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Guest Column - April 2003

Event Planning Ideas from Start to Finish

Races and other special events

By Cortney Lloyd


PHOTOS COURTESY OF JOHN BEDESSEM
Top to Bottom: Pre-race setting up of the
post-race party area, start of the race,
the post-race party and awards

If you're a runner or triathlete then this will seem familiar to you. Every spring you anticipate the snow melting so you can start training for your first 5K or 10K. You look forward to getting up early on a crisp weekend morning, lacing up your sneakers, hopping in the car and heading over to register for your first race. The race starts at 9 o'clock, so you get there around 8 a.m. and stand in line at the registration tent (with all the other shivering, scantily clad athletes). As you hang out at the gear check area, waiting until the last possible moment you have to take off your nice warm sweatshirt and sweatpants, you begin to look around at the race setup. You notice the start/finish structure, all the different tents (registration, pre-registration, volunteer check-in, goody bag/T-shirt, food, VIP, media), the sponsor banners hung all over the place, the tables of water and Gatorade cups, and you start to wonder how do they actually set all this up?

Well, it all looks like fun, but it's no easy task. When you're at an event you probably never think much about how all those tents get set up and where all the fencing gets placed. That is, until you decide that you would like to go ahead and produce a race yourself.

Several different components go into creating, producing and setting up a race or other special event. To give you an idea of the undertaking, here are the main areas a race's production manager/race director must focus on.

Site/course The first thing you should do is determine where you would like your course to be located. Make sure that there is an area near the start and finish to have tents, a finish-line structure and room for the finish hospitality/food area.

So you've measured the course, found a big, open area for the setup, and now you have to get permission to have your race.

City/park district If you are having your race in the limits of a city, you need to get permission from the city to do so. The city will have you fill out the appropriate permits (there may be one permit to fill out if it's a small city or several if it's a big metropolis). If your race also takes place on land owned by a park district, you will also have to acquire a permit package from them. FYI: You will most likely have to pay fees to both the city and the park district in order to have your event. Depending on the city your choose, those fees may be quite low or quite high.

Insurance The city and park district have now approved your event. But before they give you the final nod, you need to show them proof of insurance, meaning that the city and the park district must both be insured under your event's policy.

If your event is a running race, you can get your insurance through USATF (United States of American Track & Field). You must contact your local USATF office, and they will send out an official to measure your race course to insure that it is the exact distance of a 5K or 10K. They will also send you sanction forms to fill out in order to get the required certificates of insurance. Note: You will also have to pay a set fee to USATF. This fee is determined by the amount of athletes who have registered for your race.

When the certificates of insurance have arrived and you've forwarded them onto the city and park district, now it's time to get this race on the road.

Your next steps

As the race gets closer, you will be able to get a projected number of athletes who will register for the race. With this information in hand, you can start contacting the vendors that you will need for your event.

Medical You must have an ambulance at your race for safety purposes. Contact a local ambulance service and let them know the specifics of your event. The number of ambulances you will need is basically determined by the number of athletes you'll have at the event (other minor points also factor into this). Make sure you position the ambulance as close to the finish line as possible. It's also a good idea to give the paramedics a walkie-talkie and map of the race course.

Security Be sure to create a map of your pre- and post-race areas, labeling all tents, areas, fencing and structures. If you are setting up for your event the day before the race, you will need to hire overnight security to watch over the area. Contact a local security service, and they can provide you with a few personnel to ensure that your setup is not vandalized.

Ice If your event is in the summer, you need to contact a local ice vendor and have them deliver ice to your event for cooling sport drinks, medical purposes or other hospitality issues that may require ice.

Hydration Plan Elements

Pre-race water
Finish-line water
# of aid stations on the course
Gallon cases of water
Cases of cups
Sport drink
Sport drink cups
Sport drink coolers
Ice chests
Mixing Sticks
Pitchers
Bags of ice
Plastic gloves
Tables
Chairs
Garbage cans
Garbage bags
Rakes/shovels/brooms
Sponsor banners/table covers

Site equipment For tents, tables, chairs, generators, cones, fencing, scaffolding and timing equipment, call a local event/rental company to get a quote. The company will come to your event, set it up, then tear it down for you. Call around and get at least a few estimates.

Sound/music In order to have a fun event—and encourage your participants to come back next year—music is a must. You should have a sound system at the start/finish area and one at your awards area. This will enable your race announcer to make announcements throughout the race and also will add a festive feel to your event.

Portable restrooms Unless you are lucky, and there is an adequate public restroom facility located near your start/finish area, you need to get portable restroom facilities for your event. Contact a sanitation company, and they can deliver the units in the morning, prior to athletes arriving, and pick them up following the race. Hint: Make sure the units are somewhat close to the start/finish but not too close to cause traffic flow problems. Also, the number of participants you will have at the race (and spectators) determines the amount of units you should order.

Hydration One of the most important aspects of your job is developing a hydration plan. There are two major factors that will determine the amount of water you need to order: the estimated number of athletes and the expected weather conditions. Put your plan on paper.

And don't forget

Now that you have all the major details of your race completed start working on your Event Pack List and Race Weekend Timeline.

Event Pack List This list includes all the "stuff" you need to bring to the race that the vendors aren't providing you with, that is, banners, T-shirts, goody bags, duct tape, a ladder, flags, etc. Be specific when doing this because you don't want to forget anything important on race day.

Race Weekend Timeline Always do a timeline that outlines what you'll be doing every hour during your setup day and on race day. It's essential to be as meticulous as possible because this is your guideline for the entire weekend. It's easy to forget little details when they're not written down.

Cortney Lloyd is production manager for Capri Events, a Chicago-based special events production company, which produces races like the Chicago Triathlon (the world's largest triathlon). For more information, visit www.caprievents.com.