Get Ready for Race Day

By Emily Tipping

Do you play host to races and fun runs? If so, you're in good company. If not, are you thinking about getting started?

According to Recreation Management's 2013 State of the Industry Report, nearly half (49.2 percent) of all respondents offer sports tournaments and races. And, 20 percent of those who were planning to add more programming to their lineup over the next three years indicated they would be adding sports tournaments and races.

Indeed, 5k races in particular have seen a surge in popularity over the past decade. How many people do you know who have run or are planning to run a 5k? A half-marathon? A marathon?

While a marathon is a hefty undertaking in the planning department, a 5k is a little more manageable. It's not a simple task—you need a long timeline and plenty of resources before, during and after race day—but a well-run 5k can bring your community together for a little socializing and a lot of activity, while also attracting outsiders who will support local businesses.

Getting Started

Before you do anything else, think about the resources at your disposal—staffing, budgets and so on—and decide whether you want to do it all yourself. If not, you can reach out to sports events companies, which will handle all the details for you. If you go this route, be sure to ask for references, and talk to other organizations similar to your own that have worked with the consultant successfully.

If you don't want to bring in outside help, the first item on your agenda is to create a planning calendar, according to The running blog's interview with Tim Price, event manager for the Loomba Foundation 5K. Work backwards from the date of your run and determine how much time you'll need for every aspect of the event: working out insurance, your route, staffing, signage, refreshments and water, bling and goody bags, medals and T-shirts, race bibs and timing chips, fencing for the start and finish, portable toilets and more. Some aspects of your planning will be easier than others, but give yourself plenty of time, in case some aspect of the process doesn't go quite as planned.

One of the most important aspects of your race will be the course. Do you have a course in mind? Many runners will be attracted to a scenic route. Likewise, if your route offers a unique challenge—such as a tough hill or some other feature—that might get racers excited too.

Are you going to have your course certified? For runners, a certified course ensures that the distance is accurately measured, which is handy when it comes to training for multiple events. At the same time, when your course is certified, you get descriptions of every mile-point or kilometer, so you can place markers in the right location. Experienced runners generally know if the course distance is incorrect, and if they are dissatisfied, they might not come back and run with you again.

How do you certify a course? USA Track and Field publishes guidelines for how to measure a course to get it certified, and posts a list of approved measurers on its site at

The timing of your race will also be important to serious runners, so be sure to partner with a company that has proven experience with the timing products you'll need.

Plan Your Push

If you do choose to have your course certified, you'll want to be sure to advertise that fact. In fact, you'll want to be sure to advertise your race in as many ways as you can to ensure a good draw.

First of all, you can include the event in your parks and recreation brochure. This will draw in your regular visitors and customers, and maybe even some community members who've been waiting for just such an event. However, most people are not runners, so in addition to your regular outreach, you'll want to find ways to let runners outside of your community know about the race.

Local running clubs, fitness centers, YMCAs, high schools, walking clubs and more can all be an excellent resource to reach additional runners for your event. You can also submit your event to a variety of websites that list races across the country.

Be sure all of your materials name the exact time and location of the race, so everyone will know where (and when!) to show up. Also, include registration details and information about when and where runners should sign up on race day, as well as pick up their packets and goody bags.

Do you have sponsors? They can also be a helpful resource in getting the news out about the event. A good place to start when looking for sponsors is the local running and athletic shop. Other potential partners include medical groups and hospitals, as well as large and small businesses in your area. A corporate sponsor might even field a team of employees to compete in the event, raising your participation rate. suggests that you should determine your sponsorship fees "based on the value of the entitlement you are offering a sponsor, not the cost to you." Be careful, the site warns, not to set too low a price.

Themes Abound

Don't want your 5K to be the same old, same old? No problem. As in many other areas of parks and recreation, you can stand out from the rest by finding a good theme and running with it. (No pun intended.)

Across the country, you can find an amazing variety of themes for fun runs and races, from zombie runs to muddy obstacle courses, glow-in-the-dark races, underwear races and much more.

You can choose your theme to fit with a holiday (how many Annual Turkey Trots are held across the country each year?) or to suit your local culture and history.

And don't limit yourself to runners. You can invite walkers to participate in a 5K as well, but you also can expand your events beyond running to include cyclists, skiers and more. Your only limit is your imagination and the interest level of your community.

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