or bullhorn is ready and available near the start.
11. Make sure your food vendors have everything they need
If you've outsourced your catering, you’ll want to check in to make sure your vendors have everything they need. Depending on the contract you have with them, you might be required to provide generators, pop-up tents, signage and even volunteers to aid in their operation.
12. Double-check your emergency personnel have everything they need
Before the race begins, you should make sure that you have an ambulance on-site and that the medical staff is ready to go.
13. Organize finisher awards for the 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 are where they should be before the race begins, i.e. in the designated awards ceremony area.
14. Get participants to the start line
You’ll want to get your lead vehicle in place and ask runners to start gathering in their assigned corrals at the start line. "And we're off!!"
The work for you, the race director, doesn't end with the winner crossing the line. There's a number of things still to do to ensure the race is safely and responsibly wrapped up.
This is also the time when you're starting to lay the foundations of next year's event by leveraging the buzz and publicity your race generates.
1. Confirm all participants are safely off the course
Pretty obvious. Hopefully you'll have a vehicle or team sweeping the course to make sure there are no people left behind on the course.
2. Conduct awards ceremony
You don't have to wait for every last participant to finish the race before kicking off your awards ceremony. Make sure though, if you shift your attention to the ceremony, that someone is on top of race operations and looking out for remaining participants on the course whilst you manage the handing out of awards.
3. 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.
4. Tear down your course
Once all runners are off the course, you should begin to dismantle fixed structures, remove any signage you may have erected, clear up the start/finish areas etc. Depending on your arrangements with suppliers, you may be able to leave some of the fencing right where it was dropped. But you should comb the course and pick up any trash, fold up tables and take away items (pop-up tents, cones, etc.) that you own.
5. Dismiss race volunteers
You should seriously consider putting on an after-race party for volunteers after things have settled down to express your gratitude for all their help. But, for race day at least, a big warm thank-you should do.
6. Debrief with team members and officials
You’ll want to debrief with the Fire Marshall, Chief of Police and other officials who were at the event to make sure everything from their perspective was soundly executed and understand if they had any concerns from the day’s activities.
7. Send “Thank You!” notes to team members, sponsors, officials and partners
It takes a village to make an event come to life! You should at the very minimum send thank you notes to team members, sponsors, officials, and partners. This is a nice gesture that will grow your relationship with them and hopefully make them want to come back next year. (And if you can throw even a modest party with a few drinks for everyone, do so.)
8. Publish a race report
Circulating a race report is a good habit to develop. Not all race directors choose to do this - and it is by no means a must-do. But it can help provide a brief record of the race proceedings for participants, and also a place where you share your thoughts, as race director, about how the race turned out.
Your race report shouldn't be just a stale account of every little detail that went into the race. Focus on the exciting bits of the event past and use the opportunity of publishing the report to kickstart next year's registration. ;)
9. Send out race press releases
The iron is hot - so this is the time to strike the local press, online community and specialized publications with a press release summarizing what a resounding success your race has been and how you're planning to return event stronger the following year. And don't forget to include your top pick of photos from your race to go with your press releases!
10. Host an event recap meeting
Invite key stakeholders to meet and discuss what worked and what didn’t work during the event. To help provide a guide for the discussion, send a survey to your participants via email and social media and be prepared to share the feedback. In addition, consider the following:
- How was the type of event perceived by the community?
- How can we improve it next year?
- What marketing strategies worked best for us?
- What should we have focused more on?
- How can we grow our race? What are our target numbers for next year?
- How do we keep people coming back? Should we introduce any new race features next year?
11. Go over your event financials
It is very useful at the end of each race to prepare a financial document outlining the final profit/loss after payments have cleared. This will help you understand what parts of your financial forecast were more (or less) realistic and adjust estimates going forward.
12. Set 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.