Guest Blog by Tina Muir of Runners Connect
It will come as no surprise if I tell you that we are in a running boom.
Ten years ago, if you created a race in your town and there was a runner available that weekend, they would be there.
A few years ago, if there was a race available and someone was a beginner interested in selecting their very first race, there was a good chance they would end up at your event.
However, if you fast forward a few more years, the running boom has led to multiple races being hosted in the same city every weekend. Now it is very rare to see a weekend without a race drawing a crowd of experienced and new runners alike.
So how do you make your race stand out, when there are so many options to choose from?
Well, today I am going to give you some pointers.
As an elite runner who began running at age 14, I have raced thousands of times and therefore know what features I look for when selecting a race. That being said, I might be a little pickier than most because these days, I am not able to race that often – especially as my weekends are limited by my marathon training schedule and the goal race I have on my calendar. I can only race a few times in any one build-up, but if you can satisfy my high demands you can definitely satisfy the majority or runners and draw large crowds to your event.
Utilize your Swag
Five years ago this word didn’t exist, but it has become a very common word in a runner’s dictionary and it does have a big effect on whether someone chooses your race.
For those new runners, or runners who travel far and wide to go to races, having a great medal or gift for the runners will make the race more attractive. Not only will it encourage people from your town to attend the race to run and show off their swag with pride, it may even attract those runners who travel all over the country to come to your event.
This does not necessarily mean being extravagant and spending an excessive amount on a gold plated medal or T-shirts made of silk, but just thinking outside the box. I once won an apple pie from a local bakery at a race on the 4th of July, and that was one of my favorite prizes of all time.
Show Your City Pride
Speaking of out-of-the-box prizes and gifts, you want to add some touches from what your city is known for.
I live in Lexington, Kentucky, the horse capital of the world, and I love when local races give out something or find a way to incorporate what we have to offer in Lexington. I recently ran the Kentucky 5K, which had us running around the beautiful scenery of the Kentucky Horse Park. The race went through a giant horse barn (where there were Clydesdale horses in their stalls!), and I thought that was a really nice way to showcase what makes this area stand out. Use what sets your city apart to your advantage, and make local residents feel pride in their city.
This one is mostly common sense, but the more prepared you are, the easier it is on the runners to focus on what they are there to do: run the race.
If your participants are spending some of the energy they could be using in the race on tracking you down to find out where the race starts or where the nearest bathrooms are, they are less likely to come back again.
Try to use signs, banners, volunteers, and forward thinking to your advantage.
A few weeks to a month before the race, put yourself in the runner’s shoes and imagine yourself arriving at your event in all kinds of scenarios. What would make it easier on you in each of those situation?
Run through every moment of their day, and take the steps you need to make race day as seamless as possible. Think about this process in as much detail as possible so that one of the words the runners use to describe your race “organized”. This will go a long way, especially at a time when people will write reviews about your race online, which will be read by next year’s potential attendees.
Embrace Social Media
Along those lines, in anticipation of the race and especially after the race, your runners will want to show their anticipation and pride on social media. Come up with a memorable hashtag for them to use and create buzz with, and create profiles on each of the major social sites for the race. This includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and depending on how brave you are, Snapchat.
Hire a friend who loves social media to monitor your accounts and help you create buzz around the event. This means replying to and thanking anyone who uses your hashtag or mentions your race to make them feel as though their presence at your event is appreciated.
When it come to paying your friend who is helping you, this does not have to be through traditional payment processes; it could be giving them a few free race bibs in exchange for the help. Taking the social media aspect off your hands will give you more time to give to organizing and setting up the event and will give a fresh set of eyes the ability to promote your event (while getting them excited for the race themselves).
This may seem like a lot of work, but sharing about a race online is one of the best parts of being a runner, and if you do not have the social media side down it can be difficult to spread the word and get buzz going for your race over other races.
Find a Photographer
In a case I didn’t make it clear, runners love to show their friends and family that they are participating in a race. One of the easiest ways you can make this a great experience for them is to have as many photographers around the course as possible to catch the runners through the various stages of the race. Not only will this let them reflect back on the race with pride as they remember the struggles they went through to get to the finish line, runners will use those photos as their profile pictures on social media, promoting your event and building loyalty to it as they look back on it as a positive experience.
It can be tempting to hire one of the bigger companies to cover your event, but consider finding some local photographers to help. You be helping someone who is from your town, and if you put your event logo on the photos and give them to your runners for free that will go a long way in their loyalty to you.
As a professional runner, I get a lot of photos taken of me, but everyone loves to see their photos of the race and I love when I can access them for free. Last year I did the Thanksgiving Day Race in Cincinnati where they did this and I loved it…and used their photo across my social media as much as possible!
Think of the Logistics
Is your race in the summer or the winter? If your race is in August and starts at 10am, the participants are unlikely to run fast or have an enjoyable experience as they will be suffering from heat exhaustion; if you have a winter race and your race begins at 7am, it will be difficult to convince participants to get out of their warm beds to run outside in the dark.
Think about other parts of the logistics that make the race enjoyable for runners. Are there enough bathrooms in the start and finish areas? Do you have enough water stations and bathrooms along the course? Is there a big celebration at the finish line?
The more of the aspects you can cover, the better the experience will be for the runners, and the more friends they will tell about the race.
It might seem like a lot of effort and that runners can by too picky about what they need and the frills associated with a race. However, if you put in the extra time to make sure your participants can just focus on what they have to do before the race and have plenty to celebrate after, it will pay off big time.
The increasing popularity of running has provided many benefits for the running world as a whole, but it can be tough as a race director to show that your event is the best one around. If you follow my advice, it will go a long way with runners and they will thank you by attending your event year after year, bringing more and more people to the event every time they do.
Tina Muir is an elite runner for Saucony and the Community Manager for Runners Connect. Tina hosts the popular, number one rated running podcast, Run to the Top where she interviews race directors, Olympians, sports psychologists, everyday runners, and running influences from all over the world.
Runners Connect is a community of expert coaches that provide custom and dynamic training plans tailored specifically to your abilities, pace and goals. Runners Connect features an award-winning blog that promises to provide unparalleled expertise and knowledge about training and racing to help make you a smarter, fitter, and faster runner.