Race Director Series Part 1 – Planning the Route - runtrack.run
Scroll up to edit or save

Race Director Series Part 1 – Planning the Route

Written by RUN:TRACK:RUN 10722
Created | Updated
Welcome to the Race Director Series from RUN:TRACK:RUN. Over the course of a few different posts, we’ll be sharing some of the most important considerations for putting a new race together. We’ll divide the topics into three main areas:

1) Planning the Route
2) Planning the Day
3) Race Day

We hope you enjoy the series, and if there are additional topics you’d like to hear about please let us know in the comments!

Planning the Route

Designing your race route is the first step to holding an epic race! Whether you’re planning a 5k through the streets of a sleepy suburban community, or a 50-mile ultra through trails in a jungle, you’ll need to create the route before you can do anything else.

Map It Out – and Measure It

The first step to planning your route is to map it out. We recommend the plot-a-route tool to do this, as it will give you the closest possible measurement for distance accuracy. Using this tool, or something comparable, will give your route the accuracy needed to get to the exact distance you are planning.

Mapping out the route is not sufficient for a proper race. You must also measure the route yourself. For a road race, this can be done relatively easily in a car, but if you are attempting to get a certification for your race (meaning, making it an ‘official’ 5k, for example), you’ll need to use the calibrated bicycle method. This method is the only approved method by the International Association of Athletics Federations, as well as other governing bodies. To method involves using a bicycle that has been fitted with a specific distance counter to measure the route. You’ll need to perform the measurement at least twice, and document the results.

The bicycle method isn’t measuring the road, it is measuring the rotations of the bicycle’s tire. This is an important distinction because it means the official race route is actually the thin line that the bicycle has traveled. If you’ve ever run a large marathon, you may have noticed a thin blue line spray painted on the street throughout the entire course. That line is the “official” race route, even though runners can be on the side of it as far as 10 meters or more on some courses.

These stringent requirements for course measurement are needed because World Records are won and lost by fractions of seconds these days. Races cannot be approximate in their distances – exact precision is required, and it is the responsibility of the race director to ensure all standards have been met when completing the distance.


Make sure you have the necessary permits! The permits required will vary based on distance and location. There are a few important questions you need to ask yourself about your route that will help you understand the type of permits you need to request, and whom to request them from:
- Does your route use any open access roads?
- Will those roads have regular traffic on them, or do you need to request the local authorities to close the roads?
- Does your route enter any public parks?
- Does your route go into any federally designated national parks?
- Will any wildlife or natural vegetation be put at risk as a result of your route?
- All of these questions will need to be answered when pursuing permits, but the local authorities in your area may have several more. Remember – without permission, you don’t have a race!

Timing System

You will need to determine the process you’ll use to track time. If you want to have individual chips to track the time of each participant, you will need to hire the equipment and a team of people to work that for you.

There are simpler ways of keeping time, but they are more prone to errors. There are apps that you can download that will allow volunteers to quickly type in race bib numbers as people cross the finish line. There’s also the old-fashioned way of using a stopwatch and a pencil. These methods are obviously a lot more error prone, and runners have become accustomed to chip timing at almost all races they attend.

Aid Stations

Once you’ve planned the race, and once you’ve gotten precursory approval for your route, you can start planning out the details that will happen along the route.

First, you’ll need to determine the number of Aid Stations you’ll need. For a 5k race, there’s usually only one at the midpoint. For any other distance, you generally don’t want your runners to go more than two miles or 3 kilometers without access to an aid station. Weather, terrain, and distance will all influence this decision.

Aid stations need to be located at points in the route that are conducive to stretching out the sides of the route for the extra people, tables, and supplies that will be needed.

You’ll also need to determine what kind of aid is going to be provided at each aid station. All aid stations must have water, and lots of it, available for the runners. For longer races, sports drinks, gels, or other snacks might be provided at the aid stations. These are not required at every aid station, so be sure to plan out smartly where you think each will fit best.


Every race must have medical staff available to attend to any injuries. This is non-negotiable for any race director. If your medical staff has not arrived, you should not start the race until they do.

Planning the race route also includes the creation of a medical support strategy. The medics will need to have a presence at the Start/Finish area, but depending on the distance of your race, you may want additional teams of medics spread out over the course. Maybe some of the aid stations will also be designated as having medical assistance available. Maybe you’ll have a team of medics in a vehicle patrolling the entire course throughout the day. Whatever you decide, runners must have access to medical support if any accidents occur.

Spectator Areas and Management

Spectators are the best part of most races. Without them, your runners will feel like they’re just out for a jog. An important part of route planning is spectator management. For smaller races, this is not that big of a concern because spectators can just line up alongside the route. For larger races, it will be critical to designate spectator areas to ensure proper crowd control and participant safety.

One key aspect of crowd control to think about is the presence of boundaries along the route. If the crowd swells in a particular area, such as a historic landmark, or an easily accessible spot along the route, you have to ensure the integrity of the route can be maintained. A big swell of people can slowly bulge out into the route, and then you risk people pulsing in towards the runners. If any runner has to slow down just because there are too many spectators around, you will have impacted their overall time. If your course doesn’t have physical barriers between the runners and the crowd, be sure to assign course marshals at these areas.

Volunteer Management

Now that you have all the key decisions about how your route will work, it’s time to think about how to staff it. Every race utilizes volunteers from the community to make the entire event happen.

First, make a plan for how many volunteers you will need. To do this, list out all of the aid stations, as well as the roles that you will need people to perform at the Start/Finish area. These roles typically include:
- Aid Station 1 Manager (repeat for each aid station)
- Aid Station 1 Water (staff appropriately for the size of the race)
- Aid Station 1 Trash Collection
- Course Marshall – Responsible for protecting the integrity of the course and the flow of the runners
- Turn Marshall – stationed at any junction of the course that takes a turn that is not obvious, the Turn Marshall is there to wave the runners towards the correct direction
- Medical Liaison – Accompanies the medical team throughout the course
- Start/Finish Area Manager
- Time Keepers (supplemental to the timekeeping system)
- Medals/Prize Handouts
- Start/Finish snacks, water, treats

Once you have the list of all the roles that need to be filled, make a plan for the volunteers that will summarize how many volunteers you will need. Be sure to include any previous experience or special skills any of the volunteer roles will need to have. For example, don’t put someone on the Timekeeping job if they’ve never volunteered at a race before – that’s not an area where you can risk any mistakes!

Volunteers are the glue that hold any race together, so be sure to not only have a clear plan for what each volunteer will be doing, but also have a plan for how you will thank and acknowledge the volunteers for their effort.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the first part of our series. Look out for our next post where we’ll get into all the details about the big Race Day itself!


Did you know that you can add your race to runtrack.run and make it visible to runners searching for information in the area? Create a profile and add the race, all totally free!

Do you wan't to blog about your running on RUN:TRACK:RUN? Create a free profile and get started today!

Cookie settings | Feedback | Terms