Other than the race itself, what else is expected?


I’ve often imagined a scene of a runner privately sitting in the corner of a road race registration room with a calculator in one hand and his race packet (i.e., goodie bag) in the other. The runner would be methodically taking everything out of the bag, checking each item over and assigning a “value” to it. He would then enter all these values into a calculator and come up with a total, hoping that the amount was equal to or greater than what he paid for the race entry fee. And though I’ve never actually witnessed such an occurrence, I often wonder how far off I am with this line of thinking.

The fact is runners, rightfully so, want a return for their “investment” (entry fee and time) in a race and undoubtedly take more into consideration than just the race itself when measuring whether or not they got a fair “deal.” As such, the biggest challenge for a race director is first trying to figure out exactly what it is that the runners want and then, how to either afford it or somehow get it donated.

As for the goodie bag, what actually is reasonable for a runner to expect in one? Typically, most of it is just flyers from sponsors offering discounts or entry forms to other races. Every now and then you may get a race program or a sample size tube of Vaseline or some other promotional item. The more “good stuff” with some value to it that a race can provide, the more it separates their race apart from others.

You would think the most important thing a runner expects when going to a race is the race itself – well managed, start on time, an accurate distance, plenty of water, and expeditious and accurate results. However, not far behind the actual race and in some cases arguably even more important are two key elements – food and entertainment.

Races have become quasi-social events. Customers today expect to be entertained and to be well fed. National anthem singers, aerobic warm ups, inspirational pre-race music, bands at every mile along the course, an elaborate, Hollywood style awards ceremony and a modified post race rock concert has become more and more expected.

Then there is the FOOD. It used to be you’d cross the finish line, get a banana and a juice and “see ya, have a nice day!” Now races vying for runner business feel an obligation and need to offer a huge spread fit for royalty as well as an army. Barbeques and smorgasbords are becoming more the norm. If the general public ever caught on to the fact that by entering some races you could almost feed a family for a week, races would be closing out at record pace. Add to it a post race party with a few beer tickets and you really have a winning combination.

Most event directors also become anxious about what exactly is expected for finish line refreshments. Besides water, of course, do you provide soda, juice, coffee? What about bagels, cookies, yogurt, chips, fruit? Decisions, decisions. Sometimes races are fortunate enough to get these items donated and other times they have to dip into the event budget to pay for them. You can tell many times when product might have been donated as it may be a product you would normally rarely see at a race! It is also worth noting that event directors usually want to choose items that don’t leave a mess, are easy to handle and don’t need refrigeration. And, how much of each product you get is usually a dilemma, too, as you neither want to run out of food nor do you want a lot of left over food, either.

As for important race amenities, there is the “all mighty, all important, I would never enter a race without one, t-shirt!” What would a race be without a t-shirt? That would be like having a car without a steering wheel or a house without a roof…it just wouldn’t be complete. It’s always a challenge and a guessing game for an event director to determine the design of the shirt, the colors, what logos to include and, of course, provide enough of each size. Shirts need to be ordered well in advance, so it usually becomes an educated guessing game and if you are way off, you’ll most likely be run out of town!!

Event directors need to constantly remind themselves that they will never please everyone no matter how hard they try. If a race wanted to try something different other than t-shirts as giveaways, what would be a reasonable alternative that would be priced the same, be of value to the participant and continue to give exposure to the race and to the sponsors? Perhaps no such item exists. God forbid you switched to giving out something other than a shirt and it didn’t meet with everyone’s approval! It can be a dangerous sport.

What other race amenities are important to runners (and walkers) and would make a difference? Are finisher’s certificates or medals important? Results booklets? Raffle prizes? It’s a constant struggle deciding when enough is enough.

So, if you are thinking of becoming a race director someday, be sure you first know how to solicit valuable goodie bag stuff; know how to BBQ a meal for hundreds or thousands; know the words to the National Anthem; be able to play musical instruments; be prepared to lead an aerobic warm up; and last but not least, be a psychic who can look into the future so as to know exactly how much of all this stuff to order and bring to the party!