Themed races seem to be the hot new thing, especially around the holidays. Thanksgiving, usually known for overindulging on pumpkin pie, has gained a new reputation with more than 1,000 Turkey Trots across the nation in 2014. December is dominated by Jingle Bell and Ugly Sweater runs and Halloween attracts over 700,000 participants to its costumed and zombie-fied races.

Of course, themed races continue long after the holidays are over. Year-round, people have the chance to have colored powder thrown at them, jump obstacles, or down a box of Krispy Kremes – and more than 4 million people will choose to do so. The beauty of the themed race is that it appeals to an ever-broadening range of people, including first-time race directors!

So whether you’re new on the scene or a race management veteran, here a few tips to help you pull off a successful themed race:

Get Creative

This is Rule #1 for themed races! These races are popular for their sheer uniqueness, so you want to provide an experience that people aren’t able to find anywhere else. If you’re having trouble coming up with a theme, think a little harder! Put a new twist on an old idea to make it your own and remember that a theme doesn’t have to rely on costumes. You can differentiate yourself by the type of race, such as the obstacle-filled Spartan Race or the Swissôtel Vertical Marathon, in which participants sprint up 1,336 steps and 73 stories. Or, take a page from the Walt Disney World Marathon and A Christmas Story Run and create a unique course to make your race stand out. Here’s one recently timed by our timer, Best Racing Systems, where hundreds of Santas run through Six Flags Great Adventure.

Mind Your Budget

Race-Management-Advice_CalculatorThis is especially important for beginner race directors. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun and flair that surrounds themed races, but costs stack up quick. Between road permits, insurance, timing technology, traffic cops, swag bags, medical personnel, porta-potties, and much more, a 5k road race with 1,000 participants can easily cost $100,000! Use our Race Cost Calculator to help you develop an in-depth budget plan prior to organizing your race.

To offset costs, consider providing “a la carte” registration options: for example, some people may be willing to pay more for a nicer shirt or will want to forgo the shirt altogether! Sponsorships are by far the most common method for lowering race costs. If you’re hosting a holiday race, capitalize on the shopping season by reaching out to retailers and other businesses who will want to get their name out there or possibly sponsor a prize. You can find more sponsorship tips in our blog, “8 Ways to Attract Sponsors Like Moths to a Flame”.

Market Right

Marketing revolves around what makes your brand different, so as the organizer of a themed race, you’re probably off to a good start. This being said, the themed race market is still pretty saturated, so research the area and your competition first. Knowing what other events are going on and how they’re marketing themselves will help you better strategize your own promotional timeline.

Capitalize on cost-effective solutions like social media and press releases. Buddy up with local reporters and use these tips to develop a strong email campaign. Understand who it is that you are trying to reach and hone in on what makes your race stand out. Is it the runners’ outfits? Host a costume contest on social media! Is it your connection to the community? Cross-promote with your partners! Find what works for your race and your audience.

Prepare for the Weather

This may be relevant to some, more than others, but nobody likes a canceled race! Establish a game plan for every scenario in every season. How will rain, wind, or snow affect the safety of your course? How will you help participants prepare for these challenges? At what point will you have to cancel the race? Is a rain date an option? You’ll also want to be sure your medical stations are equipped for weather-related injuries (such as hypothermia) and you’ll need to understand your timing equipment’s ability to stand up to adverse conditions.

Consider a Different Awards Structure

Most standard races have prizes and awards for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. By all means, keep that tradition up. People will likely expect it. If costumes or themes are part of your race,

consider awards for things like, “funniest costume”, “best team costume”, “ugliest sweater”… you get the point. A lot of timing chips are on bibs these days, so make sure people wear their bibs correctly, regardless of weather and crazy costumes! This will also ensure they get their much-anticipated photos too.

There are thousands of themed races out there and they show no signs of stopping. So get out there, get funky, and have some fun!

We wish you all the best in pulling off your themed race, and if you find you do need help, give us a shout or check out our other blogs on race management. We’re here to help!