Back to Basics: Tips & Tricks from 35 Years of Organizing Race Events

Clearwater Distance Classic - LauberFlorida Road Races has been around for 35 years and their races are still growing. Not only do the husband-and-wife race director duo, Chris and Rya Lauber, keep their loyal athletes coming back year-after-year, but they’ve also managed to grow their participant rate at a steady pace.

They attribute their success to following a few, key ground rules that have remained the same over the years.

“It’s a matter of really thinking through every single aspect, making lists, making plans, I don’t think you can over plan an event—although I’ve gotten to the point, where it’s all in my head anyway,” explained Chris, with a laugh.

The Laubers share some foundational tricks for organizing any event from the ground up:

1. Research your event date, thoroughly. 

Choosing an event date that avoids as much conflict as possible with other races of similar distance and close proximity is an important success factor, say the Laubers. “You want to put yourself in the best position to succeed. For instance, if you’re in the Boston area, you probably don’t want to create a race on the day of the Boston Marathon,” said Chris.

“Also, most of us are not the Boston Marathon, The New York Marathon, or the Chicago Marathon — most of us are putting on events because it’s our passion and / or it’s our business,” said Chris. “The reality is, when somebody new comes into the marketplace and creates an event that is in direct conflict with an existing race, in our opinion, that is totally disrespectful. The race that is already established has developed interest and participation in that area – a new race will only succeed by pulling athletes away from the established race.”

Chris added “Finally, when researching dates for new races, be aware of other types of events in your area that may impact participation or increase the challenges of creating a race. For instance, if your race will require a lot of police officers to maintain traffic control and it is on the same day as a major league baseball game, an outdoor concert, and other events in need of police staffing, you will face unnecessary obstacles when you can move your race by a day, a week, or a month.”

2. Envision what you want race day to look like.

 Mapping out the look and the feel of your event is an integral part of the organization process. It’s important for race directors to know exactly what every detail should look like and how they should function on race day. Or have key people who share your vision and can make them happen.

“Have a vision of what you want to see happen on race day and then reverse engineer it,” Chris said. He suggests planning every little detail from what the banners will look like, to who’s going to put them up, to what the supporting structure will be.

“What is it that you want to see on race day? Work backwards from there,” explains Chris.

3. Find the best venue possible, regardless of the challenge.

Convincing city officials and local authorities is often a challenge when organizing a first-time event, but Chris said you have to push to make your vision a reality.

 “When I was creating our first race, a full marathon, I met with mayors from five towns along our beaches and asked to close down Gulf Boulevard. Every mayor I met said basically the same thing: ‘You want to do WHAT? Do you realize that Gulf Boulevard is our only road that runs through our barrier islands? And you want to close it down? For how long?’ they said.”

But, he was persistent and explained the concept in full detail and managed to convince them. Finding a venue often take a lot of research, legwork, and time. So race directors should be prepared to devote all three of these things in order to find a stellar location.

4. Stay positive.

Even though the Laubers are well-respected in their community and enjoy a great relationship with most of their athletes, there will always be a few disgruntled participants. But they don’t let those negative comments get to them. Growing a thick skin is an important part of this business and the Laubers always keep that in mind.

“We have learned that you can’t please everyone. Take a deep breath, shake it off, and move on. Stay positive!” said Rya Lauber.

Interested in more advice from leading race directors? Check out our past Event Directors of the Month.