Directing a First Year Race (A Study in Crazy)

By admin
September 18, 2013

By Joey Lee

Whether you’re a runner, walker or someone supporting a charity, most of you have probably participated in some sort of organized run/walk event. Chances are that event went off very smoothly and was a great experience…but do you know what went into planning and hosting it?

I can assure you, they don’t just happen. It takes painstakingly careful planning and organization to pull one off. What you see on race day is the culmination of months of meetings and phone calls and twisting people’s arms. Those t-shirts and port-a-potties don’t just magically appear, someone has to do the legwork and orchestrate a hundred moving parts, and that somebody is known as the race director.

Rebecca Hardy is the race director of the Rudolph Race, a first year 5k and 10k being organized as part of the Junior League of Jackson’s annual Mistletoe Marketplace fundraising efforts. The race will help fund the Junior League’s some 30-odd philanthropic projects throughout the city.

Rebecca and her husband began racing during their college years and have participated in many events of all types as racers, planners and volunteers. Each year, Junior League members volunteer their time to assist in the organizations’ community projects. “When the idea of holding a run in conjunction with Mistletoe Marketplace came up, I expressed interest in the event, and the role of race director ended up being a perfect fit,” she said.

In the past few years, running events have grown exponentially in popularity, and around the Jackson area there are often multiple events to choose from each weekend. So one of the first things Rebecca and the Mistletoe Marketplace Steering Committee had to do was decide if they could host an event that would stand out while at the same time meet the goals of the organization and potential sponsors. After deciding they could, the real work began.

The Steps of Directing a Successful Race

Save the Date “For each race, I begin with a timeline and checklist, and it always changes,” said Hardy. “But that’s the nature of event planning. That said; there are definitely common aspects of every race that must be addressed as early as possible.”

At the top of Rebecca’s agenda is to find a date that doesn’t conflict with other races and making sure the venue and course are available for that date. Once that is set, all efforts are focused on obtaining sponsors and planning a quality event.

Sweat the Details Race directors have to be well organized and have to make sure every component of the race is handled. Some of the responsibilities include: race flyers, online presence, registration, course management, start line, finish line, results, police, volunteers, awards, water stops, t-shirt design (plus printing and distribution), permits, race numbers, restrooms, food and other refreshments and the list continues. If you have seen it at a race, it was arranged by the director.

Put Yourself in the Runner’s Shoes Rebecca likes to walk through the entire event in her mind from a participant’s point of view to ensure everything from registration and check-in to the post-race events are taken care of.

Questions she asks herself, and solutions include:

• How would you find out about the race? Marketing

• It sounds fun, where and how do I sign up? Registration

• When and where do I pick up my race packet? Race bags, volunteers, packet pick-up

• How do I get to the starting line? Traffic plan, staging area layout

• When do we start? Public address system, atmosphere/entertainment, race timing

• Where do I go now? Course layout, police support, water stops, community involvement

• What if I have trouble on the course? Emergency plan, medical support, event insurance

• I’m finished, where’s the food? Post-race atmosphere/entertainment, food, awards

Stay on Track “Once I’ve developed a list of required tasks, I move those over to a timeline,” Rebecca explained. “Marketing begins immediately with a narrow focus early on, concentrating on the core running community. As race day nears, the focus broadens to include casual runners, fitness enthusiasts and the general public.”

Anything to do with regulatory requirements such as permitting and insurance or reservations of any kind is taken care of as soon as possible. Volunteers and vendors are organized and all the moving parts come together in the days leading up to the race.

One of the most difficult parts of race direction is time management. “It’s a constant challenge,” she said. “It’s quite a commitment to take on a race of any size. You need a strong core group of volunteers throughout the entire process.”

Expect the Unexpected A general rule of thumb when organizing a race (or any event for that matter) is to expect the unexpected. Race directors have to be ready to adapt to and overcome challenges throughout the process, not only on race day. In the midst of planning the Rudolph Race, Rebecca received a text from her co-chair with a photo of the Hinds County Armory building (the location of the race finish line) engulfed in flames. She immediately began working through scenarios and figuring out how she might change her plans. Fortunately, nothing will need to be changed as she has been assured all will be ready for the event on November 9. “If that’s our biggest hiccup, I’ll be very pleased,” Rebecca said.

Know What You are Getting Into If you’re interested in hosting a race of your own, Rebecca has some good advice. “Make sure your family and those closest to you are on board and ready to support you. Plan every detail and be ready to make adjustments along the way. Surround yourself with capable people. As race director, delegate race day responsibilities and make sure you’re available for last minute adjustments.”

Put the Runners First “On race day, take care of the runners and make sure they have a safe, fun, well-supported course. Give them a reason to stick around at the end. If you put on a quality event, it will continue to grow with each passing year.”

Race direction is a tough but rewarding undertaking. It takes a lot of hard work but the rewards of putting on a successful event are tremendous. Sign up and run or walk in the Rudolph Race on November 9 and experience first-hand what a good race director can do.

For more information, or to register for the Rudolph Race, visit:

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