10 Tips for Planning Your Marathon
A marathon isn’t just a race — it’s a major event for the participating runners, the host region, and all of the nearby businesses. For everything to go smoothly on the day of the big run, a lot of planning needs to happen beforehand. Here are ten things to consider for organizing your next marathon.
1. Take time to plan carefully. Starting at least six months out is necessary to organize a big event, and taking a year isn’t unreasonable. You need time to take care of details, and your runners need time to train.
2. Before setting a date, check for conflicts and check the weather. What else is happening nearby on the date of your marathon? Other big events could mean traffic snarls and a lack of hotel rooms. Other running events both nearby and the week before or after could mean runners choose one of those instead of yours. Also, look at the weather history on the date you want. Most experienced marathoners know that ideal weather conditions are temperatures in the mid-50s with low humidity. If you can pick a date that has a good chance of hitting those specs, you’ll draw more runners.
3. Consider adding shorter distances. Not everyone can run a marathon. If you add a half marathon, 10k, or 5k to your event, you’ll bring in more people and have a bigger event.
4. Will your run have a purpose? And if so, what will it be? Many marathons are simply a way to celebrate athleticism and highlight a particular city, while others exist to raise awareness about a particular cause.
5. Pick the right location and terrain. You want an area that’s easy to get to by various modes of transportation, is close to lodging, and is scenic for runners’ enjoyment. Also consider your start and end points: is it a loop, or is there a beginning and an end? (The latter means that you may need to provide transportation for runners.) Also, 26 miles is a long road! Some varied terrain is OK and even expected, but all other things being equal, most runners prefer a flat course without geological hindrances.
6. Take care of certification and timing. Serious marathon runners are drawn to courses that are USA Track & Field (USATF) certified. This ensures that the course is the right distance, and it allows runners to be nationally ranked so that they can qualify for bigger events like the Boston Marathon. Certification must be done by a USATF road course certifier, and more information on this process is available on www.usatf.org. It’s also important to have the race timed by an experienced timer.
7. Invest in a quality website. Ideally, you’ll have runners coming in from out of town, so you’ll want a good website with all the race information they’ll need, including online registration, a course map, and more.
8. Stay on top of logistical details. For a marathon to run smoothly, all the small details need to be handled well. Things like recruiting race-day volunteers, set-up and tear-down, race shirts, number bibs, trash bins, mile markers, signs, tents and tables at the finish line, and other little things need to be planned for and done right.
9. Get the local police involved to ensure the safety of everyone involved. This was a hard lesson from Boston: the security of your runners, your staff, and your community cannot be compromised. Work with the authorities to properly block off roads and establish safe spots for crowds to cheer, and hire security for the starting line, finish line, and throughout the course.
10. Keep your runners comfortable. Planning a marathon may be difficult, but your runners are doing the hardest work of all! Set up hydration stations throughout the course (with enough port-a-potties), have medical personnel on hand for emergencies, and involve local food vendors as sponsors to set up some celebratory food and drinks at the finish line.

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