Thinking about organizing a race? Holding a 5K or other distance race can be a great way to bring the community together and raise money for a cause. Nothing about organizing a race is particularly hard, but there are a great many details to tend to, so it’s good to have a group of volunteers working together. Be aware that there are many more races on the calendar than there used to be, so competition for participants has gotten tougher. Still, with good planning and lots of publicity, it’s possible to attract enough people to make your efforts worthwhile. It’s best to set a goal of breaking even your first year, and do a good job so people will come back the next year and your number of participants will gradually increase.
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Pick Your Date

Check the Macon Tracks race calendar to make sure your race date doesn’t conflict with a well-established, popular race in a nearby location. Having two races in close proximity on the same day means both will suffer. Consider holding your race on a Friday or Saturday evening to distinguish it from other races. E-mail Don at macontracks@macontracks.org if you’d like to know what races were held on your date the previous year.

Plan Your Course

You will need to get approval and a permit from the Parks & Recreation Department if your race is held in the city of Macon or Bibb County. The office is located near Central City Park. Getting approval can take time, so apply early. Download permit forms and an informational handout to get started. Armand Burnett handles Bibb County events. His number is 478-751-7638. Police coverage is expensive ($25 per hour with a two-hour minimum per officer) so you may want to plan your course so as to have as few intersections as possible.

While certification is certainly a bonus in attracting dedicated runners, for most small 5K races it isn’t necessary to go to the expense of having your course certified. The exception would be a fast 5K or 10K course that runners might want to use to qualify for the Peachtree Road Race. This doesn’t mean that the course does not need to be accurate, because an accurately measured course is very important. Runners get annoyed when they’ve run a hard effort, only to find out the course was a tenth of a mile short so they don’t have a new personal record after all, or that the course was long so they have no idea how well they did in comparison to other races. The best way to get an accurate course is to measure it with a distance-measuring wheel, taking care to push the wheel along the tangents or shortest possible path. There is a wealth of information on this subject on the USATF website. GPS systems can be helpful to sketch out a preliminary course, as can calibrated bike odometers and Google maps. Do not use a car odometer. Measure carefully, marking each mile split along the way.

Hire a Race Timer

img_3322You will most likely want to hire someone to do your race timing. Getting accurate results is critical. For smaller races, a POF card system is sufficient. To compile the results, a volunteer pushes a button to record the time as each runner crosses the finish, then the runner is given a place of finish (POF) card to fill out so that the numbered card with the runner’s information can be connected to the time recorded on the race timing app or printable stopwatch. Larger races will find it worthwhile to incur the added expense of chip timing. Steve Corkery and a few other Macon Tracks club volunteers time a select number of races each year, donating the money earned to Macon Tracks for equipment maintenance and other expenses. The fee for this service is $125 for up to 100 runners, and $1 per runner after that. Send an e-mail to macontracks@macontracks.org to inquire about race timing services. Due to demand exceeding the number of hours our timing volunteers are able to donate, we aren’t currently accepting new races for timing. We recommend contacting Classic Race Services. They do a good job of race timing and provide other race support services as well. E-mail them at classicraceservices@gmail.com or call Tim Bagley at 770-714-2935 or Carole Black at 706-680-7223. I try to maintain a list of companies providing timing services in the links on the right. It’s also possible to time the race yourself using a race timing app on a tablet or smartphone along with POF cards. It’s not complicated, but does require some knowledge, so you may want to volunteer at a race to see how it’s done first. Scroll to the bottom for more detailed instructions on how to time your own race.

Set Up Registration

Think carefully before deciding on an entry fee. Getting a good turnout is important not just for your bottom line, but also because large numbers of participants will help when soliciting sponsorship money the following year. Don’t scare people away by setting the price too high, especially for a newly established race. The most expensive races typically do not charge more than $20 to pre-register or $25 on race day, and often these races will offer technical fabric race t-shirts, chip timing, and other amenities, or they’re able to attract a lot of participants despite a high price by virtue of a cause many people are supportive of, such as breast cancer research. Consider offering a discount for kids or offering a family rate.

