Even the most basic of low frills fun runs entail more details than most of us would ever suspect. But in 2015, if you're planning to “put on” a race, let me help you get cerebral for a minute or two.
Let’s start out with the obligatory “Happy New Year.” This is the time of year when runners take a look back at the previous year and start looking ahead into the new one. Like most folks, we’ll see what worked and what didn’t, plan ahead for training and racing, and hope that we stay healthy. It’s a time that I call the cerebral time – time to think about it.
If you’re a runner, most likely you’ve entered a race or two in your life. We runners tend to think that races just happen. In the course of a normal year, I’ll get asked at least a dozen times if I would help put on a race. “Put on a race” is a funny way of looking at it, I suppose, but races aren’t just “put on.” Even the most basic of low frills fun runs entail more details than most of us would ever suspect. But in 2015, if you’re planning to “put on” a race, let me help you get cerebral for a minute or two.
There are two important variables to consider first – the runner’s experience and the sponsor’s experience. Oftentimes, race directors think of the runner and whether this will be something they’d run. But they overlook the sponsors that foot the bill for most of the event costs. If it’s a good runner’s experience event, race fees generally won’t cover the costs of “putting on” the event. You may need sponsors, too.
A race through a runner’s eyes includes things like course layout, entry cost, giveaways, competition, date and time, post-race fare, location, and safety. And that’s just scratching the surface.
A race through a sponsor’s eyes includes marketing visibility, publicity, charitable connections, amount of investment, return on that investment and event sustainability.
Even a good low-frills event needs to consider everything a runner would look for in an event. I’ve directed some pretty low-cost racing events in year’s past and with the “to be expected” low turnout. Free doesn’t always mean better. Who wants to run a cross country race in December through 8 inches of snow? I mean, other than me.
In almost all cases, the race location and race date will play a major role in who shows up. Course parade permits from municipalities may hinder or limit where the course is run. And is the course accurately measured or did you stick a wheel out of a car window and drive “about 3.1 miles”? Will your race be held on the same weekend as a more established event that draws 2,000 runners every year? It’s nearly impossible to find a unique race date but avoiding the biggies certainly can help with turnout.
On race day, who’s in charge of timing the event? You know us runners are pretty intense about two things – course accuracy and our time. Chip timed or hand timed? How many volunteers will be working in the finish chute? Or on the course as marshals? Speaking of marshals, how well is course marked and are those marshals well instructed on just where the course goes? Will there be water or sports drinks handed out during the race and/or afterwards? Oh that pesky runner’s experience… and let’s not forget about PORTA-POTTIES!
Your sponsors may want access to your data base, as well as be in a high-profile location at packet pickup and race day. Are there signs and tables? A good charitable connection oftentimes helps with the feel-good side of a marketer’s experience. Too many for-profit ventures are getting into the racing scene and forgetting that runners and sponsors alike see community as a part of this racing experience.
I’ve been involved in some very good race experiences as runner, sponsor and race director. I’ve also been involved in some really bad ones. Ever come to a four-way intersection with no course markings and no marshal there to direct? Oh, and there was no course map provided, either. How about a 2.5 mile “5k”? And what do you mean there are no race numbers or safety pins? I paid $60 for this?
“Putting on a race” requires logistics, time, a good committee and patience. Races don’t just happen. So here’s a big “thank you” to those who undertake any part of planning a race on behalf of those of us who run in those races. Let’s make 2015 a great year.
Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andrew Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer.