Let's face it, your number 1 goal of any first year race is to try and break even and not fall flat on your face. There are countless stories of "things" that have gone down at first year events.. things that have helped cause an event to be one-and-done.. or things that created a reputation that is hard to shake.. and things that leave such an impression that it's hard for folks to not talk about you, to not come back, and to not help make your event bigger and better next year. Ultimately, what you create plays a huge role in the story that is to be your race. I truly believe that the infrastructure of your race plays a major role in the overall success or failure of your event.. not just in year one but in year 2 as well. Doing this work now, setting yourself up for longterm success, is just as important as the permitting process.
Some of the best advice I receive was from the Coury Brothers in Arizona. They told me, "Start out small. Borrow what you can. Don't over build in your first year or you'll go bankrupt." Incredibly sound advice from a couple of experts. The Coury's started their Aravaipa series by borrowing or renting much of what they needed to keep the bottom line in sight. Things you can always borrow are things like pop-up canopies ($60-$100 ea), coolers ($40-$60 ea), 5 gallon water coolers ($40-$50 ea), and tables ($40-60 ea) for your aid stations. If your event has 5 aid stations, the minimum you'll need is 5 canopies, 5 tables, 3 coolers, and 10 Water Coolers. Right off the bat, you're looking at about $800-1000 to get the above materials. Or you can ask your volunteers to bring what they have and scrounge all of these up from wherever you can. Also consider what you need at the start/finish line for canopies and tables. Maybe water for the start of the race. You'll need more tables and coolers there as well.
You can't forget garbage cans at your aid stations and garbage bags. You'll need to purchase all the food for your runners, electrolyte drinks, chews and gels, water. You may need camping stoves to heat some soup or make grilled cheese sandwiches. You may need lanterns for night time so runners can find the station and your volunteers can work it.
Perhaps you want a fancy finish line at your race. One of those hefty scaffolding like finish lines cost anywhere from $2500-$5000 depending on size. Inflatable finish lines are about the same price and depending on materials they are made of, the price can skyrocket from there. Some of the best ultras I've been to, put a line in the dirt and an orange cone on each side. Others, they buy 60' of triangle flagging for about $5 a reel and makes a chute. You can borrow a banner flag from a local running store. Know someone with a tig welder? You can manufacture your own finish line out of aluminum and vinyl banners for about $500. So, finish lines run the gambit. Whatever you do.. don't put two garbage cans out. This is not a necessity, but if you want your race to have a solidified feel during it's first time out, it's something to think about.
Course marking is another consideration. You'll need surveyors flagging of some color for your entire course. In the old days of Ultra, it was the runners responsibility to know the course. Now-a-days, runners want the most immaculate of marked courses, with little to no question about where to go just shy of holding their hands. So, buy some tape. You may also buy surveyors flagging, florescent spray paint, and all of this should match. You may also have printing charges to print arrows and other signs. If your event happens at night, you'll want to decide if you'll do glow sticks or reflective tape on clothespins. Glow sticks are easy but expensive. Only last a short time and need to be snapped while on the course. Reflective tape is time consuming. You have to cut it to size and lay it on the clothespins.
If you're not a graphic designer, you'll have to hire someone to create your race logos. Usually, ONE logo costs up to $2400. If you can find someone willing to do it cheaper, you've hit a home run. Then there's your website. Most races are using word press to create their websites, and another web host to play host. Some races, as many of you know, are still doing it themselves with less than runner porn type web pages. They are rudimentary at best. If you know someone who is good with coding, you may be able to get them to design the site for you in exchange for comp entries. Otherwise, you guessed it.. if you don't know how to do it yourself, you're going to pay through the nose for a website to be designed for you. Remember.. your website makes a bold statement about the professionalism of your race. The success, or not, of your website can make or break your race as well. Last thing you want, is potential customers coming to your site and saying, "Woah... is this 1980?! What the heck is this?" Whatever registration site you use, will either take a cut of your registration fees or add fees to your customers. So this can either cost you money or cost your customers extra money.
As you can see, creating a race can easily cost someone in excess of $3500 just for your very basic needs, and there are many other things that can cost you beyond that. I really don't think runners sign up for, and come to a race, with these thoughts in mind. That just getting a race off the ground, is enough to drive a race director into a hole that takes 2-3 years of directing to dig out of. Personally, I'm not of the thought process that charging an exorbitant fee to recoup your costs as an RD is a particularly "nice" way to go about getting your money back. Focus on the runners, walk into the project with patience and the expectation that you WILL be in the hole for awhile... and build your dream.
This is Part 4 of a multi-part series focusing on the ins and outs of race directing. You can read the previous three parts by clicking their links below:
Part 1: The Decision
Part 2: Your Course
Part 3: Permits
Sherpa John is the owner and race director of Human Potential LLC and the Human Potential Running Series. Registration is now open for their first two offerings.