Race Director's Primer
|Setting The Race Date|
|Getting The Runners To Come To Your Race|
|After The Race
The Nittany Valley Running Club is happy to help you plan and carry out your race. Feel free to contact a club officer with questions. But before doing that, read through the following primer on how to direct a race. The primer will answer most of your general questions, and has information that is specifically for race directors in the State College area.
Note: If you are planning a race on the Penn State University Park campus, you should also read our On-Campus Race Information page.
Most races are put on for some charitable cause, and people have come to think of putting on a 5K as a way to get attention for the cause and making some money for it as well. There are two things you should know before taking on directing a race. First, it's a lot of work, something you should have several months lead time to carry out, and something best done if you have a few people to help you. Second, there are two ways to make money putting on a 5K: get lots of runners, and get lots of sponsors. Do not neglect the latter! Many races make a good deal of money without attracting many runners because they have worked at getting cash sponsorship. All races can defray their costs greatly by getting donations of cash, food, water, and prizes.
First, choose a safe course. A safe course is one where the runners do not have to run on heavily travelled roads unless these roads have traffic control. There's more on traffic control below. For trail runs, a safe course is one that is well marked and does not include any dangerous sections, unless you advertise the race as some sort of "extreme" competition and are indemnified against the inherent liability. Regardless of what kind of race you are putting on, you should also consider putting a legal disclaimer on your application form and buying some kind of event insurance. Examples of disclaimers can be found on many of the applications for coming races that are on the NVRC Calendar. NVRC officers can tell you how to get race insurance.
Second, choose a legal course. A legal course is one that has been approved by any authority that has jurisdiction over the course. Make sure you contact the appropriate University authority or local government body and find out what you need to do for approval.
New: PennDOT Regulations Being Enforced. PennDOT is now requiring that all races that use or cross state roads (and that includes roads that don't have a number, like Fox Hollow Rd) must go through the PennDOT permitting process. That is a 2 month process, so plan ahead. Permission or provisional permission from other entities (townships, PSU) must be obtained before submitting to Penn DOT. If it's a campus race, Diane Grimm in Police Services or Linda Padisak in University Relations can advise you. Essentially every race in the area will be affected. You must use the PennDOT forms and submit a certificate of insurance.
Measuring A Course: Finally, your course should be accurately measured. This means that if the course has an advertised distance (5K, etc), the course should actually be very close to that length. Errors of 100 yards for a 5K are frowned on. Errors of a tenth of a mile (176 yards) or more are unacceptable. You should also strive to have accurately measured one and two mile-marks for a 5K and one through five mile-marks for a 10K. Not every runner cares about the accuracy of a race course, but those who do will make their feelings known if your course is obviously mismeasured. You owe it to the people who are trying to improve their times, set Personal Records (PRs), qualify for other races, etc., to accurately measure your course.
With the advent of internet mapping technology, it has unfortunately become more common for first-time race directors to measure their courses with an online mapping site. It must be stressed that this method is not accurate enough! Mapping sites are great for getting a good approximation of a course distance, but can easily be 100 yards off on a 10K. You can use an internet mapping site to "rough out" the course, but you must measure it more accurately.
Here is a list of methods that people have sometimes used to measure courses. Do not use one of the methods in the "red" section to measure a course!
Do not use - too inaccurate:
- A car odometer
- A bike odometer
- A Pedometer
- An internet mapping site (Note: This method is useful for "roughing out" a course before you go out and accurately measure it with one of the methods below.
OK to use for 5K or 10K if done conscientiously:
- A GPS device (Recommended for most courses for which USATF Certification is not desired.)
- Measuring wheel
Best method, and only method acceptable for USATF Course Certification:
- Special USATF approved bicycle hub-mounted counter.
Thus, acceptably accurate methods for course measurement are to use a GPS device, a hand measuring wheel, or the USATF approved bicycle hub-mounted counting device. The hub mounted device is the only device approved by the USATF for course certification.
