I have been a race director for eight years. My first race was the Solstice Sprint 5K in 2006. In 2007 I added the Greater Hartford 1/4 Marathon and in 2012 I became race director of the Hogsback Half Marathon. I am not a “typical” race director (if there is even any such thing). I am a volunteer and I do not have large sponsorships for any of my races, so all of the income I generate comes from participant registration fees. I am not good at asking for money, it makes me uncomfortable, despite this shortfall I have been able to raise tens of thousands of dollars for some fantastic organizations — the Blazeman Foundation, Running for Rescues and the Farmington Village and Library Association. The way I am able to accomplish this is by keeping costs as low as possible while still trying to deliver the biggest bang for the buck to my runners. In an effort to be as transparent as possible, I thought I would share the financials for the upcoming Hogsback Half Marathon to help give an idea how everything works.
When planning for the race (and setting the registration fee) the first thing I do is try to estimate the number of registrations. The number of registrations is actually different from the number of runners as somewhere between 10 and 20% of registered runners will be no-shows on race day (as an aside while I do not offer refunds, I will allow runners to transfer to another race). In 2012 there were just over 270 registered runners for the Hogsback Half Marathon, almost double the number from 2011. Projecting sustained growth, my goal for 2013 is 450 registered runners. As of today (August 9, 2013) we have 181 pre-registered runners, so we are well on our way to meeting that goal.
Costs (all costs are based on projecting 450 runners)
*** It should also be noted that all of these costs are race specific. Obviously it is more expensive to hold a race in an urban area, than in a rural area and and every race is different. ***
Timing – $1500
This is probably the most important expense of the entire race. Once upon a time you could use “electronic timing” in which a timer clicked a button as you crossed the finish line and collected your bib tags in order to match the clicked time to the runner. While “electronic timing” is incredibly accurate, it is no longer the standard for races and most runners expect bib tag timing. Timers charge a set fee plus a certain amount per runner (e.g. $500 fee plus $3.50 per runner). Usually the higher the set fee, the lower the price per individual runner. As a race director I try to figure out what combination of set fee and individual fee will result in the lowest cost for the race (and still provide quality service). In addition as races grow larger, runner expect both a chip time and a gun time. Having an extra mat at the start line to record the chip time, is an additional cost, which also needs to be factored into the equation.
Bibs – $0
When racing you’ll notice that lots of races use Road ID bibs. There’s a reason for this — Road ID offers a fantastic sponsorship program where they provide bibs to races free of cost (the race just pays the shipping). All you have to do is register the race with Road ID and request the number of bibs you need. AWESOME program! If not for road ID bibs run about $.25 – $.50 per bib, so Road ID saves me several hundred dollars a year.
Insurance – $0
All races need insurance. Most towns and organizations I have worked with require a $1 million liability policy. Insurance is not free, but luckily the races I direct are covered by the Hartford Track Club’s RRCA policy. Without the Hartford Track Club’s policy, I would be looking at least a few hundred dollars to secure insurance for the event.
Permitting – $0
In order to run the race, I need to secure permits or permission from the Connecticut State Department of Transportation, the town of Barkhamsted and the Metropolitan District Commission. While there is no cost to the permits, some years the officials granting the permits require that I take out newspaper advertisements as a condition of the permit. Last year this cost me $100. This year I was not required to take out newspaper advertisements, so the cost is $0.
Traffic Control – $300
As part of the permitting process I need to submit a traffic safety plan. The Hogsback Half Marathon takes place in Barkhamsted, Connecticut, which is a fairly rural area. Because the course involves only right hand turns and because the roads are lightly travelled, our traffic safety plan calls for the use of marshals to control traffic at specific intersections. Every year the Colebrook Lions Club volunteers to act as marshals and in exchange we make a yearly donation of $300 to the Club. The Lions do an excellent job and we are incredibly appreciative. Without the Lions, we would likely be required to hire police officers, which are significantly more expensive.
On-Course Nutrition (Gels, Water and Sports Drink) – Approximately $500.00
We have aid stations at miles 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 of the run course. All aid stations are stocked with water and sports drink and gels are available at miles 6 and 10. The rule of thumb I use for stocking aid stations is 4 oz of water and 4 oz of sports drink per person per aid stations. With 400 runners I will stock each aid station with 12 gallons of water, 12 gallons of sports drink and 400 cups. Water is fairly inexpensive, I can purchase a case of water (6 gallons) for about $1 per gallon. Sports drink is more expensive. Skratch Labs, which makes a fantastic exercise hydration mix, allows the Hogsback Half Marathon to purchase bags of hydration mix at wholesale price, a massive discount. For the race we purchase over 40 bags of Skratch to stock aid stations. Finally we purchase gels for miles 6 and 10. I purchase about 500 gels (200 for the mile 6 aid station and 300 for the mile 10 aid station). I try to work with manufacturers to secure a deal on gels, for 2013, I am still looking for the best possible price.
