Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Think running a half marathon is tough? Try organizing one! Dana Allen, race director of our own Women’s Running Series, gives us a peek behind the scenes into the world of course permits and water stops.
Women’s Running: Were you a runner before you were a race director?
Dana Allen: I’ve been a runner since grade seven. I definitely came to this job by passion. I love the sport of running so it’s nice to be able to turn that into a job and enjoy what I do everyday.
WR: What surprised you about the role of race director that you hadn’t realized as a runner?
DA: In particular, it has made me really appreciate how crucial volunteers are to putting on an event and how important it is for them to show up. In general, I think what surprised me is just how much detail goes into each race. There are so many little things you have to stay on top of—from organizing EMS to fire, police, health permits and city agencies—and you have to do it with a lot less sleep and fewer resources than you would expect.
WR: How many people does it take?
DA: That depends on the size of the race. For a Women’s Running event that ranges from 2,500 to 6,000 runners, we have a paid staff of about 20 who work on the race weekend and an additional 300 to 400 volunteers.
WR: What makes you most nervous on race day?
DA: The weather! You never know what you’re going to get on any given day. While most runners will run in any conditions, that’s when you have volunteer issues. So you always hope for a great day, because then generally you can count on volunteers being there and helping you make sure the race goes off without a hitch.
WR: What’s your best race memory?
DA: When I was the Race Director of the Toronto Waterfront Marathon and Half Marathon, there was a gentleman in his 70s coming through the last 200 meters of the half, blowing by people 30 years younger than him. I remember being so impressed and realizing that running really has no barriers. It doesn’t matter what your age or background is.
WR: Can anyone run a half?
DA: I do believe the half marathon distance is achievable for anyone. If you’re thinking about doing your first half, you should have a medical checkup. Then with a proper training program, a sound approach to diet and injury prevention and a really good support network, I think everyone should be successful.
WR: What are a few things a woman can do to ensure she has the best race day possible?
DA: Avoid changing things up on race morning. Trying a new breakfast, new shoes or new clothing the morning of the race is a really common mistake. If it’s your first race, having someone to run with is great because it takes the pressure off the individual performance and provides support when the going gets tough.
WR: What’s the best part about being a race director?
DA: My favorite part is watching runners cross the line. Everyone has taken a lot of time to train for the race, for many it’s their first half marathon. In that moment, all their hard work has finally come to fruition. I love seeing the expressions of joy that come across their faces.
A race day in the life of a race director…
3:30 My alarm goes off.
4:00 Report to the start line.
4:15 Ensure the start/finish set up is in place.
4:30 Check course to make sure it is safe and secure.
5:00 Volunteers start to arrive and check in.
5:30 Oversee volunteer placement to be certain all course areas are staffed.
6:00 The timing company places chip mats.
7:00 Race starts!
7:30 Continue correspondence with key course personnel.
8:00 Check to ensure water stops are functioning.
8:30 Prepare finish line so it’s ready for first runners.
9:00 Prepare post-race party and entertainment.
11:00 Our final runners finish.
11:30 Start to clean up!
Dana is the Race Director of the Women’s Running Series and Senior Vice President of Business Development at Competitor Group, Inc. Her career has included leadership roles at International Management Group, the 2003 World Road Cycling Championships and the Canada Running Series. She can often be found running and enjoying the outdoors in San Diego where she resides with her husband Chris.