When you decide to build your first race, you discover just how alone you are.

Unlike fixing a car, writing software, or getting tips on how to beat just about any video game, there is very little on proper race building.

Sure, there are a few blog posts out there that give you the highlights, but they are surprisingly dated.

You would have thought that there were other people out there interested in building races considering just how many different kinds of races are out there.

Guides? Not really.

Tips? Far and few between.

Lessons learned? They don’t seem to exist — that is unless you’re trying to build a marathon for 30,000 runners.

While getting advice from a national marathon race director can provide some highlights, it’s akin to learning how to build a software company by going to hear Bill Gates speak.

Sure he’s going to be insightful, and he may inspire you to follow in his footsteps.

Unfortunately, most of his speech is going to have too much big picture thinking to help you with starting a company tomorrow.

Same goes for the marathon directors.

Good advice that I just cannot use at this moment in my race building journey.

Maybe later, but right now, I need to know what I don’t know.

And I really need to know what is about to punch me right in the face if I don’t at least have some idea of what it is I don’t know.

During my first race, and during my second race, and my third, fourth, fifth (you get the idea) I learned the art of race building the hard way: trial and error.

Like Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

So I did do.

And in doing, found out that there is a lot more to what Yoda is saying there.

Some of it is learning that when you “do” something, you figure out very quickly not to do it again. Hence the “do not” part.

You learn that “do not” only comes after the understanding that “do” didn’t work. And “try” is right out!

Probably because Yoda wants you to fully commit.

But that’s a lot more about Yoda then you probably wanted to hear about (must have let my geek flag fly on that one)!

The point is, sometimes, when there is no one to tell you what to “do” and “do not” do, you have to “try” a bunch of stuff and see what works with your own two eyes. And that sucks!

So to make it suck less, I thought I would try to identify at least five things about building my first race that I wished I known before I started.

It would have certainly helped me avoid several figurative (although they didn’t feel figurative) punches to the face — both financially and emotionally — and made building my first race a lot more enjoyable too.

#5 – You will never have plenty of time

Procrastination will drown you.

The race production business is very time intensive. Not in that it requires every waking moment of your time to be successful, but that there is a time requirement for every part of it that cannot be cheated.

Permits have to be turned in months in advance.

Park managers will always – and I mean always – tell you hell no when you show up with a permit two weeks before your race. You can’t go back and unwind the clock to get that time back.

Planning for the race also comes with a time commitment.

There are venues to layout, courses to design, insurance to procure, equipment to set up, registrations to sell, sponsors to find, awards to buy, volunteers to convince; the list go on and on.

I found the time expectations needed for just writing down all the things I needed to do to be the hardest thing to get used to.

Most aspiring race directors overlook this when building their first race simply because they don’t know what they need to do, and in what order they need to do it in. In building my first race, I did not appreciate these time commitments. And boy, do they add up!

If you just consider yourself an employee of your own race production efforts, and you imagine that, as an employee, you get paid $10.00/hour for doing all the race planning, how much money will you cost the company?

A rough estimate is based on about 40-hours a month (or 10-hours a week), for about four months.

Let’s do the math!

10-hours/week x $10.00/hour = $100.00/week
$100.00/week x 16-weeks (4-months) = $1,600.00 total

It costs your first race $1,600.00 to pay for your own time if your own time was worth $10.00/hour.

Now, if you have a day job of any technical profession, you know right away that you make more than $10.00/hour.

Assuming that’s correct, your first race time commitment is probably worth something in the $2,000 to $5,000 range.

All that just for planning a race that has yet to make any money!

Now you might not be thinking that you need to pay yourself to plan your own races.

But if you wanted to quit your day job and do this full-time, you need to be prepared for the time commitment to this “job” and just how much your time is really worth.

Time is a resource your race cannot afford to waste. And your time has a value associated with it that should not be ignored. Only through the management of your time will you keep your race profitable.

If I have one thing to say about how hard this lesson is to learn, it would be that you must manage your time well.

#4 – You must stay humble

I once thought race building was easy.

“Oh, this doesn’t seem that hard”, I would say to myself when I started down this road.

I expected to build a race, have a ton of riders show up, and make a bucket of cash.

I thought my first race would be the launching point for a successful race production company and that it will grow super fast.

At the end of my first year, I would have a race production empire!

Bull pucky!

My first race had 30 riders and made no money.

But it taught me a very important lesson in that my expectations were set way to high.

There was nothing wrong with a race that brought in 30 riders.

However, I had planned, budgeted, and spent real money on a race that would serve 150 riders.

Now those 30 riders enjoyed a really special treat that seemed provide them with all the amenities of a big race without the competition or the crowds.

But I didn’t enjoy spending all that money on overkill.

There is a risk in this business – as in any business – that it may not work out if you.

Most race production companies that make this mistake usually go out of business in the first year. Luckily for me, I was able to recover from my overconfidence in my belief that my first race would be a barn burner.

But it hurt both my ego and my pocket book.

Now, you most certainly need confidence in yourself that you can produce a good race.

That confidence is essential in keeping you motivated enough to do the things that will push your race into existence.

But what will do you in is thinking that your first race should be a massive extravaganza with enough bandwidth to accommodate hundreds of riders.

Because it most certainly let you down.

Some call this the “Field of Dreams” delusion from the movie, Field of Dreams.

In the movie, one of the characters tells a corn farmer to build a baseball field in his cornfield, and it will cause all sorts of people to come and watch ghost baseball players play.

The line from the movie that is associated with the Field of Dreams delusion is, “If you build it, they will come.”

Guess what? You can, but they won’t.

What’s the advice then to protecting yourself from the crushing results of overconfidence?


Start with the first principle of a profitable race by keeping everything small.

Small races are the best kind of races, to begin with.

