There's running a race, then there's 'running' a race

November 27th 2019

If you're reading this, you're likely training for a race. If not, it's likely you've participated in a race in the not too distant past or will in the not too distant future. There are countless races of almost every distance imaginable on pavement, asphalt, or trail every weekend all over the country. 

Races help people stay committed to their training. They provide an opportunity to connect with fellow runners from all over the world. Races also provide an opportunity to challenge your perceived limits. 

But, what does it take to actually make a race happen? How do the bananas materialize at the finish line? Who makes the awesome medals you get when you cross the finish line? Why do races cost so much?

This post sheds some light on the high level tasks, challenges, and expenses involved in producing a race. If you've ever wondered what it takes to bring a race to life, read on. Rest assured, 'running' a race is just as challenging (if not more so) as 'running' one! 

Permits and insurance.

Whether a race takes place on a trail, a road, or a treadmill, a permit is required. If we're talking about a big road race with THOUSANDS of runners, the cost of a permit could easily be THOUSANDS of dollars. But, before a check is even cut for the permit fee, a ton of paperwork (and meetings) has to be conquered. 

In addition to wading through permit paperwork, meetings, and cutting a (typically large) check for permit fees, there's insurance. Whoever issues a race permit will likely require some kind of insurance which is another process involving more paperwork and more fees.

All permit and insurance fees are likely paid by the race director before a single person has even registered for the race. Obtaining insurance and nailing down a permit is great, but there are still many miles left to cover before the gun fires and the race comes to life.

Road closures, course marshals, and traffic management. 

If a race takes place on the road, there will likely be road closures. Road closures don't come cheap. Depending upon how many roads are being closed, when they're being closed, and the impact of said road closures, the expense associated with this could easily be THOUSANDS of dollars. 

Road closures may also necessitate hiring off duty police officers (at a steep hourly rate) to help manage key intersections and traffic. Assuming a number of road closures and intersections that need to be managed, a race might be paying THOUSANDS of dollars to a veritable army of off duty police officers. 

A trail race with no road closures will likely be markedly less expensive, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a slam dunk. Trail races typically require a number of course marshals at key trail intersections to help runners navigate the race effectively.


Virtually all races provide their runners with some awesome post race 'SWAG'. Typically, this SWAG includes a shirt, a medal, and some snacks/beverages/goodies. Just as permits, insurance, road closures, and off duty police officers have a pricetag, so does SWAG.

Orders for shirts and medals are usually made weeks (or longer) out from race day. This means the shirt and medal order(s) are largely an educated guess. So, leftover shirts and medals are common with most races. If a race is LARGE, the order for shirts and medals could (once again) easily cost THOUSANDS of dollars. 

Sponsors may provide 'in-kind' donations of snacks, beverages, and goodies. But, if this kind of sponsorship doesn't materialize, the race foots the bill for all of the snacks, beverages, and goodies. 


You may be wondering how any race can turn a profit given the various expenses involved in just getting one off the ground. Fortunately, much of the work required on race day can be done by volunteers. This would (seemingly) be a win.

But, a large race may require hundreds of volunteers. A large race with an army of volunteers likely necessitates hiring a volunteer manager to assign tasks, communicate details, and more to all volunteers. Getting solid, quality volunteers for a large race still comes with a bit of a pricetag. 


If a race is small, sponsorship will likely come largely in the form of 'in-kind' donations. There are companies looking to get their products/brands in front of runners. Donating some product to a race (or two) is a great way to get some exposure. Hopefully, the inclusion of said product will also improve the experience (and value proposition) of the race.

A large race might be fortunate enough to have one (or more) sponsor(s) cutting checks. If you've ever wondered why a company's logo appears on all the race shirts, all the goodie bags, all the medals, etc., it's likely because said company cut a generous sponsorship check. 

Any sponsorship revenue a large race receives is likely used to help cover the (likely steep) cost of production of the race. Again, that cost of production includes permit fees, insurance, shirts, medals, and the list goes on. So, a sponsorship check or two can go a long way towards a race surviving for another year (or more). 

The pricetag.

Races are expensive! I hear this sentiment not infrequently. It's generally valid.

The pricetag for most races is not inexpensive. But, the cost associated with producing a race isn't cheap either. Small or big, the race you sign up for has likely spent THOUSANDS of dollars before you even get to the starting line. 

While this knowledge may not make the pricetag of a race easier to swallow, it might make it more palatable. 

Training for and running a race is non-trivial. But, footing the bill for and producing a race isn't a walk in the park either. Whoever produces the race you're participating in similarly invested days, weeks, months, and plenty of dollars in making the race happen. 

So, runners and race directors are kindred spirits. Both have endured. Both have persisted. Both desperately hope for a positive experience on race day. 

So, if you have a positive experience on race day, let the race director know you enjoyed yourself. Post a positive review on Yelp. Give the race some love on social media.