Race Day is like Christmas morning for Race Directors! All the work you’ve done to plan your route, advertise your race to get runners signed up, find staff and volunteers to make the day happen, all come together on race day.
In this part of the Race Director Series, we’ll look at the most important aspects of planning for race day, as well as what you need to do to prepare for a successful event.
Registration and Packet Pickup
The key to a smooth registration process is simplicity. Any step in the process that can be removed, shortened, or cut should be. Nothing can ruin the vibe of a race more than a disorganized packet pickup process with long lines and frustrated runners.
The first decision you’ll need to make will be the date and location of packet pickup. Some smaller races can get away with having that all happen the morning of the race. If your field is going to be more than 100 runners, that strategy probably won’t work. You need to designate a packet pickup location prior to the race and design a well-run process to make the experience painless for the runners. This usually happens the weekend before the race, or during the two or three days leading up to the race.
Most small running stores love hosting packet pickups, as it brings foot traffic from their target customers into their stores. Partnering with a running store that is close to the Start/Finish area of your race will be a great investment and will leave your runners feeling positive about the experience.
You can also consider a mail approach, in which you send out the bibs and any other packet contents to the runners in advance of the race. This has the benefit of avoiding any disasters of an overcrowded packet pickup process, but it also carries the risk that you will need to completely close registration earlier than expected, so that you can assign bib numbers and get them mailed out to people with plenty of time.
Regardless of your approach to delivering packets to runners before the race, you’ll still need a process for race day, in which the race staff can fix any registration problems that come up. No matter how great a job you do of planning out the process, there will inevitably be people that show up on race day without having read their emails, without knowing they received their bib in the mail already, or without realizing they needed to sign up in advance at all!
You’ll also need to decide what goes into the packets. The race bib is the most important, and you need a quick and easy process for runners to identify themselves, register for the race, and receive their race number on the spot. There are several software solutions available that can manage that process for you. Some even offer print-on-demand solutions, in which race numbers are assigned in real time, and race bibs are printed out individually at the point of registration. These investments could save you a lot of hassle from having to sort through hundreds of pre-printed bibs to find the right one for each runner.
In addition to the bib, you’ll need to provide anything else that goes into the packet. If you’re giving away T-shirts or other swag with each entry, those need to be selected and put into bags prior to the registration process, so your volunteers aren’t spending time putting them together on the spot. If you are including T-shirts or any other item of clothing that comes in different sizes, you must collect the size from each runner in the system that they use to sign up for the race. If not, you’ll waste time trying to find the right size T-shirt for each person, or you might run out of the sizes that you need.
You may also want to restrict the ability to exchange T-shirts. Many races require that runners take the T-shirt size that they originally requested, and then offer a T-shirt exchange after the race if someone wants to try out a different size. That will reduce the risk of running out of some of the more common sizes.
Beyond the bib and T-shirt, packets are a great place to get some extra revenue built into the race through sponsorships. Many brands will give free samples of products that you can include in the packet. You can also charge an advertising fee if you have sponsors that want to include a coupon or brochure in the packet.
One of the most exciting parts of Race Day will be the award ceremony after the winners have come in. Having a memorable awards ceremony will depend on good planning for when it should happen, and who should get the awards.
The timing of the awards ceremony is important. You should plan out an agenda for the day so that it can be communicated to all runners and spectators in advance. Don’t have the awards presentation immediately after the top three finishers are in. You’ll want to wait at least half an hour or more depending on the distance and size of the field so that a mass of people will have crossed the finish line. Without a good crowd, the presentation is just you and the elites congratulating each other.
You also need to decide who should get awards. The top three male and the top three female finishers always receive awards. Larger races also give awards based on age group. You may also develop fun, unofficial awards for things like Oldest Competitor, or Best Costume (if your race has a theme). Just be careful about overdoing it. If you want to give trophies to the top three male and female finishers in each age group, and you divide the age groups by 5-year brackets, you could easily get to 50 or more trophies to give out. That could be a pretty boring ceremony! Maybe consider only including the overall winners in the ceremony and mailing any additional prizes to winners after the race.
The design of the award is also important. No one wants standard trophies that can be purchased online. Try to think of something that embodies the goals and the character of the race. Maybe the race is happening in an area that has a local artist in the community, who can design something with a specific relationship to the community, the area, or the cause that you are running for.
The Start/Finish area needs to look good! When planning out your race day, have a detailed plan for the flow of where everything should go, as well as a plan for how to make it aesthetically pleasing.
The first lesson to learn here is the bag drop. If you’re providing a bag drop service for the runners, try to keep that in an area that is off to the side, out of the main view of the Finish line. Those areas tend to become unsightly piles of backpacks and can tend to be chaotic once the race is over and everyone is trying to retrieve their items.
Try to plan out the Start/Finish area in such a way that runners will have a smooth flow when they arrive in the morning. Ideally, they should be able to enter the Start/Finish area and immediately see the registration table. Once registered, they should naturally step over to the bag drop section. Near the bag drop section should be toilets, and lots of them. After that, they should be able to hang out in the main stage area, where your activities, presentations, and Master of Ceremonies (MC) will be set up. Finally, the start corrals should be last, under a clearly marked Start Line sign. Putting this order of events into the design will result in a seamless process for runners and make the morning rush feel less frantic. The runners already have enough to worry about, they don’t need to get stressed out over where to go!
The MC should have a clear script, that gives useful information to the runners as they arrive. They should have a well-tested microphone and sound system in which they’ll make announcements about the logistics of the morning. They’ll also need to have the energy and skillset to be able to motivate the crowd and get them excited about being there.
Finally, don’t forget the music. There has to be music playing! Both in the beginning as runners are arriving and getting lined up in their corrals, and at the end when they are crossing the finish line, there should be fun and peppy music playing. This will help keep the runners and the spectators engaged in the event.
Look out for our next and final post in the Race Director series, where we will talk about Race Day itself – everything that happens between the starting gun and the last runner crossing the finish line.
Read the other parts in this series: Planning the route
and Race day!
Races on RUN:TRACK:RUN
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!