Can you build a race that is only meant for 30-50 riders? Yes, you can! And it wouldn’t cost you all that much to do it either.

Building small races allows you to learn the flow, experiment with some processes, and keep your costs down. It will also give you a satisfying confidence boost, especially when you can say that you successfully directed your first race.

Swinging for the outfield your first time out is too risky.

Hedge your bets by reducing your risk. Small races are perfect tools for seeing first hand what you will need to add to make the next race better.

Slow and steady growth is very manageable, and so are increasing the size of races over time.

If you build small races on purpose, you protect yourself from over committing, without losing control of the event.

The end result will be a race you can be confident of.

#3 – You must build repeatable systems

A big part of race building is figuring out how to do something right, and then how not to forget how you did it.

You only want to learn it once, then be able to repeat it without too much additional effort.

Or even better, teach someone else how to do it.

Here’s the problem with all that. When I was building my first race, I couldn’t tell the difference between what I would use again, and what was only a one-off process.

So to keep track of what I need to know, I keep a race building journal.

By writing down each activity in my race building journey, I can remind myself how things went down.

Each one of my entries details key elements that I would have forgotten over time.

My journal became the baseline for figuring out all the parts that worked, all the parts that didn’t work, and the parts that I still needed to work on.

However, the most important part of keeping a journal is process development.

You cannot build a race building system for yourself if you cannot articulate each step of your process.

Your journal will be a huge life- and time-saver when it comes to recalling what came before what in each of your newly minted processes.

Unfortunately, it was not until I had completed several races that I realized I needed to write steps down with any kind of detail.

And without decent notes, some processes had to be re-learned more than once. When it comes to a “what I wished I knew” category, searching for information I already found once before sucks!

Additionally, having to relearn a complicated part of your race building process will become just one of a hundred things that will cause to drop the ball, especially when you are overwhelmed with demands on your limited time.

This makes the beauty of recording it is (once you’ve written it down) an easy way to repeat it, or even share it with someone else.

These recorded processes are essential in making faster decisions. Instead of trying to guess what you need to do next, you can just look at your documented process and see what comes next.

Your goal should be to take what you have learned, write it down, and eventually group each series of steps into your own, personal guide to putting your race together.

Then you can make your steps better, and weed out the ones that don’t really add any benefit to your process.

Having processes and systems in place will save you time, but you need to know you need to build them first.

#2 – You must always be selling

If you told me that 50-percent of race production was selling your race, I would have paid more attention to my marketing efforts.

Most race promoters will tell you that you have to be a salesman when it comes to getting people to come to your race.

However, what they won’t tell you is how “they” get their racers to their races. For some reason, race directors and promoters think that the actual “race promotion” part of a race is some sort of trade secret.

The truth is that selling a race is no different than selling anything else.

If you have a good product, and a means to convince people the value of that product, people will buy it.

The same goes for races. If you build a good race and can find enough racers that want to race your race, you race will be successful. Seems simple enough.

Of course, the devil is in the details.

Selling your race — that fun promotion part — is an all encompassing process that never ends.

Do you need a venue? You need to be able to convince park managers that your event will be a good thing for his or her park.

Need stuff for your race? You need to be able to convince a sponsor that sponsoring your event will help their business too.

Don’t have enough staff to fill all your positions? You need to be able to convince volunteers to give their time and energy to helping out.

The selling never ends.

You definitely need to sell by convincing people of your value. But you also need to sell people with your writing too. I had no idea how much writing I would need to do in order to convince people.

The number of sales communications you will deliver via email, website content, and proposals are endless.

You will spend countless hours writing, rewriting, and honing your sales pitch into a consistent message.

Knowing that the need for better writing is coming, should make you want to become a better writer.

If you can improve your writing – even a little – it will have a dramatic impact on how well you can convince others with your written word.

But of all the people you need to sell, your team needs to be sold on you, and your race, the most.

If you can’t sell your team on your vision or goals, you will never get anything done.

This is why keeping true to the “stay simple” principle of a profitable race greatly supports your efforts in convincing your team that your vision is achievable.

Complicated goals are hard to support, and a confusing vision of what you want out of your race will only make confused supporters.

If you keep things simple by only doing one kind of discipline, or having only one way to do something, your team will be more inclined to follow you.

In a way, every part of your race requires some sort of sales. And it is your job to know you need to get good at all of its forms sooner rather than later.

#1 – You are the only one who will care

Personal commitment comes down to just you.

If you don’t do the work, no one will. Your vision and processes all come from you.

And nobody else but you.

You set the standard for how your race will run, how your staff will behave, and how your racers will enjoy the event.

You are the key player in building the prototype for how your first race, and future races, will be created.

Because if you do not get your prototype off the ground, your race will not happen.

So it goes without saying when it comes to your race, YOU will, or YOU won’t get it done.

No one else will put the passion and effort into your race like you will. And if you give up, your race will die.

You are your race.

Eventually, when your prototype has become stable, and you have enough repeatable processes in place that anyone can be taught to build your races, then (and only then), can you begin to replace yourself as the key player.

But in the beginning, you are the heart of your race.

Being the key player to your racing efforts comes with its perks. Freedom, being your own boss, and Winters off (unless you’re into Winter sports) are good benefits.

But these perks will be short-lived if you don’t put the time in to make your prototype function.

If you do not do it first, it will not get done. And if it does not get done, you will fail.

So don’t fail! Be the center of your race and the champion of your own efforts.

Don’t delegate away your responsibilities, or settle for standards you do not set. If you want to be your own boss, you need to care about being the boss too.

Your goal is to design a system that eventually removes you from having to be in the process.

However, in order to do that, you need to go to work on race by caring how every part of it is designed, managed, and executed.

Care about the details now while you still have control and don’t ever give up!

And now you know.

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!