Measuring the course with a GPS device, a wheel, or bicycle-mounted device requires that you walk or ride the entire course and pay attention to what you are doing, noting locations of mile marks, etc. It is recommended with all three methods that you measure your course twice to ensure accuracy. While measuring, take the shortest route a runner would take. That means, don't take unauthorized short cuts, but cut as close to the inside of any turn as you will allow a runner. If there is a significant discrepancy between the measurements (more than 0.02 miles for a 5K), it should be done again.
Using a measuring wheel is potentially more accurate than using a GPS, but there are many pitfalls with this method, particularly if the course is long and covers rough ground. For this reason, the NVRC has been recommending the use of GPS devices for measuring courses. GPS devices have become more accurate in recent years. Many people think that because they can place you within 20 ft, that they are that accurate for measuring an entire race course. However, that error is point placement, and accumulates to some degree when measuring a course. Some of the accumulating errors cancel, and a GPS can give reasonable accuracy, to within a few hundredths of a mile for a 5K. While not accurate enough for USATF course certification, this method can be adequate for most small races. It is recommended that a course be "roughed out" first via an internet mapping site. Measure the course on a clear day. And, as mentioned, a course should be measured twice by GPS.
A Note On Trail Races: Trail races are becoming increasingly popular. Some of these races also involve obstacles, including water, mud, wall and rope climbing, etc. Much of what is said above applies, with some modification:
- Course Planning: Trail races have their intrinsic interest. But you'll need to plan the course with some of the things below in mind.
- Course Safety: Trail races are generally inherently riskier to a runner than road races. Runners know and expect this. In some cases, it's part of the attraction. However, care should be taken to describe the risks. How rocky is it? How steep and long are the climbs? What are the other risks? The same is true and more with obstacle races. Make sure your participants understand what is involved. And make sure you have well written waivers and carry some liability insurance.
- Course Logistics: Be sure that the course is well-marked, that there are aid and water stations. Marking can be done using flour or with streamers tied to trees. Be sure to remove non-biodegradable markings after the race. You should have some way of accessing the course by car in several places along the way in case you receive a report of an injured runner.
- Measurement: Trail races are generally not expected to be measured as accurately as road races. People want to know about how far a trail race is. But measuring by way of a GPS device or internet mapping site provides adequate accuracy for these races.
Setting The Race Date
Setting the date and time of a race can have a big effect on how many people will show up. In general, you want to pick a time of year when the weather is nice, when a lot of people will be around, and when they won't all be doing something else.
Date and Time: You should usually pick a Saturday or Sunday morning. Most times of the year, 9 AM is an ideal race start time. It's not too early, but it gives plenty of time for people to do other things later in the day. During the colder months, you might want to start your race later in the day to give things a chance to warm up. An evening race during the summer can also work. Forget about mid-afternoon during the summer. It's too hot and people are busy with other things. Other possibilities for race days are the mornings of floating holidays (e.g. Independence, Labor Day, etc). Thanksgiving or the day after can also work, though the weather is getting "iffy" by then and many people are with family out of town.
Weather: From a weather standpoint, The ideal times of year for running are late Spring, late Summer, and Fall. This would be the months of April, May, and September through mid-November. Temperatures are mild, humidity is low, and most courses are snow and ice free. Summer is OK for running, but you may get fewer runners when the students are gone. Winter has the students, but the weather is cold and some courses can be treacherous.
People: State College, being dominated by PSU, has a larger pool of available runners whenever school is in session. This coincides nicely with the late Spring, late Summer, and early Fall dates mentioned above.
Continuity: Don't make big changes to the date of your race from year to year. If your race was on the first Saturday in November last year, try to keep it that same weekend, or one very close to it on the calendar, unless you have a very good reason to change it.
Getting The Runners To Come To Your Race
To get runners to show up at your race, you have to design an attractive race and you have to publicize it.
Designing An Attractive Race: An attractive race is a race that draws runners either because the race has a great course, because it's a little challenging or unusual, or is associated with a worthy cause. It helps if you can work all three into your race planning. For example, the Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK 50 Mile Relay and Ultramarathon has benefited a number of popular and worthy community charities over the years. It is run on a wonderful woodsy backroad course in Rothrock State Forest, and, while a challenge, the race is designed so that it can be accessible to beginning runners up to hard core ultras.
