Starting a Skating Event  

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Written By Diana Coonce

The following article was written in 2001 by Diana Coonce, co-creator of the Cactus Inline Classic and co-owner of Fast Eddie’s Inline Skate School. The article appeared in Fitness and Speed Skating Times and is copyright the author.

Part I: So You Want to Organize a Race?

If you like challenges, hard work, long hours, last minute emergencies and crisis management, organizing a skate race is for you! Many times it is a thankless job, but on the positive side, there isn’t anything more rewarding than organizing a race and then watching the participants have a good time on race day.

This is my fifth year as the race director for the Cactus Speed Classic, an in-line marathon and fitness skating event held in and around Tucson, Arizona since 1997, plus shorter events since 1995. The past five years have been a fun filled, crisis filled, frustrating, exhilarating learning experience! I am still learning, but would like to share what I have learned so far.

Several questions need to be answered before one embarks on his or her journey as a race director/promoter. Answers to the questions below will help determine the approach to the race and how complex it will be.

1. What kind of event do you want to hold? A 5k, Marathon, or something in between? Do you want to partner with another event like running or bicycling?

The 5ks are usually relatively easy and the marathons more complex. The Cactus Speed Classic is actually two events, a marathon and fitness skate, and it is complex. 

2. Have you selected a course for the type of event you want to organize? Is it suitable for skaters?

When a course is selected, have someone skate it several times to assess the “hot spots” or areas that might cause problems or create safety issues for skaters (i.e. sharp turns, rough road, hills etc.). Sometimes a course looks great from a car or bicycle but it is not always suitable for skaters. 

3. How are you going to fund the event? How much money is needed? Are you going to approach potential sponsors for funds to offset expenses? How long will it take you to raise the funds?

Fund raising is one of the critical components of putting on an event. And, be assured it will take longer than you think it will. The budget and partnering with companies and organizations will be critical in the development of the race.

If you aren’t going to get sponsorship money and feel that the registration fees will cover expenses, be advised that it is very risky to assume that fees will cover expenses. It is difficult to estimate the number of participants in an event that is a year away. And, skaters are notorious for waiting until the last minute to register.

If the intent is to approach sponsors, they are more inclined to approve a request if the race is raising funds for a charitable organization and gives them good exposure. Fund raising helps the community and it lends additional credibility to the event. Sponsors like being associated with events that provide them exposure and support the community.

4. Do you have enough time to plan for the event?

It takes about a year to get everything lined up for the Cactus Speed Classic. You may not need that much time or you may need more (depending on the complexity of the event and the effectiveness of your committee). 

Organizing the pre-event activities will lead to a smoother race day with fewer surprises. It is literally a myriad of details, follow up, follow up, and more follow up to get everything set up for a well organized event. Listed below are some of the pre-event questions and considerations that should be addressed to minimize last minute challenges.

1. Marketing, how is the word going to be put out about the event? How will the application be designed and what information will it contain (i.e. fees, age groups, awards, etc.)?

2. Permit(s), traffic control/safety plan and traffic management, what is needed?

3. Insurance, what kind and how much?

4. Food, water, supplies, and T-shirts, what is needed and what can be donated to the event?

5. Aid Stations, how many and where will they be located? 

6. Emergency medical personnel and emergency transportation, how many and where?

7. Communication, how will it be handled and what is needed on the course? 

8. Start/Finish line, will they both be in the same place, who will set it up and who will be in charge of the area? Venue, how will it be set up and what is needed?

9. Volunteers, how many, where and who will be organizing them?

10. Pre-registration/Registration/Packet pick-up, how will it be handled and where?

By now you may be asking yourself, “How can anybody do all this? One person can’t handle everything!” And you’re right. The race director cannot do everything. This is where a committee and a professional skater like Ed “Fast Eddie” Wachter can be invaluable. Tucson In-line Sk8 Club members serve on the planning committee for the Cactus Speed Classic and provide the rec skater’s viewpoint and Wachter provides his expertise from a pro skater’s perspective. We literally can’t do without them. In selecting good committee members keep in mind that they need to be organized, good at following up and willing to work with and support the organization of the event. And most importantly, the race director/promoter must delegate!

The race director and committee need to determine how to approach the pre-event activities. Some items are straightforward, but some will take a great deal of thought, discussion and planning. Make sure there are regularly scheduled meetings with the committee so that challenges can be addressed as soon as possible. 

Needless to say, last minute changes can create confusion and safety concerns for the organizers and the skaters. Keep in mind that if you have planned well, carried out all the necessary activities, and addressed all of the “known” challenges, your last minute surprises will be minimal. But it is a given that there will always be race day challenges no matter how well you have planned. 

So far we’ve raised a lot of questions and things to think about. Part II will address the pre-event questions and considerations in detail with examples of approaches that can be used to decide what might work best for a variety of events.

Part II: So You Want to Organize a Race?

In Part I, numerous questions were posed to get you thinking about how to handle pre-event activities. It is every event promoter’s dream to have race day come off fun, well organized, no injuries and with most of basics addressed so that surprises are minimal. But as any race director/promoter will tell you, you can never anticipate everything!

The challenges and opportunities created by organizing the Cactus Speed Classic (CSC) serve as the foundation of knowledge for this article. The CSC I consisted of numerous laps on private property, CSC II was a point-to-point race that went through four (yes four!) jurisdictions, CSC III and IV consisted of a 26.1-mile loop for the marathon with the half-marathoners bussed to their starting point. The CSC V will be three 8.7-mile laps for the marathon and one lap for the fitness skate. So as you can see, there has been a variety of event approaches used for this one event over the past five years.

