I recently had the opportunity to promote a race.

However, it would have required a last minute permit and no access to insurance.

Those involved thought that the race was small enough that it really didn’t need a permit or insurance.

With only about 20-30 people involved, no one would really know we were racing.

And it was just some trail running in the woods.

How hurt could someone really get?

On the surface, it sounds reasonable.

Host a race without all that paperwork, save money on the expenses, and no one would be the wiser.

I could make a few bucks in the process too.

Fortunately, that is when common sense took over.

The lure of the pirate or outlaw race is strong.

Nobody likes to apply for permits, and insurance is expensive.

That makes every dollar earned by registration pure profit.

It’s too bad that the little voice in your head that is telling you it’s a good idea is Mr. Murphy’s!

Why you need legal paperwork to race

Your race hinges on permits and insurance.

Forget about racers, courses, and stacks of money.

You can even forget about timing, results, and awards.

Because if you don’t have an approved permit AND a quality liability insurance policy, you don’t have a race.

Think about what these two very important documents represent.

The Approved Permit

First up is your permit.

This is your legal permission to be on the property.

For many local and regional parks, this can be obtained very quickly.

Especially if you have an existing relationship with the park.

This is the advantage of hosting an event at the same park more than once.

While new parks may make you go through the process, an existing relationship can expedite things.

However, without that permit, you have not legal permission to be on the property.

What does that mean?

That means if you host a race and someone gets hurt, some if not all of your protections could be void.

It could lead to an injured racer suing you for personal damages, not just your business.

Permission to use the property is key when building a race.

Do you need a permit to host a race?

For some, they get away with using parks without permission.

Mostly because when you have thousands of acres of land, it’s hard to be everywhere at once.

Racers may not even know they are at an event that does not have permission to use the property.

And there is no way to verify that a race promoter has permission either.

The sad fact is that most park management goes home Friday afternoon and doesn’t return until Monday morning.

If you haven’t already noticed during your travels, some of the loneliest places in America are local and regional parks on the weekends, especially in the off season.

Although it may seem cool or fun to host a pirate or outlaw race, it only takes one injury to turn the law against you in a very bad way.

Hosting a race without a permit can not only make you liable for an injury, but also get you charged with vandalism, trespassing, or even burglary.

Many parks will go after you for financial damages too.

If you host a race at a park without a permit, they could go after all of your profits.

Remember that part of the permit process where the park gets a cut of your profits — usually 15-percent?

Stiff the park out on that cut and the city, county, or even the State agency responsible for that land can use the power of the government to seize ALL of that money.

Don’t ruin everything you’ve built by trying to cut a few corners.

Do the work, plan your race in advance, and GET THE PERMISSION to race there.

Which leads me to a new principle of racing:

Always have permission to use the property for a race.

The Quality Liability Insurance Policy

Now let’s look at your insurance policy.

In particular your liability insurance policy.

Liability insurance protects your racers as much as it protects you.

If someone gets hurt — and in endurance sports, there is a 1-in-10 chance of that happening every race — they are going to need medical attention.

Depending on the severity of the injury, that need could be indefinite.

Don’t bankrupt your company or yourself by skimping on insurance.

Could you host a race without it?

The unfortunate nature of how local and regional permits work, you could obtain a permit without ever showing anyone your insurance.

Usually, the permit’s fine print will state that you need to have it.

The sad reality is that nobody is going to check.

This is the trust barrier that racers have with race promoters.

They give almost all race promoters the benefit of the doubt with it comes to coverage.

They think because they have a permit, and maybe even officials, that they have liability insurance to cover them if they get hurt.

Only to find out that it is just not so.

Too many race promoters can obtain permits without insurance.

And how will you find out if they have it or not?

Well, it will be when you face plant into a tree.

That’s when you discover how cheap many race operations can be.

Maybe cheap is the wrong word.

Reckless is a more accurate choice.

Even if a racer has their own insurance, they can always come after you for the rest of it.

Don’t be reckless and leave yourself, your family, and your business without any protection from lawsuits that arise from injuries.

Which leads me to my second new principle of racing:

Never promote a race without liability insurance.

And if you need a benchmark, aim for at least US$1-million in liability insurance coverage for a race.

The life you save could be your own

Bad decisions have far reaching consequences.

Don’t try to save a buck by sneaking your race onto a park you don’t have permission to use.

And for you own financial (and spiritual) sake, don’t host a race without some kind of liability insurance in place.

These two documents — the permit and the insurance policy — are designed to protect you, your racers, and your business.

Without them, you leave yourself open to financial ruin.

You also invite criminal or civil penalties that can ruin you forever.

I know it would be great if you could build races like you did when you were kids.

Just get the neighborhood together and run wild and free to the finish line.

No adults, no rules, and no paperwork.

But in a world that includes race promotion as a viable business model, you need to protect what you build.

You also cannot leave yourself open to risk simply because it is too expensive or difficult.

The two new principles of racing you need to apply to your racing business include:

  • Always have permission to use the property for a race
  • Never promote a race without liability insurance

These should work will with the other principles I’ve talked about having built into your business from the start.

It is your responsibility to maintain these two new principles and never again race without a permit or insurance.

And now you know.


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Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!