If you are directing a charity event, make the charity a prominent part of your race promotion. Many serious runners will break training for another race and jog a charity event if the charity is something dear to their hearts. Be aware that if you are directing a charity event, you will be trying to attract as many runners as possible. This means that unless you are doing something unusual, you should probably plan your race distance to be shorter than 10 K. The State College area does not have a large enough pool of distance runners to support more than a few long races a year.
There is a pool of runners that is often overlooked: young kids. Having a "Kid's Race" as well as your main event can make your event more attractive to parents, will increase the 'profit' for your charity, and will help promote running to the younger generation. Kid's races are generally between a quarter-mile and a mile in length and are usually open to kids 12 and under. Kids as young as 3 or 4 run the races, so it can be helpful to have two "heats". The Art's Festival 10K has two Kid's Races: a quarter-miler for the youngest kids, and a half-miler for kid's aged 8 to 12. It is considered legitimate to let a younger child run in the heat designed for the older kids if he wants to and if his parents consent. You should not let older kids run in a heat for younger ones.
Other possibilities for increasing participation is to include unusual categories, such as Clydesdale/Athena, team competitions, or costumed runner competitions. A Clydesdale is a "big-boned" male runner, where the definition of big-boned varies, but is usually 180 lbs and over. An Athena is a larger (140 lbs or more) woman runner. Team competitions usually involve teams of 3 or more runners who vie for the lowest combined time or lowest "score". If you set up your competition on a time basis, you must limit the size of the team to a definite number (say 3). If you set up your competition on a score basis, you can have teams consist of 3 scoring runners and up to 2 more others. The lowest team score wins. The score of the team is the sum of the place order of each of the team's top 3 finishers. The other team members help the team by possibly displacing the scoring members of other teams, thereby raising the other team's score.
Some races attract exercise walkers, or runners who break up their running with frequent stretches of walking. These participants can increase the amount you raise for charity, but there are special problems that can occur. Make sure that walking participants know that they should yield to runners in order to avoid injury to both parties. Walkers can take twice as long to finish a race as your slowest runner. We recommend that you announce that you will stop timing the race after a certain time (generally about 15-20 minutes per mile of your race) and that the last pass of the pick-up van will be at this time. Walkers who are on the course after this time are on their own.
Publicity: It is important to get the word out about your race in as many places as possible. At the same time, if you are trying to raise money for a charitable cause, you want to pay as little as possible for advertising. Luckly, many of the most effective places you can put information and announcements about your race will run the information for free.
Remember, when you draft a notice for your race, be brief, but include the essential information. Many of the venues in which you can advertise for free have space limitations. Include the name of the race, its date, time, place, and charitable beneficiary, directions for registering, and a contact for more information. There are many examples of race notices on the NVRC race calendar page.
Within two months of your race date, you should start posting information and leaving applications around town. Be considerate when doing this. Don't just staple your race flyer up on public (or private) property. Ask first. Before the NVRC Calendar came online, Rapid Transit Sports on South Allen St. was long the place where runners went to find out about upcoming races. It's still the place to get all kinds of running information. They will let you display your race application and place some apps near the main check-out table. The YMCA will also post some applications for you if you leave them for approval. You can also ask some of the other membership gyms in town to post information on your race. Ask the Race Directors of other races that fall before yours to place some of your race information at their registration table.
Finally, within a few weeks of your race, send your race information by email to the CDT Sports desk. They will place a notice when space permits on their community events column, which is usually on the left column of page two of the Sports section. Other places where you can get free advertising include: radio and television public service announcements, bulletins and newsletters of churches and other organizations, some campus organizations, especially if they have some connection to your charity. You can sometimes get not only an announcement, but pro bono (or reduced rate) graphic advertising if you know how to pull strings.
