Organising A Marathon

Decide that you want to organise a race!

Think carefully… This is going to take over your life for a little while, and you will lose some sleep: this is the inevitable destiny of the race organiser. Don’t do it if it is going to be crap: you are aiming to organise one of the best races in Britain!

Come up with a course

Again, think very carefully! Your course should make the most of the scenery that you have available to you, while avoiding traffic and other obvious dangers. You should pick somewhere that the runners can get to and to park at if required. Parking is often a major gripe for runners. Do not forsake hills, but be warned that if you incorporate them into your course and neglect to tell the runners, you will get plenty of complaints. Some runners love hills! The best races have character, great views, hills, elegance and simplicity, more hills and faultless organisation. That’s what you are aiming for.

Decide on a date

Avoid obvious local clashes, but then again, runners have a choice. Decide on your date well in advance… At least six months, but preferably a year. I organised my first race with one month’s notice: 18 people turned up.

Start on the paperwork

The catchier and more memorable the better. Go for ‘it does what it says on the tin’ (‘Richmond Park Marathon’). Design a good logo, or get someone to do it for you. Put it on everything. Decide what the price will be to enter the race: You will have a LOT of expenses – many many more than runners realise (see below). Be realistic about how much it will cost to stage a race. You cannot price in your sleepless nights or the risks that you will take in organising a race (such as someone suing you, for good reason or not).

Decide on a name and entry fee

You will need the following:
A risk assessment (write it yourself: be brutally honest with yourself: come up with some solid contingency plans).
Public liability insurance (you can get this from The Association of Running Clubs), or UK Athletics – the paperwork involved is quite detailed, but it is done online nowadays to make it a bit easier).
Medical coverage (you cannot organise a race without medical coverage – talk to your local St. John Ambulance or Red Cross at a very early stage. If they can’t provide coverage, you might have to use a commercial provider like Quad Medical). Make sure that they are going to turn up on the day.
Permissions (from landowners, police and local authorities if required).
Make sure that you will have enough toilets are the start!*

Open race entry

After my first race, I swore that I would never again take a paper entry, and I never have. Do everything online: you will save yourself a lot of grief.
So, set up online race entry. There are a lot of providers, but I have always used Runner’s WorldRun Britain or Eventrac: although the charges are relatively high, there is a seamless integration into the UK’s largest community of runners. Given the number of entrants that you will gain via RW without having to advertise, it is worth the relatively higher cost per runner.
Even at this early stage, give the runners as much information as possible on the RW race entry page. Other magazines, organisations and web sites will use this information and will disseminate information for free and without you having to do anything extra.

Organise your own web site

Your web site does not have to be beautiful, but it should have lots of up-to-date information on the race: a good map of the race route, how to get there, where to stay, information for spectators, course hints and tips. Keep this information up to date: runners are voracious devourers of information.
Ours was kindly built by Ali Binding of River Pixels.

Get your message out

Send press releases to local press and radio, send flyers to local running clubs, email your running circle and get everyone to pass on the message, flyer local races, get a link put on other local races’ web pages if you can. Whatever you do, get your message out there!


Answer all emails as soon as possible: consider a Frequently Asked Questions page on your web site if the same questions come up often!

Medals and goodies

Twelve-to-Six weeks before the race, order your medals: Running Imp is a reputable supplier and reasonably priced.. If you are going to order any goodies (caps, t-shirts, mugs etc) then you should also order these at least six weeks out. At this point you will not know how many entrants you will eventually have. Put it like this: people don’t decide to do a marathon on the spur of the moment, but they might decide to do a 10k the night before. Most of your marathoners will have registered by six weeks before the race…. but perhaps only a quarter for a 10k. You’re going to have to guess… But don’t be caught short of race goodies…. This would bring a great deal of grief, time and expense to you!

Organise your marshals

You need a lot of marshals (probably 10 plus one for each kilometre of the course), and you will require all your skills to persuade people to come out and to work for you for nothing. Without marshals, there can be no race! Good luck!

