Organizing an Inclusive 5k

While we’ve always had a strong running program and a handful of adaptive athletes that participate in local charity races, this was our first year hosting a 5k to benefit programs at the gym. More than a fundraiser, this event has allowed us to connect with local businesses, make it into local publications (and therefore making more people aware of our gym), bring our current members, friends, and prospective members together, and offer an opportunity for athletes of all ages and abilities to participate. While the race directing process is tedious, the end result is worthwhile. This post will cover the ups and downs of organizing an event.

To begin the process you need to make a few decisions.

Race Name and Logo

If the race is for a specific cause, as most are, it makes the name decision process pretty straightforward. To get an idea for logos and fonts we used, online software that creates logos using pre-determined color schemes and key words. Using this, we had a graphic designer put together a high quality image of the logo using the color scheme that was central to our new website.

Cause for Proceeds to go Towards

While we are not a non-profit business, many of our initiatives are mission-driven in a way that 501.c.3 businesses are. My mission when I started the gym was to make fitness accessible to as many athletes with disabilities as possible. To accomplish this, the work must spread beyond Central MA. We have a handful of programs and projects in progress that attempt to accomplish this. All of the proceeds from the race go towards these projects.

Race Date and Time

Depending on the season of the race (Fall, Spring, Summer) you will have a host of conflicting activities and events to account for. We had our race at the beginning of June so major conflicts included: high school graduations, graduation parties, baseball and lacrosse playoffs, and Special Olympics Summer Games. There will never be a perfect date to accommodate everyone’s schedule. We chose the date that effected the least amount of our members.

Race Course (Start/Finish/Distance)

Where the race start will influence the environment of the race. Is there adequate space for registration tables, t-shirt distribution, sponsors to set up tables (if that is offered), and room for people to congregate and spend time without causing too much foot traffic? If the weather doesn’t cooperate, is there access to indoor cover? When you’re organizing a race that is inclusive in nature, you can anticipate wheelchair duos, handcycles, and visually impaired athletes to participate. To make the course as safe as possible, you want a wide enough shoulder that cars can easily navigate around runners and riders (assuming the local PD is unable to block off the road). You want to minimize the amount of left turns that must be made across traffic. If your course does involve left turns (as ours did), you’ll need to make sure that you have the support of the local Police department to direct traffic.

I know from having participated in dozens of races, one thing that really frustrates participants is having a course with an imprecise distance. When someone is racing towards a PR, having to run 3.2 miles instead of 3.1 can be a 30-45 second distance. Make sure you accurately map out the distance.

Registration and Timing Company

There are a host of timing companies that offer various services and differing pricing structures. We used Racewire, a reputable company. Racewire provided easy online registration, the ability to offer promotional codes (which we listed as an incentive for corporate sponsors), bibs with timing chips plus a clean spreadsheet assigning each registrant a number, as well as a host of other marketing strategies that we didn’t utilize.

Runner Bibs

Our Timing Company, Racewire, provided bibs. I’m not sure if this is commonplace for all timing companies but we had to place an order about a month in advance based on an estimate for the number of participants. We overestimated, but provided that it isn’t a sufficient expense, it is obviously better to have too many bibs than not enough. Make sure you have pins for the bibs.

Connect with a T-Shirt Printing Company

Every company functions differently in terms of how the shirts are made and the turn-around between ordering and having the product in hand. Knowing this a couple of months in advance will ensure that you have everything in place.

Once you have the name, logo, cause, date, location/route, support from the local police department, and timing company in place you can begin checking off the laundry list of tasks on the to-do list.

Corporate Sponsors

For a first-year event, provided that you have a cause that is well supported by the community, this will make up a large portion of your revenue. Create a nice sponsorship letter that lists the causes and provides a host of incentives. We offered three tiers ($250, $500, and $1000) with a certain number of free race entries at each level, company logos on the website at the $250 level or on the website and the t-shirts at the $500+ amount, as well as presence near registration at the highest level of sponsorship. Many companies can write off these contributions as a marketing expense. Create an initial list of companies in each industry and if a certain insurance company is unable to sponsor the event, research other agencies in the area and approach them. Asking for money isn’t always comfortable so I would suggest that you focus more on companies that you already have a relationship with.

