Jeremy Lowry is the owner of Race DC Timing based in Washington, DC. He’s our guest blogger this week, talking about tips on how to plan a 5K running event.

These days almost every organization wants to put on a 5K. At first glance it seems pretty simple and profitable—find a course, set up online registration, people show up, and you make money. But with so many organizations, running clubs, businesses, and individuals putting on races, it is anything but simple and not always profitable. If you are considering or have decided to put on a 5K, here are 10 tips we think will lead to a successful event:

1. Figure Out the Goal of Your Event

When you’re figuring out how to plan a 5K, the first thing you need to determine is your goal. Do you want to raise money for a non-profit? Provide a healthy activity for your community? Create a fun, enjoyable, and unique experience for runners and walkers? Make a living? Are you doing this event for as many years as possible? Or will it just be a 5-year event, etc. Having a goal and time frame in mind will help you stay focused on building and adding new things to the event each year to attract more people.

2. Partner With a Charity, Organization, and/or Sponsor You Can Rely On

Many times in the first couple of years, you will often need a charity, organization, or sponsor to bring a certain number of registrants and volunteers for your event to be profitable. This sets you up for success in later years as others outside those channels find out about your event.

3. Find an Established Timer or Race Management Company to Work With

Many timers are a wealth of knowledge and support. They are at several events each weekend, year round, and have seen all types of good and bad ways to put on a 5K. They also provide credibility—registrants will have peace of mind if your event is professionally timed.

There are many new race timing companies entering the market, so be sure to solicit a few bids and proposals as well as speak with each over the phone or in person. Pricing from each timing company can vary greatly so make sure to understand why one timer is more affordable or more expensive than the other and don’t simply pick the cheapest one.

Typically the cheaper the service, the less support you receive. The more expensive timers provide all-in-one services that include electronically timing your event and providing a professional start/finish line set up (things like an inflatable arch, barricading for a controlled finish area, finish line video, and mile markers for your course). Some timing companies also have unique relationships with online registration companies and will handle registration setup, making it a smooth transition for everyone involved.

Just remember: Not all race timing companies offer the same thing, so be sure to speak with them and understand exactly what they can provide for your event.

4. Keep It Simple the First Year


Considering doing just a 5K run/walk and not adding a shorter distance for kids, etc. Most people can easily walk a 5K, so you won’t be excluding anyone. When you start adding more distances or elements to your event, you are adding more responsibilities and potentially costs. For example, two courses could potentially require twice the police, volunteers, and water stops.

Also, don’t offer a bunch of different t-shirt styles (short sleeve, long sleeve) and sizes (youth, men’s, women’s). Keep it simple and offer one youth size, then adult small, medium, large, and x-large. Too many times, first-year events try to offer every size possible, end up over-ordering, and are stuck with sizes no one wants and run out of the sizes people do want.

Try to partner with one sponsor who will provide all of your post-race food and water. Grocery stores are great places to start to get your food, water, and sports drinks provided free of charge. This also saves you time the week of the race as you only have to stop at one location to get these supplies, rather than having to drive all over town to secure each.

Finally, find an established online registration company. There are many companies that offer this service, but many don’t have the support, knowledge, and tools to make this a smooth relationship. So focus on finding a provider who has experience in handling online registration for running events and who has reputable references or races they work with.

5. Talk to Other Event Directors of Races You Enjoy

Many are very willing to share their experience with you and you can better understand what makes them successful. If you’re not able to get in touch with the race directors directly, just go to their events and see what works well and what doesn’t. Use this knowledge for your event.

6. Offer Something Unique to the Runners Participating in Your Event

For example, offer a technical running t-shirt rather than a standard cotton shirt, running hat or gloves. Create a unique post-race experience with a food or beverage sponsor (many times twilight or evening races have a beer sponsor for finish-line activities). Or build a unique course or finish area for the race to attract runners to your event. These types of things will help to set you apart from the other 5K events.

7. Consider a 5K Course That Has Been Used Previously

Not only does this cut down on costs associated with designing and certifying a new course, but it is more likely to be approved by the city, police, or jurisdiction in your location. Police and city officials like courses they have worked before and know the potential pitfalls or advantages of an established course.

8. Start Finding Sponsors for Your Event ASAP

It is never too early to try to find sponsors. The more sponsors or sponsor dollars you can get, the more income you can generate for your event and charity.

9. Hire One Race Director, With the Support of a Committee

The race director will make the decisions for the event, but the committee will be there for him or her to lean on for guidance. Too many times we see events that have a committee but no particular person in charge, and lots of opinions leads to decisions not being made in a timely manner. This can cause hang ups and takes away from valuable marketing time.

10. Market Your Event, Market Your Event, and Market Your Event Some More

5K_Race_Director_Checklist_Event_MarketingThe more places your event is seen, the more registrants you can potentially attract. This includes:
• Online (running websites, Facebook Ads, Google Ads),
• Flyers at other events/running stores/restaurants/gyms
• Advertising in local newspapers/magazines, radio, and TV ads,
• Advertising through sponsors, charities, schools, universities, friends, and family

You need to have some type of marketing budget to be successful, so put some money into your marketing. It is never too early to start spreading the word about your event; in fact, many successful events open next year’s online registration immediately after (or during) the current year’s event.

Putting on a 5K can be a very rewarding, exciting, and profitable experience if you utilize some of the tips above as well as research other successful events. Committing time and effort to making your event unique and enjoyable for everyone involved will always pay off. Good luck!

To request more information about Race DC Timing, click here.

Jeremy was a contributing writer to our guide on how to plan a 5K race that you can download here.

To request more information about ChronoTrack’s online registration tools and race timing hardware and services, contact us.