Shirts – $2500 ($6.25 per shirt)
This is one of the biggest expenses for the race. For 2013 the Hogsback Half Marathon is offering long sleeve technical shirts in either pink or green (below is the mock up of a few versions of the shirt, we decided to go with kelly green and hot pink). We spent a considerable amount of time this year shopping around for the best possible price. From 8 years of race directing, I have learned that the shirt is very important to lots of runners and we work hard to provide a nice shirt that runners will wear again and again.
Finisher Medals – $1300.00 ($3.25 per medal)
I have worked with Ashworth Awards on medals since 2009. The make really nice medals and are very reasonably priced. The 2013 medal is 2.5 inches and will have the design at the top of this post on the front of the medal, the Running for Rescues logo on the back and a pink ribbon.
Port-a-Potties – $550.00
The Colebrook Dam (where the Hogsback Half Marathon is held) has 2 bathrooms so we bring in an additional 5 port-a-potties for the race for a total of 7. General rule of thumb is 1 bathroom for every 100 runners. While more port-a-potties would decrease lines, they are about $100 per port-a-potties so the cost adds up fast.
Food – $1500.00
Hogsback Half Marathon features a post race meal with baked chicken, roasted red potatoes, salad, meat lasagna, veggie lasagna, rolls apples, apple pie, bagels, fruit and cookies. The hot part of the meal is catered and the baked goods are donated by volunteers. My mother is in charge of hot food and gets fantastic deals from a caterer in Waterbury (the food is packed into cam-carriers on race morning and my mother drives it up to Colebrook). Many of my volunteers also bake for the race and we are lucky enough to have a fantastic variety of baked goods for the runners. As a race director, I think its really important for runners to have a fantastic experience both on the race course and after the race. Having a big, hot meal after the race helps create that fantastic experience.
Awards – $1000
For 2013, we will give out awards three deep in 5 year age groups. The top three overall winners will receive a gift bag with a pint glass, cookies and gift certificates. Division winners will receive a pint glass with the Hogsback logo and a large pig shaped cookie from Cookie Cowgirl. Runners who raised additional funds for Running for Rescues will receive a large dog cookie from Cookie Cowgirl and volunteers will receive a “thank you” cookie.
Supplies – $250
As a race director I already own most of the “hard” supplies for the race including tents, tables, cones, directional signs, buckets, a generator and sound system. I will have to purchase cups, plates, napkins, cutlery, toilet paper, trash bags and other assorted paper goods for the race.
Transportation – $0
The race is located in Colebrook, Connecticut and my house (and storage of all the race supplies) is located in Plantsville, about 30 miles away. While I have a small SUV and my husband had an estate car, we do not have enough room to bring everything to the race site. Thankfully, my father is able to secure a straight truck for us to transport everything from our garage to the race site. Without this donation, transportation would likely cost a few hundred dollars.
Publicity – $0
I have no publicity budget. All of my publicity is grassroots through e-mails, FaceBook and word of mouth (please like our FaceBook page). I find that if you put on a good race and treat your runners well, word of mouth will grow the race.
Staffing – $0
Everyone who helps with the race (race director, web master, water station worker) is a volunteer. One big way we are able to save money is because of the amount of work volunteers contribute.
TOTAL COST – $9400 ($21 / runner)
So, with a total cost of $9400, when do we start making money for Running for Rescues? When registration opened for the Hogsback Half Marathon the cost was $30 per runner. Right now registration is $35 per runner and on September 1st it will go up to $40 (you can register for the race here). Based on an average price of $35, the race will break even at 268 runners. If we get 450 registered runners, we should be able to raise about $6000 for Running for Rescues (barring unforeseen costs).
Could we make more money if we charged a higher registration price? Yes. Should we charge a higher registration price? I don’t know. Right now we have one of the most affordable half marathons in Connecticut. In the month of September there are several other half marathons in Connecticut which are $20 – $30 more expensive than Hogsback. As a race director, I struggle with how much to charge for a race. As long as I am able to make a significant return for our charity, I am going to do my best to keep registration fees low.