Connect with Non-Profit Organizations that Support Adaptive Athletes

We are fortunate to have a strong relationship with several organizations that align similarly with our mission: Team Hoyt New England, Best Buddies, Adaptive Sports New England, Team Achilles, and Special Olympics MA. We were excited to be included on the official Team Hoyt New England 2019 Race Calendar and have Dick Hoyt make an appearance at the race alongside almost a dozen wheelchair duos. These provide the most visible display of inclusion on the race course but we also had athletes with CP, visual impairments, and Down Syndrome completing the run/walk.

Promote Online Registration and Order T-Shirts

While many people are unsure of their schedule and therefore are hesitant to commit to a race 2 to 3 months in advance, you should make a push to get as many people as possible registered online 3 to 4 weeks in advance. This will give you a better idea of how many t-shirts you should order so you don’t have too much of an excess after the event. You can use a variety of strategies like a price increase at a certain deadline, email marketing campaigns, free t-shirts to everyone who registers before a given date, etc. At this point, 3-4 weeks before race day, you can follow up with the printing company that you plan to use and give them a t-shirt order. In our case, they placed the order for the shirts three weeks in advance and then about a week prior to race day, I provided them with high quality images of our corporate sponsors’ logos and they screen-printed them onto the back of the shirts.

Purchase Medals

The first decision to make is whether you want to give medals to all participants, just age group winners, or a select demographic. Since it was our first annual event, there was no way of knowing how many total runners we were going to have. We made the decision to order generic medals to give out to wheelchair and Fun Run participants. We ordered 100 of these and the extras will be usable in subsequent years. In addition to these stock medals, we had age group and category winners. These included 1st, 2nd, 3rd overall male and female in Under 14, 15-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60+, Wheelchair Duo, Handcycle, Push-Rim Wheelchair, Mobility Impaired, and Visually Impaired. In categories that didn’t have 3 participants, we had leftover medals. It is likely impossible to know far enough in advance how many participants you’ll have in each category to make a precise medal order. If you don’t include “1st Annual”, “2nd Annual” etc. then these can be reusable as well.

Runner Gift Bags

Depending on the type of corporate sponsors that you have, some will appreciate the opportunity to distribute some type of flyer or business card to all of the runners. If so, you can put together runner gift bags with a host of marketing materials, potentially free products, and the participant’s t-shirt. These will have to be stocked several days prior to the race and organized by t-shirt size in a manner that makes them able to be easily distributed race day morning.

Raffle Items

This was a last minute addition to our race. Initially I had thought that the addition of selling raffle tickets would be time consuming and add unnecessary stress. However, with a few volunteers stepping up to help out, we were able to gather about 20 items to raffle off. This added close to $1000 in revenue for the event and sent a bunch of participants home with some great prizes.

Waters and Snacks

Many companies are willing to make a donation of drinks or snacks; especially in exchange for some promotional incentive. We had water bottles donated by Polar Beverages, flavored water donated by Hint, as well as apples donated by Bolton Orchards. Many races will have a greater assortment of food and beverages available after the race. I chose not to dedicate a large amount of time to this as my plate was already full. Sorry, runners who were expecting post-race catering.

Miscellaneous Fees and Items

Beyond the larger expenses of the timing company, t-shirts, and medals, there were a handful of small fees that came up. For the water station on the course I bought several gallon water jugs and a couple hundred paper cups. Depending on the size and set-up of your race it may be necessary to rent directional signs for parking, registration, and shirt pick-up. The school where our race started and finished has a nice entrance where everything was set-up. So with only a couple hundred participants, traffic wasn’t overwhelming to a degree where my volunteers were unable to direct runners to the correct table. We did have to reserve the school parking lot and foyer for race morning so there was a small fee associated with that.

We had the support from a local running shoe company, Marx Running, who also directs a handful of races. He provided about 50 cones that we used to line the course. Having the cones along the 5k route is reassuring to runners that they’re still on the course, provided a lane for our wheelchairs, and alerted cars to slow down. If we had done runner gift bags, the running company also would have supplied these. Rental fee for traffic cones is $50-75 for up to 100; so if you are unable to get these donated, you will have to budget for this additional expense.