2011-02-19-AndiBergerIt’s a good idea to offer online registration for your event. We highly recommend Racer Pal, a service offered by Macon Tracks member Andi Berger. Racer Pal credit card transactions are processed via Paypal and the funds are deposited into your own Paypal account. The Paypal fee is about $1 per registration for most races. If you contract with an event registration company such as Active.com, runners typically pay $3 or more in service fees. Encouraging runners to register online by keeping fees low means less work for you. You’ll spend less time typing information from paper forms into a spreadsheet, less time processing checks, and the information will be more accurate. Visit www.racerpal.com for more details.

Get the Word Out

Check race flyers for other races to get ideas of how to lay out your flyer. Microsoft Publisher or Word both work well. You’ll want to include basic race information as well as a waiver. You’ll probably want to convert your flyer to pdf format. A free program to do this can be downloaded at CutePDF.

You’ll want to place flyers around town at health clubs and other locations, and also add them to online listings including Run and See Georgia, Run Georgia, Cool Running, Running in the USA, and Runner’s World. Races within an hour’s drive of Macon can be listed on the Macon Tracks race calendar. Races further from Macon can be listed on the South Georgia race calendar on the Macon Tracks site.
You can list your race on the Run & See Georgia website regardless of whether you decide to have your race be part of the Run & See Georgia Grand Prix. Being part of the Grand Prix will most likely increase the number of participants at your race, especially if your event has two races of different distances timed such that runners can do both races and get additional points without having to travel. The fee for your race to be part of the Grand Prix is $250. Contact Gary Jenkins for more information.

Sponsors

To really raise money for a cause, you’ll need to solicit sponsors. Plan ahead as to what benefits will be offered with each level of sponsorship (some possible benefits you can offer are the sponsor’s logo or text on the back of the t-shirt and on race applications, a certain number of free race entries, recognition at the awards ceremony, the opportunity to put materials in the race packets and to have a table at the race, etc.). Work hard to treat your sponsors well so they’ll come back next year.

Shirts

A well-designed t-shirt that’s worn after the race is over will provide good advertising for your race in the future and for the sponsors as well. It’s very important to plan carefully when placing the t-shirt order. It’s a costly mistake to order too many, but you do need to ensure that all the people who pre-register get the size shirt they order (be sure and set aside enough shirts for all pre-registered runners as they get upset if they go to the trouble to pre-register only to show up on race day and find out you’ve given their shirt to a race-day registrant). Keeping records from one year to the next can really help. A good starting point is to order 20% small, 30% medium, 30% large 18% XL and 2% 2XL. If you do run out of shirts on race day, you can always take $5 off the entry fee or offer to mail a shirt to the runner in a few weeks. It’s often possible to have the shirt vendor do a second printing after the race.

Awards

img8648Awards don’t have to be expensive, but they should be plentiful. Creativity is a bonus. Typically awards are given to the top 3 male and female overall winners, the top 3 masters (age 40+) winners, and 3 deep in each of 15 age categories (10 & under, 11-14, 15-19, 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, 70-74, 75 & up). This means you’ll need 12 awards that are a little nicer plus 90 age group awards. Smaller races can go just one deep on the overall and masters awards. Probably not all age groups will fill (there usually aren’t 3 women in the 75+ age group, for instance), so you may get away with ordering fewer 2nd and 3rd place awards.

Bib Numbers and Supplies

Road I.D. will give you bib numbers for free or at a reduced cost in exchange for putting their flyer in the race packets. A good source to obtain safety pins and other race supplies is www.rainbowracing.com.

Insurance

You can register as an “Event Member” through Road Runner’s Club of America and obtain insurance for your event. Go to www.rrca.org for more information. If your event is in the city of Macon, you’ll need to add the city as an additional insured to get your permit.

Volunteers

Line up your volunteers early. At a minimum, you’ll need volunteers to help with race day registration, to direct runners along the course, to pass out water, and help with the finish line. Having many volunteers keeps any one person from getting overwhelmed (especially the race director!).

