Most race promoters can agree that trail races are the easiest way to get into off-road racing.

They can be as simple as a chalk-drawn starting line and a stopwatch timed finish, to as complex as wave starts and chip timing.

However, if you’re looking to get into off-road racing, the trail race is the best way to learn the basics of race promotion.

Why is it the best way?

Primarily because of the built-in advantages trail races give new and struggling race promoters.

Those advantages include:

  • Good Demand
  • Cost Effective
  • Simple to Build

Think about how these advantages would be good to have in your current race promotion offerings.

Would adding a trail race to your calendar help your bottom line?

Consider that question as you work through each of the following trail race advantages:

Trail Races have Good Demand

According to Running USA in their Non-Traditional Running Events Special Report put out in 2014, non-traditional running sports like trail running are experiencing a “historic explosive growth”.

They estimate that the popularity of non-traditional running events in this country grew a record 4 million participants in 2013, surpassing the record 2.5 million finishers of both the half-marathon and marathon combined last year.

Even though it shares the space with obstacle course runs, color runs, and orienteering, trail running is still king-of-the-hill when it comes to non-traditional running sports.

However, to further refine our focus on trail running itself, the American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Spring 2016 Trail Running Survey found that 64-percent claim they will run up to 5 races in a year.

Considering that there are roughly 2,000 trail races a year in the United States — 800 on the ATRA website alone — there are more trail runners looking for races than their races currently being promoted.

The demand is there, but it requires you to build a race to meet it.

Trail Races are Cost Effective

If costs are an issue, trail races have some cost savings benefits that other off-road races don’t have.

First, the course is simple to create.

Anyone can create a trail race course using a good trail, boundary tape, arrows, and a few water stations.

There may be no need for serious trail maintenance or course repairs before the race since trail runners are used to the rough terrain.

In fact, in some races, a downed tree is considered a feature, not an obstacle.

Another benefit to trail races is resilience to weather.

Unlike mountain bike tires that will ruin trails, trail runners have less of an impact on wet trails overall.

Even in pouring rain, many parks will allow you continue your trail race in conditions that would cancel a mountain bike race.

This allows you to hold your race on the day you selected, instead of having to postpone your race for another day.

This also means you won’t have to give out any refunds if it rains.

The biggest benefit, however, is the cost of your insurance.

Unlike other races that are high in risk, trail running events will allow you obtain a policy for a lower premium.

Being able to purchase insurance for your trail race at a reasonable price gives you the added option of declining to be sanctioned.

If you are only doing local events, sanctioning it not always a cost effective option for obtaining insurance.

Not electing to sanction your race may limit your marketing opportunities, but it will also release you from having to pay for expensive race officials.

Doing your own officiating and timing provides you with much more flexibility in designing your course, finish line, paperwork, and post-race amenities (i.e. beer).

Once you have enough trail races under your belt, you can decide to become a sanctioned event.

But you should experience the simplicity of being unsanctioned first.

This will allow you to understand what your trail race costs before you add the additional rigor sanctioning will bring.

Only then will you be able to judge how much value sanctioning add to your trail races.

Often you will find that local, unsanctioned trail races are more enjoyable and cost effective to build.

Trail Races are Simple to Build

Trail running is the least complex off-road event to build and direct.

Except for shoes and clothing, trail runners don’t require any special gear to compete.

This increases the accessibility of racers to participate since most average trail runners have everything they need to compete.

This is equally true with race direction.

Unlike marathons or 5K races that have thousands of racers crossing the finish line in huge packs, most large trail races cap out at 500 to 1,000 runners.

This makes the finish line easier to control with a density of only few dozen finishers crossing at any given time.

Finding a venue to support less than 1,000 runners is also easier find, particularly when many local trail races only allow 200-300 total racers to compete.

With this reduced footprint, finding a good venue that will attract enough trail runners becomes an exercise in knowing your area.

Most trail runners will jump on an opportunity to race a course that includes at a minimum:

  • Uphill and downhill sections
  • Lots of single track sections
  • Wide paths and meadows mixed in

Simply by having these course features will give your trail race the challenge trail runners want with minimal engineering effort.

Finding a venue that will allow you to create a good course design will also give your race promotion efforts some validity.

Always do your research when looking for a trail race venue.

If the trails are good, chances are that someone else has held a race there in the past.

To avoid stepping on any toes, try asking your local running clubs where a good place for a race would be.

They are sure to lead you to something worth considering.

Trail Races Can Work for You

Knowing what you know now, is your trail race ready to go?

Can your overall costs be reduced with a trail race?

Do you know of some local parks that would be perfect for a new trail race?

These are just a few questions to ask yourself when building a race promotion business.

By leveraging the advantages a trail race can give you, you can add these kinds of events to your offerings as a way to simplify your race promotion efforts.

This is especially beneficial if you are just starting out as an off-road race promoter.

Start simple with events like trail races.

Use these events to refine your promotion skills, and take some of the pressure off your efforts by using existing demand to provide you with your first racers.

Once you have established yourself, then think about doing something more extreme.

And now you know.

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle Bondo is a thinker, podcaster, author, and creative strategy dragon seeking to make a small dent in the universe. He is the founder of Reckoneer, host of the Merchants of Dirt Podcast and Get Lost Racing Podcast podcasts, and an avid adventure racer. As a successful race promoter with over 20+ year in the endurance racing industry, Kyle has helped many race directors and race promoters start and improve their own races so that they too can share their passion for endurance sports with others.