Numbers and shirts

A couple of weeks before the race, order your numbers. Consider putting runner names on each one: some runners like them as a keepsake.
Send off final artwork for t-shirts or other race apparel. I use T-Print for t-shirts – they really are excellent!


A week before the race

Email out a thorough information email to all runners… Taking them from the start to the end of their racing experience: tell them what the ‘form’ is, and everyone will have a much more enjoyable race.
Alert local/national media if required.

The day before

  • Print out lists of runners, for registration.
  • Print out results sheets.
  • Do any shopping for comestibles.
  • Mark out the course if required.

Race day!

  • Get up early and have a good breakfast.
  • Go and mark the course again in case the numpties have been out in the night (ideally get someone else to do this – you will have enough to worry about on race day).
  • Set up registration and make sure it works okay.
  • Make sure that the parking area is working.
  • Set up the start and finish areas.
  • Brief the marshals to do their three vital jobs: keep the runners safe; know which direction to direct them in; give the runners maximum encouragement!
  • Firefight any issues that you may have overlooked.
  • Call the runners to the start a little early: give them a safety briefing (you may need a loud hailer or speaker system).
  • Start the race exactly on time!
  • Firefight any issues.
  • Make sure that you are recording the race, with both photos and video (appoint a photographer/videographer).
    Ensure that the time-keepers are doing the job properly (Runners require three things only from a race: adequate way marking so that they don’t go wrong; adequate water; correct time recording. They might forgive you for many other things, but they won’t forgive you for getting any of these wrong). *Oh… And make sure that you provided them with adequate toilet facilities.

As they finish…

  • Make sure that your water/medals/food/goodies line is working okay.
  • Collate the information for the first three men and first three ladies (or whoever you are going to give prizes to).
  • At an appropriate time, do the prize-giving, and bid everyone a safe journey home.
  • Wait until the last runner comes in (typically taking twice as long as the fastest runner) and then pack everything up. Your ‘sweep’ and marshals should have cleared the course so that there is no trace of you left after the race.

After the race, same day

  • Upload photos to your web site.
  • Stitch together your video and post it to your web site (or on YouTube).
  • Write-up the results in an excel spreadsheet, and post those results on your web site as fast as you can (same day is best). This is not an easy task.
  • Make it easy for your runners to comment on and rate the race at Runner’s World, by adding links to your web page.
  • Do a write up for your web page and for the local press.
  • Email the runners with a link to the results and to the ratings pages.
  • Deal with any admin/comments/complaints.
  • Remember to thank your marshals!


An important note

Even if 99 runners thought that the race was the best they have ever run (and they should, if you’ve been doing it right!), there will be one miserabilist who will proclaim loudly that this is the very worst race they’ve ever run. Treat this, if you can, as a valuable lesson in human nature, and remember that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. And hope that they go and run in someone else’s race instead (or even better organise their own race!).

After the race, sooner rather than later

Calculate your income and expenditure, not forgetting that expenditure may include the following: numbers, VAT (oh yes – 20%!), race food, energy drinks, goodies/momentos, t-shirts, medals, post-race meal, HQ rental, pool rental, teas and coffees, storage, corporation tax (yes, really, depending on how you organise the race), computers, software, race entry processing, advertising, petrol and diesel, van-hire, insurance, web site costs, permits, affiliation fees, winners’ prizes, drinking cups, marking materials and signs, gazebo/temporary structures and other sundry expenses.
Work out how much money you may have left over after the race expenses (probably not as much as you thought), and send off your charity cheques. Send donations to all critical race service providers (medical providers, landowners etc).
Send in your post-race returns to your permitting body.
Sit down and have a cup of tea.
Ask yourself, do I really want to do it all again?
Decide that, even though it is a hell of a lot of work, there’s nothing good on telly nowadays, and that you might as well give it another go.
With the thought that it gets a bit easier the second time around, start all over again!