Liz Westfall: 5K Race Director at 15 Years Old (Event Director of the Month)

Liz_WestfallLiz Westfall is a 15-year-old  runner who dove into the role of race director to raise money for her favorite cause, the Food Bank of CNY.  She and a crew of friends learned how to do everything from opening a bank account to finding a venue to setting up online registration with ACTIVE to marketing to runners. The inaugural 5K was a success and plans are already underway for the 2014 event.

How did you first get the idea for the Hallowrun for Hunger?
Last April I was asked to write down my interests and goals for my introduction at a banquet. I wrote that I loved to run and I wanted to collect $5,000 for the Food Bank of CNY by the time I graduated. The Food Bank is the main food supplier to 261 emergency food pantries in New York, and my friends and I have been running a Halloween for Hunger food drive to support them for the past few years.

Once I heard it out loud at the banquet, I knew I had to make it happen! On the way home I came up with a plan: a 5K for $5K! I called up my friends and we got to work. A lot of people came out to help, but our main race crew was: 

  • Megan Cuculich, Co-Race Director
  • Joseph Collins, Volunteer Coordinator
  • Joshua DiFabio, Special Effects Makeup
  • Wesley Smiley, Prop Master
  • Tom Pickering, DJ and also wrote the original Hallowrun music
  • Marissa Colburn, Student Artist (logo and t-shirt design)

We also had dozens of student volunteers working in the park and as zombies to chase the runners, and we recruited parents and teachers too. 

What were your first steps in planning the event?
We spoke with other race directors and they told us it would be too difficult for a group of students and we probably shouldn’t even try. We did it anyway!

We worked on the 5K for six months, finding a park, registering a business, creating a website, recruiting volunteers, creating and distributing flyers, writing proposals, and finding sponsors. I’m very shy and it was hard to hear the word “no” so many times, but I learned that fundraising is a lot like running—it’s not always easy, but if you want to finish, you need to just keep going. 

Why did you choose Halloween?
We were already involved with the Halloween for Hunger food drive, so it seemed like we could just build on that. Halloween is fun and people can dress up in costumes for the 5K. 

How did the inaugural event go?
The event went great—we had about 270 participants and over 500 spectators. We didn’t really know what to expect because we went to a race director’s meeting at Fleet Feet Sports and they told us the average first-year attendance for an event was less than 100. We broke expectations and were really happy with our turnout. 

Did ACTIVE provide you with the technology and support you needed?
The system was really easy to use and the people at ACTIVE were very helpful—we had no issues. We appreciated ACTIVE because we could send all of the runner registration money directly to the Food Bank of CNY—we didn’t want to handle anyone’s money personally.

We could also track the kinds of runners who were signing up, and the system even produced a complete email list so that we could thank the runners for joining us and ask them for feedback. It was also handy for making the check-in list and keeping track of t-shirt sizes.  

What did you learn as a race director?
We learned a lot about starting and running a business, but the most important thing we learned is that we are part of an amazing community of people who reach out in all directions to help one another. After the run, I looked out at all the people who had shown up for us, hundreds of them, and I knew right then that I would do it again next year.  It was awesome to see.

Did you hit your goal of raising $5,000 for the Food Bank?
We beat our goal! We raised $10,643 and were able to make a cash donation of $6,025 after paying for the park, insurance, t-shirts, printing, and other costs. All of the race costs came out of the sponsor money so that we could donate the runner registration money directly to the Food Bank through ACTIVE.

What are your plans for 2014?
This year we’ll be doing the same 5K distance, but we’re tweaking the course because we were too big for the area of the park we were in previously. We’re also changing the date to October 5th (a little earlier this year) because we don’t want to compete with the Empire State Half-Marathon and other Halloween plans people might have. And we’ll be adding more zombies to chase the runners and hopefully attracting more sponsors. Our t-shirts were a huge hit, so we will be ordering more of them this time. Our student artist has graduated, so this year Henry Rose, another student runner and a terrific artist, will design our very unusual and fun race t-shirts.

Learn more at Hallowrun for Hunger

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