Grow Your Turkey Trot into a Stampede: Secrets to Increasing Your Race Numbers

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I have two secrets to help you grow your race numbers.  The first one is that my wife is a race director.  It’s just one of many volunteer positions she holds in our little town.  But the race she directs is anything but little.  However, that was not always so.  When she took over the Medford Lakes Turkey Trot five years ago, the race was well into its 40th year running.  About 200 runners participated.  Last year we had over 5 times that with nearly 1100 runners across the finish line.  Here are our secrets to increasing our race numbers.

Choose the best day

If you do some research, you’ll find out that Thanksgiving morning is the single most popular running day in America.  I think you already know the reasons why. It has tradition behind it.  I think that a combination of tradition and my wife’s  other “secrets” can help grow your race numbers.

Provide Great Bling

Gratuities also had to be set up.  T-shirts, awards, and food are race standards.  But my wife is a perfectionist so she wanted the best.  A local silk screener printed out shirts using a custom design from a local crafter.  This particular crafter is also a long-time runner and knew two things about race giveaways: they need to look cool and they need to be tied to something even cooler.

This year, the awards were made from the cedar logs that came from the original summer camp craft cabin.  It was demolished last year after 70+ years of service.  The new craft pavilion was paid for entirely by local donations.  Net proceeds from our race were the largest contributor.  It paid for the handicap ADA-compliant accessibility needs in the new building.

Our new craft pavilion with ADA compliant access provided by our race proceeds
Get Course Certification and Professional Timing

One of the first things my wife did was get the course USATF certified.   She also hired a professional timing company. As a runner, she knew that time, distance, and results mean a lot to runners.  Also, while my wife spent months working on media exposure (more on that below), I marked the course.  Course marking is required to help runners get to the finish line without getting lost.

Maximize Media Exposure

She got the word out.  Social media and email broadcast the message to thousands of runners around the Delaware Valley area.  Local running clubs and stores picked up on the race and posted it in their calendars. She set up a webpage for the race as well as a page on the boro website.  All sites directed you to a single sign-on page (RunSignUp in this case) to track participants.

Photographers Provide the Memories

The other thing runners love is free pictures of themselves on the course, at the finish line, and hopefully, getting an award. Definitely consider hiring a professional photographer or more, and if possible, offering photos for free.

timer photographer director
South Jersey Timing, OCR Photography, and race director
Thank Your Local Police

No race is successful without police and EMS.  Each year, Medford Lakes police assist with traffic and parking.  In your races, make sure your local force is involved.  Make it personal, not just a job for them.

local police
Thank your local police on Thanksgiving
Recruit Local Volunteers

This year, we also incorporated the help of students from our high school.  The National Honor Society kids need service hours in order to qualify and remain enrolled.  We put them to good use directing parking, handling registration, and giving out food at the finish line.  The kids were fantastic.  One of our local Eagle Scouts and NHS members, also an All-State Chorus member, sang the National Anthem a capella.

Local Eagle Scout sings the National Anthem

This year awards were broadened from the obligatory overall winners to include age categories from pre-teen to 70+.  We get a lot of serious runners in our races.  The course record is 15:43, set by a then 18 year old.  In my category of 50-59, the winner came in at a blistering 21 and something.  Even the 70 year olds were sub 30.

Reach Out to Cross-trainers

Hyper-local 5Ks are a great place to train for people looking for cross-training. So make sure to open up your invites to people in obstacle course racing, CrossFit, and local gyms.

cross train
Invite cross-trainers to your race

Dress up for the Occasion

The age range is so large because we offer something for everyone.  Thanksgiving is family time.  So a family discount rate made it much more affordable for those coming home to visit to also run together and create some special memories.  Turkey Trots can be silly and many of the families like to come in costume.  So we obliged by offering awards for best costumes.

costume socks
Some costumes are a little more subdued but still fun

Well there you have it.  Is there any one thing that brought the numbers up and kept them there year after year?  Probably not.  It’s a combination.  A combination around two common themes.  One, know your participants and what they expect.  Two, align those expectations with a twist of uniqueness.  What will our bling look like next year?  We don’t have any more buildings to raze so that’s out.  But I am sure my wife and her team will come up with something.

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