Event planning is a skill that is easily transferable. I have planned a lot of different kinds of events, of various scale and size. I really believe that a good planner should be able to plan almost anything, as just about all events have the same basic foundation.
So when I was tasked with planning a 5K I was not worried, despite the fact that A) I had never planned a 5K (or any type of running event) before and B) I’m not a runner (surprise surprise!) and I had never even attended a 5K (or any type of running event) before.
It turned out the planning a 5K was a bit more involved than I had imagined, especially because we were planning it from half a country away (we were in DC and the 5K was in Oklahoma City). But I learned a lot and since there aren’t a ton of resources online for planning this type of event, I thought I would share some of those lessons here.
Lesson One: Know Your
Just like planning any event, you have to know who your audience is. What do they care about? This 5K was sponsored as part of a larger conference – the conference attendees were our audience. While some 5Ks (and all runs) can be very serious, this 5K was definitely more of a fun run. So we focused our resources on making it fun. The tradeoff we made was that it turned out to be slightly less than a 5K (it was kind of a 4.9K) but most of the runners didn’t care. We could only make this tradeoff with this particular group.
Lesson Two: Figure Out a Route Early
I had done a site visit to Oklahoma City for another conference we were planning but at that time I hadn’t realized that we were going to be selecting the race route, so I missed out on using my site visit to look at potential race routes. It would have been so much easier if I had visited the Myriad Botanical Gardens back in July before planning the 5K.
Lesson Three: Use the Resources Available
I had originally reached out to the Oklahoma City CVB and they referred me to someone in the city government special events and permit office. He was actually very helpful (someone in the government is helpful? what?) but I think it’s because he wanted to make his life as easy as possible. It would have been more work for him if we went with the option that closed city streets for the run (and it would have also been crazy expensive) so he gave us two other options that wouldn’t have required that and one was running in the Gardens and using city sidewalks (which required a permit but no fee – the gardens had a small fee as well).
Lesson Four: Run or Walk the Route Yourself
I think this is an obvious one, but I definitely walked the route at least 6 times the week I was in Oklahoma City (3 loops equaled about a 5K, so I did a 10K! Walking, over the course of a week…) and each time I noticed little things such as where the route was confusing or where we needed to make sure we marked the path. I even tweaked the route in a few places.
Lesson Five: You Can Never Have Too Many Signs
Use a lot of signs. Signs are your friend. Signs with arrows.
Lesson Six: People > Signs
While we did have some signage, it was even better to have staff along the race route to make sure people stay on the right path. Any time there was a turn we tried to have a staff member there. Also, our staff wore neon green shirts. Some of the staff even cheered on the runners (which is a lot to ask at 6 AM).
Lesson Seven: Surprise and Delight Your Runners
I went to a lecture hosted by PCMA a while ago where the speaker said that PCMA’s annual meeting has a “Surprise and Delight” committee that’s solely tasked with coming up with ways to add a little something extra into the meeting for their members. I think this is a great idea and I love to incorporate something a little extra, a little surprising into my events.
We did this by having breakfast (common for many runs) but also mimosas at the finish line. Now I will admit that the mimosas were not my idea, but I’m so glad we were able to make that happen. It definitely worked for the crowd at our event. If mimosas wouldn’t be realistic at your event, what else could you do to really reward the runners in a unique way?
I would also say that the route we chose was a surprise and delight in some ways. The gardens are gorgeous. There are beautifully lit at night and it wasn’t quite daylight yet at the start of the race so the runners were able to see this. It was definitely better than running on city streets.
We also had really awesome swag – my colleague Anna did a great job selecting fun items for the race packet that were great, but unexpected.
In the end, the 5K was a huge success and was a lot of fun to plan, plus I can add another event to my repertoire. If you find yourself in the Oklahoma City area, definitely visit the Myriad Botanical Gardens – they are beautiful (not just for running!).
Special thanks to State Policy Network for use of the 5K photos.