Chapter One
GETTING STARTED

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So you want to put on a road race? The resurgence of road running in the last few years of the 20th century may not match the "boom" of the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, but the popularity of well-organized running events continues to grow. Road races are not usually, in and of themselves, terrific methods of making money. However, events can be effective in building camaraderie within companies and clubs, gaining exposure for sponsors, and promoting health-related issues.

Because many of the chapters that follow were written at different times for different purposes, there is some redundancy in the presentation. Because repetition of an idea can be helpful sometimes, I've left all the articles intact. As much as anything they serve as reminders of the myriad number of items that a race director must consider. Not everything will apply to every race. Some approaches may be too rudimentary for your race, others may be more than you want to do at this point in your event's development.

If you are starting from scratch, where do you begin?

Reason for the Race

This may seem obvious, but you should have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish so you can convey it to those . from prospective sponsors to volunteers who may become involved in your event. Here are a few of many possibilities:

  • An activity for a club, business, educational organization or social group.
  • A community outreach effort.
  • A marketing vehicle for the presenting sponsor.
  • A promotion of physical fitness.
  • A way to draw attention to--and perhaps raise funds for--a charity, project, or non-profit organization.
  • A celebration of a special day or event (although this is usually secondary to other goals).
  • A way to showcase regional, national, or world-class athletes.

Theme

Thinking about your theme can involve considerations from the day chosen for the run to the colors used on race entry forms and T-shirts. For example:

Holiday races such as turkey trots on Thanksgiving and resolution runs on New Year'sEve.

  • Training runs of the same or increasing distances leading up to a major local race, often a marathon.
  • A race series with points accumulating toward a club or open championship.
  • An event that is one of several in a national series such as the Race for the Cure or Avon Running Series.
  • An anniversary or "running" of a race. The 100th Boston Marathon is the most prominent example.
  • A way to tie in local officials, something like a governor's gallop or a mayor's marathon.
  • Promotion of an idea (Run for Soviet Jewry), a product (the Diet Pepsi series) or a service (Race for the Zoo).
  • An enhancement to a grand opening or other commercial occasion.
  • Celebration of a historic event or person.

You may be able to carry your race theme into the decorations at the finish line (balloons and flags), the food served, the entertainment provided and the celebrities invited to participate. Your theme may carry over into the awards presented and the finishers' results provided. The more cohesive and complementary your approach, the more likely your event will be remembered and run again in subsequent years.

Money

There are other ways to put this--budgets, financial obligations, expenses and revenue--but it all comes down to dollars. How many will you need to put your race, where will you get them, and will you have any left when the event is over? Here are a few sources of funding:

  • Sponsorship dollars (and in-kind contributions which, because they replace expenses, can be as beneficial as cash).
  • Seed money (proceeds left over from the preceding year's race).
  • Donation of services. Like in-kind contributions these can help defray expenses. Examples are groups to organize aid stations, military units, entertainment groups, ambulance/medical coverage, local news anchors or DJs as masters of ceremony, and trash pickup. Although it is rare, some events have received complimentary portable toilets and police protection.
  • Club coffers. Running clubs particularly may use membership and other dollars to fund races, accepting a break even or loss from the event as a service to their members and the community.
  • Municipal backing or underwriting.
  • Businesses. Title sponsorship of a race may involve management of the event (the San Francisco Examiner Bay to Breakers) or not (the Quad City Times Bix 7).

Responsibilities

  • Simply, who is going to do what? There are lots of variations on the theme:
  • Running clubs. The members do most of the work.
  • Race management organizations. Individuals and companies that put on races for a living.
  • Charitable or community groups.
  • The event owner's employees.

More specifically, this means determining who is going to solicit and take care of sponsors, who will work with local authorities, who will design and measure the course, who will design the entry form and race T-shirts, etc. all the way through who will conduct the finish line, clean up afterwards and send out the race results. Whether the particular job involves one person or dozens, it is important to decide in advance just whose job it is.

Marketing

Depending on the circumstances, and often the size of the race, promotion of an event may be critical or virtually "unnecessary." The latter, however, is rare and usually an option for those races with great tradition (Boston Marathon) or popularity (New York City Marathon, Bolder Boulder, Peachtree Road Race).

Generally, at least some promotion and/or advertising is essential. There are lots of potential marketing approaches; some are fairly simple, others require more research, effort and expense:

  • Mailing the current year's entry form to the previous year's entrants.
  • Utilizing media sponsors through public service announcements on television and radio to advertisements (often the race entry form) in local newspapers.
  • Advertising in national running publications (or at least being mentioned in the race calendar listings).
  • Distributing entry forms to as many logical outlets as possible (specialty running stores, athletic clubs, recreation centers, and any other retail locations that will display them).
  • Asking local merchants to display a poster announcing the event.
  • Seeking news coverage of the event, its invited athletes, course, theme, or other special features or innovations.
  • Distributing flyers door-to-door in the areas around the race site. (This is a good idea even if you're just "warning" neighbors about the upcoming event.)
  • Seeking endorsements (which in turn create media coverage opportunities) from politicians, members of the media, professional athletes or other local celebrities.
  • Mailing entry forms to members of your area's running clubs (some offer this service through their newsletters for a fee) or the entrant lists of other local road races.
  • Distributing your entry forms at other races on the calendar within three months of yours.

Venue and Date

Perhaps just slightly less important than funding the race are considerations of "where and when." Determining "where" to run the race involves two primary considerations and many collateral concerns:

  • What will be fun or fast for the participants?
  • What will be feasible for the applicable authorities?

The "when" involves considerations of holidays; timing of other races; permit requirements for parks or roadways; potential conflicts with major sports teams' schedules and their use of city services such as police; availability of volunteer groups; and, of course, weather.

 

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