Persnickety Paperwork: Let’s Talk Race Permits


You have a great idea for an event, picked out a date, are ready to open registration, and…hold your horses, kiddo! Before you go one step further, you need to get permits for your race. This persnickety paperwork is no one’s favorite part, but we can help you navigate the process with a little Q&A session.

You ask, we answer:

How long will it take to get my permits?

Plan on six months to one year for the entire process (yep, you read that right!). The timing fluctuates depending on the course, the distance, and the expected number of participants. Basically, the city will need to evaluate the complexity of your event and its potential effects on the community. Some cities handle these requests like well-oiled machines, while others slog along. You are at the mercy of their turnaround time, so give yourself a buffer.

Note: Don’t open up registration before beginning the permitting process. If you don’t get a permit and have to cancel, you’ll have lots of unhappy people!

Who do I need to talk to?

Depending on your city, there could be multiple agencies involved in the permitting process. You’ll most likely need a special event permit from your city government, as well as a permit from the city police department. You could also be required to work with public transit authorities, park officials, and more. Start by checking out your city government’s website, or call up your local police department for guidance.

What issues can I negate from the beginning?

Check local race calendars to make sure your event does not overlap with any others—this could be a big strike against you as permitting officials won’t want to double the impact on the city. And start making a list of any community members (neighborhoods, churches, businesses) that will be impacted by your event due to road closures, parking, spectators, etc. You’ll need to work with them as part of the permitting process.

What can I do to convince the permitting authorities?

With the rise in popularity of road races, you have a lot of competition for your city’s good graces. Odds are you aren’t the first, or only, person to request a permit this year. Start by doing your homework and positioning your event as a win-win for the city (which it is!). Prepare an economic impact report which will showcase hard numbers on things like additional tourism dollars being brought into the area. You can also tug on heartstrings and explain that you’re fundraising for charity or promoting a healthy lifestyle. According to the Road Runners Club of America, “Working with your local Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau or Sports Commission can help you identify community interests and how to capitalize on the services of these groups to make your event a success.” Above all, be organized and professional so they take you seriously.

How flexible should I be?

Very flexible. Remember, your city holds all the cards, so be prepared to adjust your event date, start time, course, etc. They may have hesitations you haven’t even considered that will require you to make changes to your well-laid plans.

How much will permits cost me?

Again, every city is different but permits can often cost thousands. It depends on the type of event you’re putting on. A 100-person 5K will not have to pay as much as a 15,000-person marathon with a rock concert at the finish line. And don’t forget there is usually a permit application fee which can range from $50 to $200 or more.

What if I need to make changes to the event after the permit is final?

In this case, you do not want to beg forgiveness rather than ask permission. Contact the permitting authorities with any changes that need to be made to the permit and work it out. This may delay you a bit, but it should not take as much time as the initial permitting process.

Who can I turn to for advice?

Reach out to other local event directors. Most are very willing to help and share their knowledge of how to jump through the permitting hoops as efficiently as possible.

Got any tips that have helped you get a special event permit without hassle? Share them in the comments below!

Need help with more than just race permits? Download our guide on how to plan a 5K race here.

For more information on race permits and general race event management, contact us.