If you want to know how to plan a race, one of the first steps is knowing where to host it! Having the right road race locations is just as important for athletes as it is your management team; it dictates much of race day logistics and can be a huge influence on whether athletes decide to participate or not. From fun runs to muddy obstacle courses and qualifying marathons, there are so many different types of races and courses to choose from!

So how do you know you’re picking the right race course? We’ve got 5 steps.

Know the Area

Before you start dreaming up crazy courses, we suggest you talk to your local government to learn more about permits and restrictions. They’ll be able to assist you with municipal needs like hospital and police capabilities and let you know which areas to avoid, like those with high traffic, busy intersections, or railroad tracks. They may even be able to direct you to previously used (and thus approved!) courses.

Find Your ‘Pull’ Factor

For some races, the appeal comes naturally: the International Big Sur Marathon, often noted as the most scenic marathon in the world, offers breathtaking views along the Pacific Coast. Then there’s the Niagara Falls International Marathon, the Antarctic Ice Marathon, and the Australian Outback Marathon – all exactly what they sound like.

Urban marathons take advantage of their location to double as a city tour: the Colfax Half-Marathon takes a mile-long stretch through the Denver Zoo, the TCS NYC Marathon runs through all five boroughs, the Walt Disney Marathon goes through all four Disney World parks, and the TCS Amsterdam Marathon runs through the Rijksmuseum, home of original art by Van Gogh and Rembrandt.

If you’re not lucky enough to be in one of these naturally enticing locations, no worries! As we’ll discuss below, you don’t need to be China’s Great Wall Marathon to pull participants.

Understand Your Runners

This is the most important part of picking a course! Sure, it sounds cool to run the Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Picchu, but a challenging trail course like that will wind up being hell for amateur runners. So before you even think about how to plan a race, you have to know what kind of race you want to have. Ask yourself: what kind of runner are you trying to attract? What are they looking to accomplish? Are they looking to set a new PR or running just for fun? Do they want spectators to cheer them on?

Pick a Course Type

Just as your course determines who participates, your ideal participant determines the course! Runners seeking a PR will look for flat, straight, fast courses while those looking for a challenge may embrace hilly or rocky terrain. Keep in mind how the different course types affect your participants’ experiences.

Point-to-Point offers runners new views the whole way, yet spectators will have a hard time seeing athletes more than once and extra planning must go into parking and transportation to move both runners and spectators from start to finish.

Out-and-Back means seeing the same scenery twice, leading to a potentially boring run. But it also offers easy spectator views, high-fives from runners on their way back and, for the athlete, a clear idea of how much distance is left.

Loop courses offer the best of both worlds with consistently new views and the ease of having the start and finish in the same place.

Check and Double-Check

Road Race Locations ChronoTrack MarketingBeyond your runners and the “cool” factor is the most important part of a course: its safety and accuracy. This means a clearly marked course (especially on trails), plenty of aid stations, monitored turns, and the ability to quickly get your medics to any part of the course.

It also means taking the time to measure your course properly. While some runners may not care about the distance, the ones who do will certainly let you hear about it if it’s done wrong. While online mapping tools like MapMyRun.com may be a good place to start your course planning, they can easily be more than 100 yards off and are not accurate enough to serve as a true measurement. Instead, measure your course with a GPS device, hand measuring wheel or, better yet, a USATF-approved bicycle hub-mounted counter. Not only are these methods more accurate, but they require you to walk your course and experience it firsthand. If you don’t like your course, neither will your athletes!

In the end, you don’t have to have your course in some out-of-this-world location to have a good race! The best course is one that is right for your runners and easily managed on race day. If you want to know more about how to plan a race, check out our other blogs or give us a shout! We’re here to help.