12 Steps to Organize a Successful Marathon

12 Steps to Organize a Successful Marathon

By Dawn Reiss, April 13, 2016

It’s one thing to run a marathon, and another to organize one as a race director. Many organizers say new planners have no idea what it takes—either in terms of money, time, talent or infrastructure—to pull off a major event like a 26.2-mile race that takes over a city. “The greatest skill set race directors can have is surrounding themselves with people who are more experienced than themselves,” says Dave McGillivray, race director of the Boston Marathon for the past 29 years. “You have to think of yourself as more of a conductor than a race director, and your team is your orchestra.” We talked to several successful marathon organizers to get their tips on running an expert event.

1. Start fast with marketing.

“Most races don’t put enough money into marketing. They think the running community is just looking for another race and using word of mouth is good enough,” says Shawn Verhoff, co-race director of Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon, who has organized 24 marathons. “The supply is outpacing the demand right now. When you are first starting an event and assuming people will come to it, it’s never a good thing.”

2. Get early buy-in from city officials and the public.

Directors say it is essential to get public buy-in from the beginning. “If the police department has a say in where the course goes, as opposed to the department of commerce, you’re going to be better off,” says Verhoff, who runs his own event management company, Elmwood Consulting. “You need to get buy-in from people on the ground. They need to feel like it’s their idea also.”

3. Start planning sooner than you think.

Depending on the city or parks and recreation or police department, planning and obtaining permits may take as long as 18 months to two years to get buy-in, Verhoff says.

4. Develop an extensive community outreach program.

Among other things, make sure the public is aware of what roads will be shut down to prevent problems on race day. “If you eliminate the element of surprise through an extensive community outreach program then everyone gets along,” says McGillivray. “If you don’t, it’s going to be difficult to get the permit again.”

Photo credit: Scott Bowers

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