What Race Organizers Can Learn from the Boston Marathon

Race Organizers Boston Marathon ChronoTrack

It’s time for one of the endurance industry’s favorite races: the Boston Marathon! With roughly 30,000 participants and a 120-year history, the Boston Marathon is a lot like the unicorn that adorns their logo: a legendary, sought-after ideal for runners and race organizers alike. While it’s difficult to match a World Marathon Major, race organizers wondering how to plan a marathon of such caliber don’t have to look any further.

Here are the lessons learned for race organizers from the world’s oldest annual marathon! Don’t forget to add them to your race director checklist:

Race Organizers Boston Marathon ChronoTrack 2Have a Story

One of the most appealing things about the Boston Marathon is its rich history and place in the community. It is always held on Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, when many Bostonians have the day off and the Red Sox play at home. As Boston Magazine puts it, “Patriots’ Day [is] like Boston’s own national holiday, and the Marathon is the holiday’s parade”.

While your race may not have this kind of history, you can still find a way to make participants feel as though they are a part of something bigger. Ask yourself: what is the story behind your race? Behind your runners? Behind the community?

Charity Sponsors

While some race organizers select one cause for their race to support, you can take a page from the Boston Marathon and allow multiple non-profits to register as charity partners. Provide each partner with fundraising tips and let them take it from there! The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.), who oversees the marathon, even allows runners without a slot to join the race upon raising $5,000 for one of their 30+ charity partners. This allows you to increase your race exposure and broaden the scope of participation. Plus you get to say things like, “Participants running on behalf of… official charities raised $15.63 million”! Pretty impressive, right?

Restrict Your Runners

Don’t be afraid to set high standards for your athletes. The Boston Marathon has strict qualifications and beating the time restraints don’t even guarantee entry – rather, they only guarantee the opportunity to register.

Unless you’re already at global status and attracting top athletes, you may want to consider lesser restrictions than the 3 hours and 15 minutes given to middle-aged men by the Boston Marathon. But regardless, any limitations can help: besides thinning the herd, they give your race a sense of prestige. Limitations give qualified runners an immediate sense of accomplishment and give unqualified runners something to strive for.

Offer Other Events

The B.A.A. offers a 5k and an Invitational Mile in the days prior to the Boston Marathon. Doing something like this allows race directors to increase revenue and hype by expanding “Marathon Monday” into a three day event, and also allows younger and otherwise non-qualified runners to participate. Chances are these runners will be inspired to take on the big one someday!

Take Advantage of Tourism

Race organizers are used to title sponsors and t-shirt space, but more sponsorship opportunities open up when your race is one people are willing to travel to. For example, the Boston Marathon has both an official travel agency and an official airline partner! Consider exploring similar options, like an official hotel or shuttle sponsor. Participants are now tourists, so share with them the insider secrets on where to go, what to see, the best places to eat and the top trails for training. Runners will appreciate the tips and it’s sure to provide extra incentive for participation!

Help Them Out

The Boston Marathon is known for its volatile spring weather and hilly point-to-point course. Running a marathon always requires a strategy, especially if it’s a unique course like Boston’s. The Boston Marathon offers race clinics, training plans, hydration information, medical advice and winter training tips to help their athletes prepare.

Race Organizers Boston Marathon 3Keep It Positive

In 2012, more than 100 Boston Marathon runners were taken to the hospital for heat exhaustion and hundreds more to the medical tent. A year later, the marathon was the site of one of the most tragic events in endurance history. While the marathon’s race organizer subsequently upped security measures, you’ll find no mention of either tragedy on their website. Address these issues and learn from them, but do not let them define your race. Always focus on the positive; marathon runners are some of the most resilient people out there!

Race Organizers Boston Marathon 4Be Passionate

You should love your race as much as your athletes, if not more! Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray’s incredible accomplishments in athletics, philanthropy, and race management practically make him a unicorn himself. But while no one expects you to run your age in miles each year, there is something to be said for McGillivray’s passion for his race. He’s run every Boston Marathon since 1973, running it after the official participants as race director. Find a way to show your runners this passion: run your race if you can, at least once, or write a blog for participants like McGillivray does in his Runner’s World “Ask the Race Director” column.


Don’t forget to tune in for the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 18! Live TV coverage will be available nationwide on NBC Sports and live web coverage is available at www.baa.org.

Go Boston!

To learn more about ChronoTrack and how our race management services can help with your event, contact us.