Registration: There are a couple of questions you need to settle regarding registration. First is how much to charge. A race that can charge per runner more can theoreetically make more for the beneficiary. And you can charge more for longer races. However, this is probably not the best fundraising strategy. Longer races, or races that have multiple options (e.g. 5K and 10K in the same event) typically have higher costs, logistical burdens, and volunteer requirements. The best strategy is to start small put on a great race. If your race catches on, you can add to the event and possibly charge more in later years. And concentrate on increasing the amount you can give to your beneficiary by keeping per-runner race costs low by not over-ordering give-aways, and by offsetting costs through cash and in-kind donations from sponsors.
Typically, 5K races in the State College area have registration fees of $15-$20. Some races give runners a break for registering early. Longer races and races with high logistics costs (e.g. trail races, mud runs and obstacle races, and long relay races) typically have higher fees, though usually not at the high levels seen in big city or nationally prominent races. A few races try to increase the cash raised by encouraging runners to voluntarily engage in pre-race fundraising for the cause (taking pledges), sometimes in exchange for reduction in registration fees.
The second question you need to settle is how to take registration. Pre-registration is typically accomplished through either a paper mail-in form or by an online service, or both. Note that online registration via, for example, Active.com or imAthlete.com, may add to your prospective field (many runners nowadays prefer the convenience), but the service is not free, and you should generally provide a mail-in option for those who prefer that method. With a few exceptions, you should always have a race day registration. This is especially true for a charity 5K. Many runners hold off until the last minute for a variety of reasons, including the weather. A nice day can make a big difference and it's not uncommon for a field to increase by anywhere from 10% to 100% through race day registrations.
In later sections, we'll talk about what you need to do on race day. Here are a few things you will to acquire before race day to have on hand for the race.
NVRC Club-Owned Races (DRAFT): Most races on the NVRC Race Calendar, even the ones that the NVRC times or helps put on, are not "NVRC Club-Owned" races. NVRC Club-owned are insured by the NVRC's umbrella organization, the Road Runners Clubs of America. Club-owned races need to follow special rules set forth by the RRCA for covered events. These are summarized for NVRC-owned races here. Directors of all NVRC-owned races should familiarize themselves with these rules and guidelines and abide by them. Directors of non-Club events should also take a look at the RRCA rules and guidelines, particularly since they pertain to insurability (see below).
Race Timing: There are several options available for timing your race. For larger races, there are several commercial timing companies in Pennsylvania that can time your race for a fee. The NVRC can also time your race. The NVRC will do this for minimal cost in addition to its expenses for bibs or chips. However, the NVRC is not out to compete with professional timing services. Our service is supplied to small or medium-sized races in the Centre region. If your event is small, and our services are unavailable, you may want to time your race yourself. Our Race Timing page will give you infomation on all these options.
Race Insurance, Race Rules, Waivers and Disclaimers (DRAFT): Insuring yourself and/or your organization against liability is recommended. Races can sometimes be covered under the insurance of the sponsoring charity or organization. Check with your organization regarding this. Single event race insurance can be purchased through the USA Track and Field will issue event insurance to sanctioned events of member and non-member organizations. The event must be "sanctioned", which is a contract with USATF to follow its rules and guidelines. More information on this process can be found here. Races that are directly owned and hosted by the Nittany Valley Running Club are insured by the NVRC's umbrella organization, the Road Runner's Clubs of America (RRCA). Directors of Club-owned races should refer to the paragraph "NVRC Club-owned Races" above.
While the RRCA rules used for NVRC-owned races are good guidelines for any race, Race Directors often institute their own rules, which might depend on the type of race, course hazards, etc. Examples of the RRCA rules and recommendations that you may consider instituting for your own race: The RRCA strongly advises that headphones be discouraged or disallowed for safety reasons. In addition, it is recommended that parents pushing strollers be advised to start behind all other runners. Likewise, race directors may chose to prohibit dogs from participating with their owners. How far the Race Director goes in enforcing these rules would be determined by past experience, course hazards, the type of race, etc. For example, "Dog Jog" races benefitting animal shelters engourage pet participation, and all runners know to be aware of the presence of dogs, while in other races, dogs and their leashes can present hazards to other runners.