More Details

For porta-potties, we recommend Taylor Services Restrooms 2 Go (478-808-7254).

Coca-cola may give you free PowerAde if you write to them well ahead of race day and ask for a sponsorship.

Kroger may give you a discount on refreshments if your race is for charity.

Race Day

This may sound obvious, but it’s extremely important that everyone runs the same course. In other words, you don’t want anyone making a wrong turn! DO NOT rely on the police car driver leading the way to know the race route. Have someone ride with the police officer who is extremely familiar with the course. You can also ask a bicyclist to lead the runners. Likewise, do not rely on police officers to direct runners along the course. They are there to watch for cars, not runners. You need to make sure someone could follow the course even if they were out there alone. This means signs, cones, liquid chalk, caution tape, and volunteers at every possible place runners might get confused. Putting course maps out ahead of time helps, too.

Some things to bring on race day: safety pins, blank registration forms, change and a cash box, extra bib numbers, pens, trash cans, and a bull horn, air horn, or gun for the start. You’ll need cups for the water stations. An amplifier and microphone for the awards ceremony is a real bonus. Of course you’ll need the race packets, t-shirts, awards, refreshments, and tables to put them on.

Instructions for Timing Your Own Race

1. You will need to install a race timing app on your smart phone or tablet, such as Race Timer Pro by Mark Pearce or Dalmith Applications Race Timer available on Google Play (there are similar apps available for iPads). You will also need to purchase place of finish cards (POF cards), available at Electric City Printing. The POF cards are sequentially numbered and have a place for the runner to write their name, age, gender, estimated finish time, bib number, and city.

2. You will need at least 3 volunteers: 1 person to record the elapsed time as each runner crosses the finish line (by pressing a button on the race timing app), 1 person to hand each runner a POF card as they cross, and 1 person to collect the POF cards and compile a list of overall and age group winners.

3. When the race is started, the person with the race timing app presses Start to begin timing the race. As each runner crosses the finish line, the race timing volunteer records their time and the second volunteer hands them a POF card. These two volunteers need to stay in sync with each other. For instance, when the 8th runner crosses, the eighth time is recorded, and the runner receives a POF card with the number 8 in the top right corner. If you get out of sync, for instance if someone neglects to take their POF card, or someone crosses the finish with a friend for the 2nd time, adjust as necessary by putting a POF card in your pocket or marking the time invalid on the race timing app. These volunteers should check with each other every 5 or so runners to make sure they’re in sync.

4. Runners write their information on the POF card and give it to the race results compiler. It helps to have a worksheet made up ahead of time with blanks to fill in for all the award categories. The first male and female runners’ names are entered in the overall spots, then the next male and female age 40 or older gets the first masters slot, and then the age group awards are filled in. Times are not necessary, but it’s good to also write the POF card number. It’s easy to tell that the person with POF card #22 finished ahead of the person with POF card #32. Note: male and female runners compete separately and there should be duplicate sets of awards for each. Typically if a runner wins an overall or masters category, they are not also eligible for an age group award. If the person winning the Masters award is 43, then the 1st overall 40-44 age group award goes to the next finisher in that category and so on.

5. After the race, the POF cards are used to complete a spreadsheet listing all the finishers in order with, at minimum, their name, sex, age, and time. The estimated times written by the runners on their POF cards can be used to help match up the POF cards with the times recorded on the race timing app, though the race timing app times should be used for the official results. These results can be submitted to Macon Tracks or other websites for posting. Ideally, results should be posted within 48 hours.

6. This system does not take into account having a large clock for runners to see their times as they cross the finish. Race timing clocks are very expensive, and our club does not rent ours out for this reason. If you have access to electricity, it might be possible to use a computer monitor to display the time using a program such as the one at http://www.online-stopwatch.com. If you don’t have a race clock, you will at least want to call out the time as runners cross.

7. If you are planning to time your race yourself, I highly recommend volunteering or at least attending a local race beforehand to better get a feel for how this timing system works. Most small races use POF cards. I do not recommend timing your own race if you expect more than 150 runners.