Keep in mind that the type of event and course you select will drive the entire event. It will be as easy or complex as the course layout. Also, have the course skated by pro and rec skaters to identify any trouble spots. If you have a local pro skater, get them involved in your race. Ask them to skate the route and identify concerns and/or safety issues they might have regarding the course. You won’t regret it!

The following are some answers to the questions posed in Part I and some recommendations to assist you with planning a skating event:

1. Marketing, how is the word going to be put out about the event? 

Marketing the event will require some conscious decisions on which skaters you want to reach, what you want to say, and what format will you use. An international/national publication like FaSST is great for reaching the professional and fitness skaters all over the world. Use regional and local publications and newspapers to attract local fitness and recreational skaters. 

If you are contributing the proceeds from the race to a charity, you might be able to get free Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on radio and television. Call the marketing manager of the station and find out what your options are for getting the information on the air.

Applications/flyers – what should be on them?

Always include the basics: fees, age groups, awards, T-shirts, course information and any additional information that will entice the skaters to attend your event. As an example, at the CSC, sponsors have donated over $5,000 in merchandise that is given away in a free raffle for the skaters and volunteers. It has been dubbed “Christmas in November” by many of the skaters and volunteers who have attended the event over the years. Plus, we have an ulterior motive for having such a large raffle. It keeps the skaters happy while the results are being tabulated. 

2. Permits, traffic control and traffic management- what do you need?

This can get really tricky, but you need to find out who is responsible for the route you want to use. Is it private, City, County, State, Federal land or a combination? Call a traffic-engineering department for a local municipality. They usually can tell you about the land. Sounds easy enough, however, it isn’t always a clear answer. 

For the CSC II Marathon, I had obtained four permits from the various townships the race would pass through as well as the County. Even though all of the authorizations were obtained well ahead of time, there was a major snag. Someone neglected to tell me that we needed a Federal permit because the race went through a tiny corner of a National Park. Imagine my surprise when a park ranger showed up 10 minutes before the start time and threatened to stop the race. After some serious negotiating, the race went on but I was given a ticket for $250 for not having a Federal permit. The ticket was later dismissed but the point is to double and triple check on details. 

Traffic control and safety plans are usually developed with barricade companies in conjunction with the jurisdiction you are working with on the course. These plans will identify the safety requirements and what equipment will be needed on the course.

3. Insurance, what kind and how much do you need?

Insurance can be purchased through a special events insurance agency or a sanctioning organization. The cost is based on the number of skaters, with a minimum premium running anywhere from $300 to $600 for 100 skaters. The permit granting agency will generally have minimum requirements before they issue a permit. It is a good idea to find out what they require before insurance is purchased.  

4. Food, water, supplies and T-shirts, what is needed and what can be donated to the event?

Call grocery stores, water distribution and supply companies to try to get as much donated as you can. Water will be needed on the route and at the start/finish. If it is warm on race day, make sure you have plenty of water.

T-shirts are a big expense but well worth the investment. Participants love T-shirts especially if they are from out of state. And bibs, don’t forget to order bibs and plenty of safety pins.

5. Aid Stations, how many and where?

The course will dictate the number of aid stations needed. I would recommend at least two for a 5k. For longer races, a station every three to five miles might be sufficient. Always have water at each station. 

It is a good idea to order port-a-potties well in advance so that they are reserved for your event. And, they should be placed out of the general traffic area but where skaters can get to them safely.

6. Emergency medical personnel and emergency transportation, how many and where?

Again, the course will determine what you need. For a long race that is point-to-point or one big loop, you will need more than for a 5k or a race that has multiple laps. 

7. Communication, how will it be handled on the course?

Cell phones are ideal for communicating from out on the course. HAM operators are an excellent way of staying in touch with what is going on. They may be able to report skaters that have dropped out of the race and hitched a ride elsewhere. This helps avoid the “lost skater” panic at the end of the race when results are being tabulated.

8. Start/Finish line, will they both be in the same place, who will set it up and who will be in charge of the area? Venue, who will set it up and what is needed?

When planning the start/finish line, it is best to keep things as simple as you possibly can. Starting and finishing in one place is usually the simplest way to go. Having done it both ways, I strongly recommend the same place for the start/finish line.

It is a good idea to have people assigned just to handle the finish line. Things can get out of control very quickly at the finish line. There are a variety of ways to capture the skaters’ times but having a good crew at the finish line will ensure good results. 

For the venue, will you be supplying tables and chairs? If you do supply tables and chairs, have a people designated as the set up crew.

9. Volunteers, how many, where and who will organize them?

A volunteer coordinator should be given the responsibility of recruiting and organizing the volunteers. It is important to have a volunteer briefing session so the volunteers know what they are supposed to do. Again, the course size will determine how many you need. The Cactus Speed Classic uses anywhere from 30 to 60+ volunteers just on race day. As a side note, at all the CSCs, the volunteers are entered in the free raffle drawing along with the skaters. It is our way of rewarding them for their hard work. 

10. Pre-registration/Registration and packet pick-up, how will it be handled and where?

For the CSC, pre-registration and packet pick-up is usually held the day before the race at a sponsor’s facility. Some events don’t allow registration on race day for a variety of reasons. It adds to the stress of race day but in my experience one-third of the skaters don’t register until race day. A question you will need to answer is do you want registration on race day?

The above information is not intended to cover every detail but to give those of you interested organizing an in-line skate race a general guide for the issues you will need to deal with in preparing for race day. I made a lot of mistakes while on the learning curve of event planning and didn’t have resources to reference for developing the CSC. In conclusion, some of the most rewarding experiences in my life have been through working with the community and skaters putting on a race. 

Diana Coonce
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