Organizing the Mad Park 5K

I’ve been asked several times to publish the process I went through to establish the Mad Park 5K. Here it is! Your 30 step plan to the Mad Park 5K.

So you’ve decided that you want to plan a 5K. I did that once! Here’s my step-by-step plan on how to create a 5K. With a lot of energy, a passion for service, and dash of creativity – you can be a successful event coordinator too. Good luck!

90+ days before your event

  1. Check your vision. What do you want to do? What’s the theme of your event? Is it promoting or supporting a business or organization? Are you raising money for anything special? It’s easy to try to accommodate the masses and lose your vision throughout the process. Stay true to your vision. Build your race plan and communication strategy around your vision.
  2. Show me the money!!! Come up with a mock budget. As you’re going through this exercise you may need to reach out to some vendors for an idea on costs for things like insurance and t-shirts. Costs vary widely so get some referrals and call around. Include things like:
    1. Event permit fee
    2. Bibs, safety pins
    3. Event insurance
    4. Start/finish line
    5. Event timing
    6. T-shirts or event swag
    7. Awards
    8. Police (costs for these resources should be in your event permit documentation)
    9. EMTs (costs for these resources should be in your event permit documentation)
    10. Port-a-jons
    11. Water station supplies (cups, water jugs)
    12. Food

Other possible expenses

Bank fees: Will you create a separate bank account to have money specifically for the event flow in and out of?

Sponsor/Volunteer dinner: I had a dinner the week before our event for all sponsors and volunteers. This dinner served 2 purposes; 1. Thank those folks for supporting my 5K and 2. Go over all event details from set-up through breakdown to ensure that everyone was on the same page and allow me to answer any questions.

Other event resources: Are you going to offer t-shirt tie-dying, anything for kids, photo booth? Think through those other event offerings and identify a cost for those things.

Once you have your mock budget created, calculate the number of participants you will need to breakeven on your event. See sample below:

mad park 5k mock budget

Do these numbers surprise you? Knowing these numbers will help you coordinate plans for sponsorship dollars (see #8 below) and marketing. It’s important that you look at the numbers early in the process. You don’t want to over promise and under deliver and you don’t want to bankrupt yourself trying to create a fun event. Be smart about this.

  1. Get a date. Determine a few dates for your event. Google other events or races that are happening in the area during those same time periods. Throw a date out to some of your friends and prospective participants and get their thoughts. Set the date.
  2. Time is on your side. The first 5K I planned was done in less than 90 days. It was hugely successful, in my opinion, but A LOT of work and included unnecessary stress that could have been mitigated with more time. Give yourself the gift of time.
  3. Phone a friend. Heck, phone a bunch of friends. Depending on how big your event is, you’re going to need at least 25 volunteers – think packet pick-up, water stop(s), start/finish line support, route marking, traffic support… It truly takes a village. Hint: Reach out to local high schools/colleges/universities there are always students that need service hours.
  4. Map my run. Where will you start/finish your race? Map out the race course. Make sure that it’s at least the distance that you’re targeting. Have several people run the route with a GPS device (watch or phone) to see if their distance is also at least the distance that you’re targeting.
  5. Permit time. Once you have your date, location and race route, it’s time to apply for your special event permit. Sometimes this is considered a parade permit. The fees vary by the number of people you anticipate participating. This permit process can take 30+ days to get approval. Build that time into your process. The permit documentation will also include important details on additional resources you’ll need to have for your race – read this documentation carefully.
    1. What type of event insurance do you need? Are there special clauses that need to be included in the policy?
    2. Are you required to have city police and/or EMT support?
    3. What’s the small print on trash collection, noise ordinances/amplified sound, use of power, temporary structures, potable water, etc.?
  6. Sponsorship. A 5K can cost thousands of dollars to produce if you have chip timing, music, police/EMT support, t-shirts, beer glasses, port-a-jons, water stop supplies, event permit fees… Of course, you can cut these costs doing manual timing, find a location that has plenty of restrooms for participants, and sponsorship dollars. The more sponsorship dollars you collect the more dollars from ticket sales you are able to apply to your vision or cause. Hint: As sponsors agree to participate in your event, go ahead and ask them for their logo in both a .jpg or .png format so you have it for t-shirts and marketing materials/website, if needed.
  7. Liability Waiver. Go ahead and do some research on liability waivers for your event. It’s much easier if you have this built into the registration process. Otherwise, you’re getting folks to sign paper forms during packet pick-up and ensuring that you get the waiver signed by every participant. Do yourself a favor and do this early before you set-up registration.
  8. Registration. Think through how you want folks to register. Are you only going to accept online registration? Can folks register to participate on the day of the event? There are a lot of websites that offer event registration and event promotion. Each site offers different benefits and fee schedules. Evaluate them carefully. Also think through metrics you need to collect during registration; t-shirt size, age group, etc. Visit some other successful race websites to see what details they include during registration.

