What Runners Need from Race Directors

Hey, race direc­tors! This one’s for you. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in run­ning has explod­ed in recent years, and there are now fun runs for just about any­thing you can think of. This is, of course, awe­some to see, but it also means there are more race direc­tors out there—and it is not a job for the weak-willed. Direct­ing a race takes hours of plan­ning, prepa­ra­tion, orga­niz­ing, man­ag­ing, and exe­cut­ing plans—that is, if you’re it does if you’re doing it right. Whether you’re a rube race direc­tor or have been doing this for years, there are a few small extra efforts you could make to help your race stand out against the crowd and make your par­tic­i­pants par­tic­u­lar­ly pleased and bet­ter prepared.

Expo and free­bies equals excite­ment
Enter­ing a des­o­late room con­sist­ing of a few fold-out tables, box­es of race num­bers and shirts, and a sin­gle large map of the course does lit­tle to sooth pre-race nerves. Con­trar­i­ly, col­lect­ing your race num­ber in a room filled with excit­ed vol­un­teers offer­ing to answer ques­tions, music (even cheesy Rocky theme music is good, just think “inspi­ra­tional”), and freebies—you can nev­er go wrong with freebees!—help get run­ners pumped about what they are about to do.

List Avail­able Sup­plies at Each Aid Sta­tion
Will there be Vase­line and band aids in case of unex­pect­ed chaffing? Will there be gel pack­ets in case a run­ner some­how for­gets his or her’s, or ends up con­sum­ing them faster than planned? Is some­one going to be tak­ing pic­tures? (Run­ners want to know when to “fake it to make it!” for the cam­era.) The more you can share with run­ners, the bet­ter pre­pared they can be.

Start on Time.
Peri­od.

Ele­va­tion Chart
This is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant for run­ners com­ing from out of the area; not every­one will have the chance to check out the course pri­or to the race, so hav­ing a real­is­tic expec­ta­tion of how hilly it is or is not will help the run­ner be bet­ter pre­pared. A hilli­er-than-expect­ed run can dash a runner’s hopes meet­ing a time goal and leave them feel­ing demor­al­ized as well as phys­i­cal­ly exhaust­ed. That will not bode well for the word-of-mouth adver­tis­ing you depend on for your race’s future.

Best Spots for Friends and Fam­i­ly to Cheer From
The indi­vid­u­als show­ing up to sup­port their run­ner are like­ly unfa­mil­iar with the course and don’t want to deal with the frus­tra­tions of work­ing around the crowd, road clo­sures for the race, and lack of park­ing. They just want to cheer for their run­ner. Make their impor­tant job eas­i­er by clear­ly indi­cat­ing on a race map the best spots for spec­ta­tors to view run­ners and how to access those spots.

A Video of the Course
This is not cur­rent­ly a com­mon item found on a race web­site, but in the rare cas­es where it is avail­able, it’s awe­some and extreme­ly help­ful. Dri­ve the course with a video cam­era point­ed for­ward, and then set the whole thing in fast-for­ward. Admit­ted­ly, this works far bet­ter for road races than for trails. It serves to not only get the run­ner pumped up to par­tic­i­pate (the first-per­son view of the race course does won­ders to stir up the com­pet­i­tive juices in the view­er), but it also makes the envi­ron­ment as clear as can be with­out actu­al­ly run­ning the course them­selves. They can see for them­selves what the ter­rain looks like, and it pro­vides valu­able input on how they should dress, which shoes to wear, and how to set up their expec­ta­tions. 

Make the Run­ners Feel Spe­cial
Announce fin­ish­ers’ names and home­towns as they run the final stretch to the fin­ish line; stand at the fin­ish chutes and shake each participant’s hand. If you don’t have medals to hand out, come up with some sort of token (run­ners tend to be nos­tal­gic and like to col­lect these as mem­o­ries of past races. They are not too picky—some races hand out rocks from the course trail—and the par­tic­i­pants are just as hap­py about it.) It’s the lit­tle things that can turn a reg­u­lar run into a spe­cial mem­o­ry for a runner.

And just to clar­i­fy, race direc­tors are won­der­ful peo­ple. They work their butts off to cre­ate and exe­cute races of all types, sizes, and dis­tances. They work to make our crazy sport bet­ter orga­nized and palat­able to the gen­er­al pub­lic, ulti­mate­ly bring­ing in fresh blood to the world of run­ning. Thank you, race direc­tors, and keep up the good work!