Race registration forms and online registration web pages should contain a waiver/disclaimer that outlines restrictions on the sponsoring organization's liability. Rules governing participation should also be available or included with waivers. Examples of such waivers are here.
Race Directors who expect participation by disabled athletes should include appropriate statements regarding liability and any restrictions on disable athletes (e.g. no stroller athletes due to course hazards) in their waivers and disclaimers. See also "Registering Disabled Athletes" below.
Registration Table: At the registration table you will need plenty of blank applications for race day registrants. Have enough pens for your volunteers and registering runners to use. Have some change for runners who are paying their fee with cash. Have a map or course description available at or near the registration table. Also have a copy of rules and restrictions for participants available (see above).
At registration, you will not only be "signing up" the runners, but providing your timer with a means of identifying them.Your race timer can advise you on his requirements with regard to this. In addition, your race timer will advise you what information needs to be recorded on the race numbers, and what needs to be provided to the timer to be able to sort the runners. Your timer may have you use racing bib numbers with removable tabs. If you need to supply your own race numbers, they can be bought at many running supply companies. The removeable bottom strip on a race number identifies a runner and is removed at the finish line. It should be filled out at the registration table (or before the race for pre-registered runners). These numbered strips can be posted on a tally board to help determine winners, age group winners, etc. You can make up a ruled tally board before the race and get some two-sided tape with which to post the race number strips. Alternatively, your race timer may provide you with a printout of the results to post after the race. If your race timer is using a "chip timer", you may not need race numbers.If you are using race numbers, have plenty of safety pins with which to attach the race numbers to runner's clothing. You should have some thin-line indelible markers (e.g. "Sharpies") with which to fill out the information on the pull off strip of the numbers, especially if the weather is damp.
Some race directors use computer data bases to keep track of runners' results. If you do this, make sure you are familiar with the software you will be using well before the race. Make sure that your data entry volunteer knows how to use it, too. And make sure your data entry volunteer can type fast to keep up with last-minute registrations!
Small "econo-races" (5-50 runners) that are intended for fun and competition, but are "no-frills" otherwise can use other means to identify finishers. One method is to hand a numbered index card or popsicle stick to a runner as he crosses the finish line and then collect it with the runners name after he catches his breath.
Registering Disabled Participants (DRAFT): While not a big consideration in the past, the participation of the disabled in races has grown in recent years. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs participation of disabled athletes in races. This includes disabled runners, walkers, wheel-chair athletes, or participants pushed in a running stroller by someone else . While the ADA rules are not a blanket mandate to allow all participants, it is encouraged that Race Directors make every effort to accommodate disabled participants. Course hazards may preclude the safe participation of wheel chair or pushed participants. For example, if parents are allowed to push registered, non-disabled children in a stroller, then disabled participants of any age in strollers must be allowed to participate as long as they meet the minimum age requirements the Race Director sets forth for child participation.
Requirements or restrictions for disabled participants should be briefly summarized on registration forms, included in full on web site registrations, and be available on race day and packet pick-up at the registration table. The guides, lead bikes, or stroller pushers of disable participants should identify themselves and be apprised of special conditions or considerations on the course, and should follow all instructions of course marshals during the race.
Disabled participants should not directly compete with non-disabled runners for any prizes. So, for example, a participant pushed in a stroller would be ineligible for a runner's age group or other prize. However, offering of participation awards or even category trophies for disabled participants is encouraged.
For The Runners: In anything but a no-frills race, runners like to have race numbers (see above) and a commemorative give-away (see below) as a souvenir of the race. For longer races, (10 K and up) you should provide water or sports drink on the course. This is especially true during warm weather months. The drink should be offered to the runners in paper cups. Have plenty pre-poured and placed on a table for volunteers to hand out as the runners approach. A good rule of thumb is that there should be one water stop for every five miles of the race. On hot days, some race directors will station a volunteer with a hose set to 'mist' runners as they pass. This volunteer should be instructed only to mist one side of the road so that runners who do not wish to be sprayed can avoid it.
