Half-marathon and marathon running races have become increasingly popular despite their daunting distances -- 13.1 miles and 26.2 miles respectively. In 2011, there were about 1,500 certified half-marathons and 720 marathons in the U.S. alone; the half-marathons saw 1.6 million finishers and the marathon a record 518,000. With the increase in participation in these events thanks mainly to an influx of newer runners, establishing, promoting and staging these races requires considerable planning and managerial know-how.
Selecting a Course
This is probably the most important aspect of a new road race, especially a longer one. You want to provide adequate scenery while being able to ensure runner safety, so you need to be concerned with everything from motor vehicle traffic to the possibility of dogs running onto the course in rural settings and attacking race entrants. You don't want the race to be boring, yet including too many hills may put doubt in a lot of potential runners' minds. If you can, use multiple similar or even identical loops or an out-and-back route to reduce the number of roads used and hence the amount of interference with everyday goings-on in your city or town.
Once you settle on a course, make sure it is accurately measured and clearly marked every mile. You can have your race certified by USA Track & Field to lend your event credibility.
Promoting the Event
If no one knows about your race, they won't show up. Allow yourself many months in advance of the race date to advertise it. Use the Internet, local and national running publications, fliers placed in area sports-specialty stores, and press releases dispatched to local media. Most importantly, in addition to allowing online registration, create and print registration brochures that clearly provide all necessary information, e.g., start time and place, course description, awards, directions to the race, post-race amenities, contact information and a list of sponsors with logos, if possible.
Running is a blessedly simple sport, but you will still need a number of items and services to stage a quality event, regardless of size. Order more race numbers than you expect to need, and enough safety pins to go with them. Enlist the services of a race-timing company in your area, looking for reputable outfits known to time events reliably and provide results quickly. You will need insurance coverage, awards for the runners, T-shirts, water and other beverages on the course and local businesses willing to sponsor your event in exchange for putting their name on fliers, shirts and on-site banners.
All races give out awards of some sort, but it's up to you whether to offer cash prizes, which will attract top talent but not necessarily a lot of everyday runners. Many marathons and some half-marathons host pasta dinners the night before the event at an added cost to entrants and their friends and families; some of these feature well-known runners as speakers. You may wish to have live music on the course, be it played by volunteers from a local high school or a professional band. You can contact a local massage training school and see if they are willing to have students give post-race massages as a means of accumulating required coursework hours. Many of these possibilities may be limited by your budget or capacity to reach into the community.
Volunteers are crucial in a longer race. You will need them at intersections to stop and control traffic, at water and refreshment tables to hand out critical fluids, at the finish line to encourage and assist weary competitors, and at registration tables to hand out numbers. Look into local schools and organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America; these are great sources of volunteers. Make absolutely certain to have a day dedicated to training these volunteers so they know exactly what their duties and expectations are, and put someone in charge of coordinating all of them.
Other matters you need to think about: When do you want to have the race? It's not advisable to hold a longer race in the warm summer months, particularly a marathon, but you want to avoid going head-to-head against an established race of its kind if you can. Also, choosing a name for the race can make a tremendous difference in initial interest, so be certain to solicit ideas far and wide and from the more creative folks in your circles.
L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.