60+ days before your event

  1. Bathrooms. Go back to your event location and evaluate the bathroom situation. Your event permit documentation should have recommendations on how many restrooms are advised based on the number of people you anticipate participating. If needed, reach out to several port-a-jon companies and ask about what options they have and pricing for each. Consider your budget. Go ahead and make a reservation or ask about how far in advance you need to let them know about your order so that those potties can be placed in advance of your event.
  2. T-shirts and race swag. If you’re having t-shirts, medals, beer glasses, etc. Finalize what you want your participants to get and work with a graphic designer or the vendor you’re going to use to create the screens for printing or molds. You’ll need to have those sponsor logos (see #8) if you are going to have them recognized on your event swag.
  3. Volunteers: Continue rallying the volunteer troops for your event. I personally don’t feel like you will ever have too many volunteers.
  4. Marketing. How are you getting the word out about your event? You should be using word-of-mouth, social media, your blog or website, etc. Folks should know where to get details about your event and know where to go to register. Consider offering perks or incentives for registering early or promoting registration before the event. Hint: You want to have as many people register 30 days before the event as possible so that you can plan for swag orders.
  5. Packet pick-up: part 1. Are you going to offer a pre-event packet pick-up? If so, reach out to your event sponsors, local organizations and businesses about flyers, coupons, etc. that you want to include in your packets. Then determine where you want to conduct packet pick-up and call on some of those volunteers to help man that.

30+ days before your event

  1. Water stop materials. Go ahead and get tables, cups, and water jugs. Many organizations have these and will let you borrow them for an event. Don’t buy stuff unless you need to.
  2. Order race swag. If you plan to have race participants get t-shirts, beer glasses, medals, etc. go ahead and order those now. For t-shirts it’s also a good idea to get your volunteers race t-shirts. They did a lot to support you and it’s a nice thank you gift.
  3. Continue marketing. At some point it will be too late to order more race swag. You may want to update your registration site, event website, or blogs to put a deadline on registration to confirm receipt of race swag. Usually that deadline is 30 days before the event to ensure there is enough time for printing, but that doesn’t mean folks can’t still register. Consider ordering extra t-shirts or other swag to offer to those that register in that last month on a “while supplies last” basis.

Week of the race

  1. Mark your race route. My city is now requiring that signs are put up around the race route the week before the event so that folks are aware that a race will be happening with plenty of advance notice. I also recommend using a reflective spray paint to put arrows along the race route for your participants.
  2. Confirm your vendors. Call your event location, port-a-jon company, timing and start/finish line, swag vendor(s), etc. to make sure all of your logistics are going to be delivered before the day of the event.
  3. Packet pick-up: part 2. Reach out to some volunteers to help you stuff race packets. Will you put t-shirts and race bibs in the packets or will you pack bags generically and give bibs and t-shirts as folks come to pick-up their stuff? Think about the venue for packet pick-up. How much space do you have? What makes the most sense as far as space, number of volunteers you have and process efficiency?
  4. Sponsor and volunteer dinner. Have your sponsor/volunteer dinner. Be prepared to talk about set-up logistics for those sponsors that may bring tables/tents to the event, where the start/finish lines will be set-up, assignment of volunteers on the day of the event, parking, and any pertinent details that folks need to be aware of. It’s also a good idea to get everyone to call or text you during this event so that you have everyone programmed into your phone for easy contact on the day of the race.
  5. Food. If you’re planning on having food (biscuits, bagels, fruit, etc.) at your event, go ahead and order that and get details on pick-up or delivery options.

Day of the event

  1. Drive the race route. Get out of the door early and drive the race route. Make sure that it is free of debris, clearly marked, and get some volunteers to add some quotes, funny sayings, etc. in side walk chalk (weather permitting) along the course.
  2. Water stations(s). Have your water station volunteers’ set-up their station(s).
  3. Packet pick-up: part 3. If you have same day pick-up, make sure that your volunteers are there early to get set-up.
  4. Float: As the race coordinator, you should float to make sure that all of your vendors, sponsors and volunteers have what they need for a successful pre-race morning.
  5. Vendor payment. Make sure that you touch base with your police officers, EMTs, vendors participating in the event and ensure that they get paid on the day of the event. You will be invoiced for things like t-shirts, port-a-jons, etc. Make sure to pay those bills timely.
  6. Awards Ceremony. Be a part of the awards ceremony. Make sure someone is taking pictures for use on social media, event website, future promotional materials, etc.
  7. Enjoy. Take a moment to enjoy all of the work that you’ve put in. This day is going to go so fast. Take it all in and make mental notes on what you want to consider changing for the next event and make sure to say thank you to everyone that made this event a success – that’s everyone – including you!
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