What race director doesn’t want to put on a race for the history books? That’s how you get participants to share their experiences to whoever will listen on social media, over the phone, via text, in person (wait, does that actually still happen these days?). And, better yet, who come back for your next race and bring two friends, who tell two friends, and so on, and so on…well, you get the point.

Maybe your budget won’t allow for your race to land in the “history books”. But there are some really basic things that you CAN do to plan a race that will run smoothly and keep you out of the athlete dog house.

Here are our top 10 race day management tips that seem like no-brainers but (VERY, VERY) often get overlooked:

  1. Make porta-potties your friend

    MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH PORTA-POTTIES! YES! I’M YELLING! There’s nothing worse than the gun going off and there are 150 people waiting in line for the porta-potty. I’ve been in that line, and clearly I was not alone. It sucks. And we all talk about how much it sucks…to anyone who will listen.

  2. Remember, unzipping is good

    Unzip those zip ties on the porta-potties. Duh, right? WRONG! It happens. Oh, and bring scissors to your race. (That should be a separate tip, but I’ll leave it here). Scissors will help get those zip ties off. The same people who forget to cut the zip ties off, usually forget scissors on race day.

  3. Quiz volunteers

    First on your race course map. Make sure your bus drivers, pacers, and volunteers giving directions know the race course. Yep. Believe it or not, race directors forget to make sure everyone knows where the turns are. It happens over, and over, and over again… And over, and over, and over again, athletes don’t go back to those races (and they make sure their friends don’t either). And while you’re at it? Hand out an FAQ document to your volunteers that answers other questions like who to contact in an emergency, what time the race starts, where all those porta-potties are, where packet pick-up and on-site registration are…you get the idea.

  4. Make sure people know where they’re going

    Make sure your race course is well-marked. Like, REALLY well-marked. The longer the race, the more you should mark it. And keep the signage consistent. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can be colored tape on the ground. Just give your athletes the confidence that they’re going in the right direction. That’s the last thing they want to be worried about. It slows people down and gives them unnecessary doubt, and a miserable experience.

  5. Pretend elephants are running your race

    OK. That’s kind of ridiculous. But really, have more water (and aid stations for that matter) than you think are necessary. People need water, and help. I do not know a single athlete that has done a race that lacked enough water that hasn’t complained about it every time someone asked how the race was. And most won’t do the race again. People don’t want to carry their own water. This is like race management 101. Have (more than) enough water stops, and more than enough water AT the stops. Another no-brainer? Make sure it’s clean and doesn’t get people sick. Yes..this also happens…and it also creates bad PR.

  6. Stop the crap

    Crappy schwag bags, that is. Give something unique. It will pay off. The Esprit de She triathlon series gives cycling jerseys in their schwag bag. Do participants pay a little extra? Probably. Do they keep coming back year-after-year and bring friends? Absolutely. Other great schwag ideas? Drink coozies, trucker hats, beenies, gloves, socks. Slightly different goes a long way. Check out our Top 10 Race Swag Bags blog for more ideas. Ditch the t-shirt? Maybe. Ditch the finisher medal? Never.

  7. Make packet pick-up your friend

    Get creative with packet pick-up locations. This can be a challenge, but can REALLY help out participants AND lead to some extra cash to your bottom line. Talk to local running stores and see if they’ll let you set up a table at their shop to let people pick up their numbers. Athletes will need last-minute gear that they can pick up at the shop, and you can negotiate a percentage of the profit on. You can take on-site registrations, too, capturing some of those last-minute online registrations prior to race day.

  8. There should be an order to awards

    Give awards out in the order of the race. Don’t make the marathoners (who started at 6am) wait for the half marathon men and women, 10K men and women, 5K men and women, and kids run to go first. They’ve been at your event longer than anyone. They’re ready to go home.

  9. The fastest people aren’t the only ones who deserve awards

    Give awards to more than just the super-athletes. This goes a LONG way. Show the other athletes you care about them too! How about an award for the last person to cross the finish line? (You don’t have to wait for the awards ceremony for this one). What about the youngest competitor? Oldest? Biggest team? Happiest person in the race? Random bib number gets a prize? Whatever! Have some fun! Show people you care.

  10. Put yourself in the “average athlete’s” shoes

    OK. This one might sound a little harsh. But the reality is, unless you’re the Boston Marathon, you’re gonna be attracting a lot of ‘average’ athletes. That’s OK! Embrace them! Put yourself in their shoes. What is race-day registration going to look like? What is the start and finish line going to look like for the 10 minute/mile pace pack? What are the porta-potties going to look like half an hour before the race? What about half an hour after those 10 minute-milers cross the finish line? Think about the worst case scenario for peak density at all points in your race. THAT’S your not-so-sweet spot to plan for.

These may seem like simple tips, but PLEASE DON’T TAKE THEM LIGHTLY!! People forget these things all the time! Even in really big, seasoned, races. It’s terrible PR and it makes athletes really unhappy. With so many options out there, people will be quick to find a reason to drop your race and try the next one (and tell people why). So don’t screw up on the basics. Give them the time, thought and energy they deserve. It will pay off, I promise.

Download our eGuide on how to make race day a success for more tips.

To find out how we can help you with race day, click here.