Racing and running event trends to watch for in 2017

Three esteemed race directors share their insight into the evolving nature of road races and running events

February 1st, 2017 by | Posted in Canadian Race Guide, RaceGuide, Runs & Races, The Scene | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Photo: Canada Running Series
Race director Alan Brooks with Canada’s Krista Duchene and New Zealand’s Mary Davies at the 2013 Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Photo: Canada Running Series

Running events continue to evolve and staging races has become an increasingly complex endeavour. We spoke to several of Canada’s most acclaimed race/event organizers and asked them how the industry is changing and what they see in store for Canadian races in the future.

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Alan Brooks is the race director of the Canada Running Series which organizes seven exceptional events in three provinces. He had this to say:

“Building the experience. That’s become priority number one. Everyone is looking for an experience and not just a race. This involves looking for partners who will help bring, build and deliver unique, new, fresh, and innovative aspects to add to that experience.

Runners want a professional, well-organized race as well as the introduction of new organizational infrastructures, technology and platforms. That’s the focus at CRS right now; adding new features. We’re seeing that as events become more sophisticated and complex, so too does the organization of them. The rate of introduction of new technology and organizational tools must then keep pace. There is also a rapidly changing relationship between brands that sponsor and support us and the races we organize.”

Kirsten Fleming is the executive director of the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon.

“At Run Calgary, we love innovating to meet and exceed the expectation of today’s runner. It’s no longer enough to impress participants simply with an abundance of bananas and a shiny medal. Runners now want more!

The expectation of today’s runner is different today than it was even five years ago. Participants want to be delighted and surprised. Of course you need to start by hitting all the necessities such as a well-organized event, a certified and sanctioned course and sufficient volunteers and supplies, but that alone is not enough.

We are in the business of putting on road races but the expectation is now that it’s a production. Entertainment used to be a bonus; now it is absolutely required. Exceptional medals and t-shirts are the bare minimum. Runners now want extra medals, more swag and unique selling features.

In addition, we focus on surprising and delighting participants with an experience they will never forget. From the moment they sign up until after they finish the race, they will be engaged, inspired and stimulated with a journey we take with them as race organizers. Being a race director means being dynamic, adaptive, listening to your audience and delivering on their expectations. Despite the challenges, it’s still the best job in the world.”

Maritime Race Weekend founder and race director Michelle Kempton shares a smile at the start of the race.

Michelle Kempton is the founder and race director of Maritime Race Weekend in Nova Scotia.

“Road races have dramatically evolved in the last decade. Popsicle sticks have been replaced by chip timing. Cotton t-shirts have evolved into technical,  professionally-designed brand name products. Today’s runners expect fresh fruit and specialized recovery drinks, not just bagels and bananas.

Today’s race directors require a diverse skill set that includes race logistics, political connections, social media experience, marketing knowledge and party planning. The most important aspects for a successful event are focusing on creating memorable routes, building community, being unique from other events, celebrating the runner and encouraging participants to share their experience.

Swag has become increasingly important to a majority of participants. I personally spend months researching quality products and suppliers and developing relationships with the brands. Although more expensive, we insist on only giving away quality swag. Otherwise people just won’t wear it. This goes for the medal design too. We have an artist design our medals and use a top distributor to produce them. There are cheaper options, but you get what you pay for.

Volunteers are also essential. When our volunteers (“the pirate crew”) understand their important role and enjoy being part of the event, it has a rippling effect on the atmosphere of the event and improves the race experience. Having seasoned volunteers also makes the race director’s job less stressful. Most of our volunteers are runners. Making them feel appreciated is important because the race wouldn’t happen without them.

The cost to organize road races continues to increase and with a saturated market, registration fees can’t get any higher. It’s a constant battle for race organizers to juggle the budget and have enough to donate to community or charity groups. Sponsors and sponsorships have also become important since race registrations alone do not cover the costs of the today’s large events. Engaging sponsors with participants throughout the entire year–in addition to the day/weekend of the event–develops strong relationships which benefit everyone. It’s important that every sponsor adds something unique to the event and also leaves some sort of impression on our participants.

Finally, community support is key.  We hand out noise makers to the few hundred homes along our race route which encourages people to come out to cheer and also shows appreciation for the inconvenience we cause the neighbourhood with road closures and delays.”