As most race directors will tell you, this isn’t the industry to choose if you want to be a millionaire. Breaking even is often the goal, particularly in the first few years after launching an event; if you’re making a profit, even better! (And rarer.) The one thing you want to be sure of is that you’re not losing money, and that can be really tough to manage unless your race budget is in ship shape from the first day you hang out your shingle.

Listing and setting costs against budgetary items can seem daunting, but there’s help on the horizon. We’ve developed a handy tool that can calculate your costs and help you create a budget. Play around with the cost calculator here.

Here is a brief summary of what each item in the cost calculator means and why you should account for it:

Course Signage

You’d be surprised how many participants can head off-course even on an out-and-back 5K. Adding directional signage (arrows) to your course, as well as informational signage (mile markers, water and aid station markers) is important. This will literally keep your athletes on track and save you from having to place extra volunteers on the course as traffic conductors.

Food and Water for Volunteers

Endurance events can make for long days. Be sure to bolster your helpers! If you provide volunteers with food and drinks, they’ll stay motivated and energized, and will be more likely to return for next year’s event because you took such good care of them.



Participants view medals as a badge of honor, so it’s important to invest in high-quality medals (or a similar finisher’s award). A unique medal will cause a buzz with participants and act as a marketing tool to attract more registrants, so they’re worth every penny.

Online Registration Fees

All registration platforms charge a transaction fee, which is typically a small percentage of the cost. Be sure to factor this into your budget, unless you are passing all fees onto your participants.

Paid Help

Most event managers need at least one other person to help them pull off the race without a hitch. Depending on your event, you may need more than one. When budgeting, take into account staff and vendors you’ll need to hire to help you run operations, the expo, marketing, timing, medical aid stations, entertainment, etc.


Just like your mom told you so long ago, you need to ask permission. Each city has different requirements, but you’ll mostly likely need to pay for a special event permit, insurance, among other things.


You cannot put on an event without police involvement! They will assist with road closures and security. Contact them as far in advance as possible, provide them with your course map and plan, and request a cost estimate.


The importance of this item is self-evident. Port-a-potties can range in price, so be sure to request estimates from different companies as you budget for them.


Rental Trucks

You’ll need rental trucks to transport your start and finish line supplies, course fencing, water and aid stations tables…the list goes on. Don’t try to rally all your friends with an extended cab—set aside some budget to rent the big commercial trucks.

Start/Finish Line Signage

Just as with the course, the start and finish lines need directional/instructional signage. Whether its arrows or just text, your signage will guide participants to the bathrooms, registration desks, aid stations, corrals, shuttles, etc.

Timing Fees

The days of using a stopwatch are long gone and participants expect even small events to use sophisticated timing systems. Be sure to dedicate some finances not only to hiring a timing partner, but to purchasing race bibs (which your timing partner can help you with).

Traffic Cones

Those orange plastic pointy things come in very handy when you need to separate runners from vehicles on a road, or spectators from the course. They can also help you demarcate off-limits areas or form lines (such as for gear check or registration check in).


Trophies & Prizes

You’ll need to order awards for age-group winners and overall winners, as well as any special competitions you have that are unique to your event, like “best costume” or “youngest/oldest participant.”


Similar to medals, t-shirts are a badge of honor and something that many participants collect fanatically. They will expect to get a t-shirt with registration, so be sure to budget for it.

Social Media Management

Social media is one of the most effective marketing tools for race directors to connect with their audience. These channels keep registrants excited about the event while attracting even more participants – if it’s done right. Unless you’re comfortable navigating the digital marketing world, you’ll need help creating and implementing your social media plan. For more information on how to run successful social media campaigns, ambassador programs and digital ads, contact Big Run Media. 

Website Management

Unless you’re comfortable with website code and have the time to make changes to your site, you’ll need help updating it. Things like parking information, entertainment, course maps, and more should be added to your site as you move closer and closer to race day. Post-event, you’ll want to add pictures, registration for next year, and results.

These are just some of the top items to consider for your race budget. Don’t forget to use the cost calculator tool to get started!

Need help with more than just your race budget?  Download our guide on how to plan a 5K race here.

Feel free to contact us with any questions you have about race budgets, race management technology, or timing.