Wow have road races grown. I think you can pick from a handful of 5Ks every weekend, a half marathon within driving distance every month or in some cases every weekend, and even a marathon, Spartan race, mud run or color run every month. It is a booming era of endurance events and race directors are doing everything they can to lure people to their events through marketing, medals, free beer and scenic courses.
But are you getting the most bang for your buck? Are races thinking of YOU first or are they thinking how can they save money in every corner? From what I have seen, race participant fees have gone way up. The average price of a 5K now seems to be $35.00, Half Marathons are around $80 to $100 and Marathons are $100 to $130. I think I saw a Spartan race was $200 to register. So if prices are increasing, are you getting more?
As a race director, here are the following things we look for in races to succeed.
Safety First! Pick a race that is safe. You know you have road closures and lane closures to keep cars and runners separate. They have visible police and medical on site for any accidents. The course has volunteers visible in all directions at all times, you are never too far from help. In 2011 we had a gentleman that suffered Cardiac Arrest at the 13 mile marker. There were several people around him and one happened to call 911 and begin CPR. The man lived, and having all of those people around was the key to saving him.
How about the Quality of your timer. Timing needs to be on point. I think seeing my results later that day with my splits is a realistic expectation. Of course timers have glitches in technology and want to make sure they have all of the correct results posted before making them live. So I will give a race a timeline that by dinner time, the results should be posted. The race website should display a clear link to results, whether that is a link to the race timers website or not. A participant should not have to google search the results for the race and have to find them through the race timers website. The other perks like LIVE TIMING AND RESULTS TEXTING are a great bonus. Live timing is definitely expensive and is getting better each year, but I do realize as a race director that it is costly and is not crucial to every race.
How about Race SWAG and T-shirts. So race fees have gone up, but race directors are still spending $3 to $5 on your t-shirt. I don’t care who you are, a $5 T-shirt is not a quality t-shirt. You get what you pay for. When you go to a race, why are you not getting the best? Why is your race director not spending your rising participant fees on a good quality shirt with killer art? The T-shirt and the medal are the 2 things you actually take home from the race. After the event is done, you finished, the banners come down, the course is taken apart, and the memories, T-shirt and medal are it. So when you get a piece of junk that fits all weird and has a print on the front that is unflattering….to me that is laziness.
Spectators and Spectator friendliness. I have been a runner 20 year and I like to see my support team. Spectators and people cheering you on are the most motivating part of the race and I think that is what is fun about racing. I can go out any day and run 13 miles with a group of people, but when I pay for a race I want to run through crowds that help me a long with their energy. One of the reasons I made the Quinitles Wrightsville Beach Marathon course 2 loops was so that spectators could watch and the community could get more involved. Let’s be realistic, unless you are a big marathon like Boston, NY, Chicago or any other big city marathon, it is hard to get smaller city races to get the big crowds over 13.1 or 26.2 miles. If the race directors rally enough and get the community involved in many ways….the fans will come and also support teams can see their runners more than once.
The little things. I think paying attention to the little things makes the big picture look smooth. Of course you want to check list the big things and make sure those are covered, but then spend your energy on the details of the race that participants notice when they are not there. A few examples of this:
Our 2015 medals have all the metrics on them – something fun and different
Packet pickup should be seamless and easy to park, without lines. We don’t want to make you wait forever.
Finish line food tent should be accessible and fun for the athletes
Have enough bathrooms for gosh sake. People need to go, we know that, so we provide 80 bathrooms at the start, there is never a line
Pre-race meetings. We hold 3 of them for participants to come ask questions and go over the race with the race director. This is fun and puts a lot of clarity into the event. Many people do not read all of the details online. Even though the details are there, explaining it in person is much better