If you would like to supply a variety of snacks and are unable to get them donated, then this will be another expense. Additionally, if bibs and pins aren’t provided by your registration/timing company, then you will also have to account for this expense.

Organizing Volunteers

While volunteers are crucial for race-day success, recruiting volunteers was one of the last things that I did. I knew I had a lot of people willing to help but I didn’t want to take anyone away from running the race. A couple weeks prior to race day, I began assigning volunteers to different roles. The more volunteers you have, the less stress you’ll experience the morning of the race.

These assignments include: set-up (as many people as possible willing to get to the race several hours early), online registration check-in (2 people), race day registration (2 people), t-shirt/runner bag distribution (2 people), raffle ticket sales (2 people), water station volunteers (2-4 people), on-course volunteers to direct and cheer on runners (6-8 people), and a handful of volunteers to give out waters and medals after the race (4-6 people). We had one volunteer on a bicycle to ride alongside the lead handcycle and then circle back to see where the final walker/runner was. These tasks can be performed by anyone but there are also a handful of tasks that require professionals.

We had 3 EMT volunteers serving as medical staff, two town police officers on the course to direct traffic at the left hand turns, and one state police motorcycle guiding the lead runners. Having Mark from Marx Running on-site was invaluable. He taught our volunteers how to handle registration, he coned the entire course (a task that involves quite a bit of skill to do so efficiently), and provided a sense of reassurance throughout the week that everything was addressed. If you are familiar with a local race director who is as gracious with his time as Mark was, their involvement will be invaluable.

Bonus Roles

There were a few volunteer roles and additions that definitely improved the quality of the event. We were fortunate to have someone emcee the event, bringing a PA system, playing music, and making necessary announcements throughout the morning. We set up a variety of lawn games for kids to use before and after the race. The race didn’t draw as many elementary-aged kids as I had anticipated so I will definitely prioritize advertising to this group in next year’s event. In hindsight, I should have put flyers at the local schools and posted more on the community Facebook pages.

Lastly, we are very lucky to have an incredibly talented employee who films and edits video for the gym. The work he has produced has been a huge asset to our growth as they have provided prospective members with an inside look at the gym. Ben filmed all morning for the race and will be wrapping up a mini-documentary edit in the coming weeks.


  • Name and Logo

  • Date, Location, and Course

  • Police Support

  • Hire a Timing/Registration Company

  • Gather Corporate Sponsors

  • Promote Race/Online Registration through Social Media, Flyers, Local Newspapers, etc.

  • Decide on Style, Quantity, and Order Medals

  • Gather Raffles, Raffle tickets, make signs with descriptions for each item, put out bags for participants to put their tickets in

  • Assemble Runner Gift Bags (optional)

  • Organize Volunteers and assign to various roles

  • Get Waters, Snacks, and Cups

  • Gather Folding Tables (7-8) and Chairs

  • Print out Pre-Registration Summary and assign bib numbers to each registered runner

    • Racewire automatically assigned bibs to each registrant and assembled a clean Excel sheet for us to print out for the volunteers handling registration. If you have 150 runners pre-registered runners, assign numbers 1-150 to these runners and assign numbers 200 and beyond to day-of registration

  • Send email to everyone pre-registered about race day schedule of events

  • Organize T-Shirts by Size for easy distribution race-day morning

  • Post on Social Media outlets that day-of registration is available as well as what Raffles are available and what the cost of tickets will be

Financial Success of your 5k

How successful your 5k is financially will depend on:

1. How connected you are in the community which will dictate how successful you are in eliciting sponsorships and acquiring raffle items

2. The number of registered runners and walkers

3. Whether you’re able to mitigate expenses by getting a handful of things donated (waters, snacks, cones, signs)

95% of the steps above apply whether your goal is to host an “inclusive” race or a traditional 5k. However, the additional work required to involve wheelchairs, handcycles, push-rim racers, and visually impaired athletes was so little that I hope more race directors would be encouraged to do so. Perhaps it was easy because of the community that I am already immersed in but logistically it only required a couple of additional considerations.

I am already looking forward to next year and now have a much better grasp on all of the nuances that go into running a successful event. Assuming that high school graduation and the Special Olympics state tournament is the second weekend in June, keep your calendars tentatively booked for June 6th, 2020.