Course: If you don't have enough volunteers to staff every turn in the course, you should post signs at all turns. Prepare large, bright signs and post the signs where they are breathtakingly obvious. There is more on course markings and course marshals in the Volunteers and Race Day sections below.
Finish Line: The finish line should be prominently marked and the official race clock should be placed there. You should set up a chute at the finish line. The purpose of the chute is to keep runners in their finishing order while they are being processed by your finish line volunteers (see Race Day below). The chute consists of a rope border about 6 ft. wide and long enough to accomodate the maximum number of runners you think will be finishing within any 1 minute period in your race. For races smaller than 200 runners, a 20-30 yard long chute should be sufficient.
Commemorative Give-Aways:Except for no-frills, econo-races, most races provide some kind of commemorative give-away to all runners who enter. Most often, the give-away is a T-shirt. Give-aways are expected for charity races, but can also be the biggest expense. Therefore, you will want to control costs here as much as possible. One way to do this is to limit the maximum number of T-shirts you will give away. Put a statement on your race application like "T-Shirts guaranteed to the first X entries". Make 'X' big enough to accomodate your expectation of the number of runners likely to participate. As your race grows over the years, you can change 'X'. You can also say "T-Shirts guaranteed to pre-registered runners". That way, you can order T-shirts based on your pre-registered numbers (usually much smaller than the total number of race-day runners). If you want, you can order more and give them away to race day registrants, but the disclaimer gives you an out when you run out. Limiting the number of shirts you print also lets you avoid the cost and trouble of having more T-shirts printed after the race and delivering them. The second most important factor in controlling cost is keeping your unit cost down. To some degree, an attractive shirt will attract runners to your event, so don't choose a cheap, ugly shirt. But don't go overboard, either. Start with a plain, short-sleeve shirt with a one-color silkscreen. Don't have your girl friend or brother-in-law do the design, unless that person really is artistic. If your race is successful, you can move up to a colored shirt with multi-colored screens, or a long-sleeve T-shirt for Fall races. Some high profile races use expensive heavy weave shirts with embroidered logos. State College races don't attract the number of runners needed to justify such an expense.
You can also break the mold with race give-aways. Possibilities include tank-tops, hats, sweat bands, and even plush towels (the Cassville Oktoberthon gives these away).
Promotional Give-Aways: Some sponsors will give you items to place in runners packets, including advertising flyers, coupons, product samples, etc. Offering to do this for a potential sponsor is often a way to get prize donations. Directors of other races will also ask you to place race applications for their races into race packets, or to make their race applications available at your registration table. You can sometimes get an extra volunteer or two for your own race by offering to do this for someone else.
Post Race: After even a 5K race, runners are thirsty and probably hungry. Provide water and sports drink. Some local bottled water suppliers will donate water. You can also provide fruit (bananas, cut oranges), bagels slice in half), or cookies. You can often find a sponsor who will donate food to a charity race. Some local grocery stores give store gift cards to charities. You can use these to buy whatever food you need for the race.
Prizes: Prizes are a draw for some of the better runners. They can also be a major cost of directing a race. Very few local races offer prizes that would be large enough to attract elite out-of-town runners. However, almost all races offer prizes for at least the top three male and female runners. These prizes might be ribbons, medalions, or trophies. Top finishers also usually get another prize such as cash or a gift certificate. The amount for local races varies between $10 and $100 for first place finishers, and commensurately less for lower places. Most races also offer age group awards, some in 10-year and some in 5-year increments. These awards are usually ribbons or gift certificates. Many prizes, such as gift certificates or merchandise, can be gotten as donations.
Sponsorship can make the difference between a race that just covers its cost and one that will make some money. If you are planning your race to benefit some charity (as most race directors are), you should get as many sponsors as possible. Some sponsors will give you a cash donation. This can be used to cover the cost of T-shirts, race numbers, refreshments, and other race overhead. Some sponsors will donate prizes or things you can use during the race. For example, you can often get water donated to you. Many supermarkets will donate gift cards which you can either use as prizes or use to buy food for post race snacks. Talk to other local race directors for ideas.
