Marathon road races offer valuable opportunities for citizens and tourists to see and experience your entire community (or most of it, after all, 26.2 is many miles!). Marathons also offer valuable economic benefits, with visitors and fitness-related businesses flocking to race communities for days at a time. If you have ever thought about establishing an annual marathon, half marathon, 10k, 5k, 3k, or kids’ fun run in your community, know that with some strategic planning you can make year one a huge success and pave the way for annual enjoyment.
How to Execute Your First Community Road Race
Whether you are inspired to create a team event or want to establish a more traditional 5K, 10K, 15K, 13.1 mile or 26.2 mile road race that can become an annual community-wide competition in your city or county, follow these steps to organize your first event:
- Pick a date. Work with your chamber of commerce, local area businesses, and administration to choose a date that will allow participants to run the race during your community’s peak season. You may also want to consider integrating your road race into an existing community-wide event, such as your county fair, Fall Fest, Holiday Party, or Summer Bash. You may also want to align your road race with a local or national charitable cause, such as an event in October to support Breast Cancer Awareness or an event that will help support a local after school program.
- Set your distance and map it out. Whether you decide on a 5K, a full marathon, or an event that offers multiple distance options, work with your local Sheriff’s Office or Police Department to map out routes that are accurate and most importantly safe. You will need the support of your local law enforcement on event day to help manage traffic or block off roads, so having their input during the planning process will be vital.
- Consider adding a kids’ event. What’s a road race without a 1K Kids’ Fun Run? These extra events allow you to get community members of all ages involved and to help establish the importance of cardio fitness as a personal and community-wide value.
- Build a budget and find sponsors. Your parks and recreation department may not have discretionary budget to pay for everything involved in setting up a road race, so plan to offset some of the costs through fundraising and corporate sponsorships. Local businesses in your community will likely be excited by the opportunity to help sponsor a highly visible community-wide event. When budgeting, know that you may need to account for:
- Souvenir t-shirts.
- Water and post-race snacks such as bagels, bananas, and oranges.
- Paid support from your local law enforcement and emergency fire and medical providers.
- Advertising and promotional efforts.
- Prizes for finalists based on gender and age bands.
Civic Tip: Use the checklist in our Ultimate Event Planning Guide to help you with your budget.
- Recruit volunteers. On the day of the event, you’ll need lots of volunteers on hand to help pass out water to event participants along the course, help with registrations and check-ins, and answer spectator questions. If you don’t already have a local volunteer program from which to pull volunteers, then start recruiting early for members of your community to lend a hand on race day.
- Leverage your parks and recreation software for online registrations. Make it easy for both residents and regional road race competitors to learn about, and register for, your event. Allow participants to sign up for their race, remit payment, and place their t-shirt order all via your parks and recreation management software.
- Promote your event. Start advertising your event a year in advance. Yes. At least one year. Especially if you will be hosting a full marathon, you will need to give everyone from novices to elite athletes time to train. Leverage all available marketing channels to generate awareness and encourage registrations, including social media. Consider tiered pricing that provides discounted entry fees for those who register at least six months in advance, with prices reaching their peak for those who register on race day.
- Gain support and participation from local leaders. Make sure your local leaders are a key component of race-day activities. Encourage council members to be among the race participants or ask your mayor or county executive to announce the start of the race.
- Accommodate participation by those with special needs. A community-wide road race should be accessible and open to all members of your community. Work with your public safety and health department personnel to create safety guidelines to allow individuals who utilize wheel chairs and other assistive devices to take part in the day’s events.
- Assess opportunities to improve future events. At the end of the race, celebrate your accomplishment. A road race of any size poses a significant logistical challenge. Meet with your volunteers, safety personnel, and talk to race participants to identify what went well and how you can improve the event next year, and the year after, and the year after.
By following these expert tips, you can feel confident that you will plan and execute a road race that will bring your community together, reinforce your department’s wellness goals, and encourage families to have fun together. Now that’s something to celebrate.