Try to estimate how many volunteers you will need and get them lined up before your race. Getting volunteers can be the biggest heartburn, because it is often hard to get enough volunteers until the last minute. If you are working for an organization that is putting on the race, mine that organization for volunteers. You can also get volunteers by joining the local online running forum, the Yahoo! Discussion Group NVRC. Volunteers can be useful in helping you get sponsors. If you are directing a large race, you should consider finding volunteers to help you stuff race packets before the race. You will need plenty of help on race day. Probably the single most important race day volunteer is the timer, unless you pay for a timing service. The Nittany Valley Running Club has a timing system and a few people who know how to use it or can teach you how. This system is useful for races with 200 or fewer runners. If you think you will have more runners, consider hiring a timing service. The most often used timing service for local races is Runners High.
A rough outline of the volunteers you will need for race day for a small to medium size race (50-200 runners) is: registration table (2 or more), finish line (2 or more), unmarked course turns (1 per turn), mile markers (depends on how long your course is), finish tabulation (2 or more). Registration table volunteers can often do double duty during and after the races. You should have plenty of volunteers to act as course marshals to direct runners along the course. An alternative is to have a lead car or bicycle to guide the lead runners and then assume (or hope) that all subsequent runners can see runners ahead of them to stay on course. This is not necessarily a good assumption for longer races, but is usually fine for a 5K. In longer races (10K and up), some runners become oblivious to their surroundings and will miss even obvious course markings. It is a good idea to have your course volunteers looking out for trailing runners. If a trailing runner does not show up at a subsequent volunteer station, it is a good idea to look for that runner. Runners appreciate having a person at the mile marks reading off times. At minimum, have a place marker at each mile so that runners can look at their watches at the appropriate points.
Once you have planned and measured your course, lined up your sponsors, taken care of shirts, prizes, and conviced a few people to run your race, you will want it to go smoothly. This means you should try to make everything work well, from the registration table to the awards ceremony. Here are some tips:
The Night Before: Try to get enough sleep the night before your race. Try to get as much set up as possible before hand, including stuffing race packets, placing course markings, finding pens, change, etc.
Volunteers: Give yourself plenty of time to explain to each volunteer what his or her duties are. Try to circumscribe each volunteer's duty as much as possible.
Registration Table: Have plenty of race applications, pens, and a good starting pool of change. Try to have a map or description of the course available at the registration table. Stop by the table from time to time to help answer questions that the volunteers or runners might have.
Communications: If your event is large, and especially if you have volunteers stationed over a wide area, it might be a good idea to rent or borrow some walkie-talkies by which race staff can communicte with you and each other.
Starting Line: Have someone with a loud voice give the starting instructions to runners, or use a bullhorn. Keep your starting instructions brief. Do not try to explain the entire course at this point. Give only important safety related instructions, or things the runners must know about within a few hundred yards of the start. If you are using a lead car or bike, point it out to the runners. Give clear instructions about what your starting commands will be. Use something loud to start the runners, like a starting gun, bull horn squawk, or boat horn. Finally, start on time, but never early. You can err by being a couple of minutes late, especially to accommodate late registrants. However, many runners like to do warm-up jogging right up to the start of the race. You should not start early and leave some of them still a hundred yards from the start.
Course Marshals: A course marshal is someone who makes sure that runners go the right way, that the last runners find their way back, and that no one cheats (though this is generally not a problem). Most marshals are stationed at turns in the course to direct runners. You can decrease the number of marshals you might need by using a lead car or bike. Make sure the driver or rider knows the course! Course marshals should keep an eye out for stragglers so that they can help you determine when all runners have finished and if runners have gotten lost. The lead car can also circle back after the leaders have finished to scoop up people who might be too pooped to finish the race.
Safety Note: Course Marshals that are stationed at busy intersectiosn to stop or direct traffics should be provided with orange safety vests. If the race is run in the dark, marshals should wear reflective vests and be provided with flashlights. The lead bicyclist should wear orange vests, and their bike should be equipped with front and rear lights if the race is run in the dark. Lead cyclists should stay ahead of runners, and anticipate intersections and car traffic. They must obey traffic laws, and should be instructed to be alert and not assume that marshals have infallibly been able to stop opposing traffic. Runners should be instructed to be alert for traffic at all intersections, even those with marshals.
Timers: The timekeeper at your finish line is the most important timer. Make sure that person knows how to use the timekeeping equipment. If your starting and finish lines are at different locations, make sure that the finish line timer knows when the gun goes off. Use of a walkie-talkie or cell phone may be necessary. Other timekeepers along the race route are appreciated by runners. If you have enough volunteers, station someone at each mile mark to read off times to the runners as they go by. If you cannot spare volunteers for this duty, at least make sure that the miles are clearly and accurately marked.
Finish Line Help: You should have at least a couple of volunteers other than the timer stationed at the finish line. When runners arrive in clumps, it is the timer's job to determine the finishing order. The other volunteers keep the runners in order and moving through the finishing chute while removing the tags from the bottom of their race numbers or otherwise noting their names and finishing order. If you are using race numbers, the pull-off strips generally have some holes in them. Fashion a long symmetric hook out of a metal clothes hangar and use it to keep track of finishing order by threading the holes of the numbered strips onto the hook in finish order. Impress on the finish line help the importance of keeping the finish order and of not dropping the numbers! When a number of finishers have accumulated, a volunteer can tape the strips onto the tally board.
Tabulation: Once some finishers have accumulated, you should start tallying results. You should strive to get the results completed as quickly as possible while maintaining the accuracy of the awards. It's probably a good idea to keep the tally board away from the runners who are awaiting the results of the race. They can get in your way as you try to determine category awards. Give them some food to keep them happy while you and your volunteers compile the results. If your are using runner numbers, have a volunteer write the finishing times on the pull strips on the tally board for each runner. If you are using a data base program, make sure your runner number, finish order, and time entries are accurate so that the computer can sort properly. Start compiling the list of award winners as early as possible. The overall winners are easy, and the "middle" age groups (20 through 49) are also easy. They tend to finish the earlierst. You might have to wait till the very end to complete the results for the very oldest and youngest age groups, because these runners finish late in the race. Write out the overall winners and category winners on a separate sheet to help the awards ceremony go smoothly.
Some race directors will allow "double-up" awards, i.e., they will allow runners to win both an overall and an age group award. Others try to maximize the number of award winners by not allowing double-up awards. This is really a matter of you choice. If you are including teams in your race categories, you should allow team members to receive individual awards as well.
Awards Ceremony: You should strive to have your awards ceremony within a short time after you have stopped timing the race. Start the awards ceremony by thanking all your runners for coming. Next, thank all of your sponsors and encourage the runners to patronize them. And don't forget to use this moment to thank your volunteers and any organization that has provided help or services. If you engaged the timing services of the NVRC, don't forget to give a nod to the timer. Since the Club only charges a nominal amount to cover material and travel expenses, the timer is usually volunteering for the love of the sport. Give the overall winners' awards first and mention their times. If a time is very good (say, a course record if you know), mention this. For category awards, give the awards for both sexes in each category, rather than going through all the categories for one sex before going to the other. You should strive to deliver awards to the overall winners if they cannot attend the awards ceremony. Category winner's prizes can be used as door prizes if the category winner is not present. Finally, you can give out "door prizes". Door prizes can consist of extra prizes that you have not assigned to categories, or unclaimed category prizes. Wrap up the ceremony by asking the participants to spread the word about your race for next year.
After The Race
Clean-up: Make sure you go through your venue and course and clean up after the race. This will assure that you will be allowed to use it again next year!
Thank-Yous: Send thank-you notes to sponsors. Try to give some kind of acknowledgement (race T-shirt, thank-you note) to your volunteers.