Before the Race
Prevention is the best medicine, so the more you can do to avoid any health or safety issues the better. It starts by educating your participants on what they can do to take the right level of responsibility for their own safety. Encourage all participants to make sure they are in good health with no medical issues that could be exasperated by intense physical exercise. We will not delve into legalese here, but this communication needs to be on your website and in your waiver.
Related: Race Insurance and Event Waivers
Communicate with your participants any unique or particularly difficult challenges your specific event may present and encourage to give themselves ample time to train to be prepared to meet the challenge that day. Have an accurate map of your course posted on your website so runners can be familiar with the route prior to race day. This is especially true of trail races and longer events. Is your race at high altitude or in an extreme heat and/or humid area of the country? Remind people to acclimate, hydrate/fuel, and to pay attention to their bodies in general.
Anytime you gather a crowd, there will be safety precautions you must take into account. Unfortunately in the post 9-11 world running events have been targeted to instill fear and harm in our society. Just this past weekend, a race to benefit a Marine Corps charity was cancelled because authorities were alerted to a pipe bomb planted near the start. Thankfully, most likely due to good planning and heightened awareness by law enforcement and the public, tragedy was averted. Work with your local police, fire, and other authorities to help them help you keep your event a safe place for your community.
Depending on the size of your event, barricades leaving and entering the start/finish area can minimize the potential for runner/spectator collisions. In a larger event, the start itself can be a bit chaotic. Encourage runners to line-up behind the starting line according to pace. You can post signs with pace times on them to help people find the right place to help ensure a smooth start and transition out onto the course. If you have any categories for runners with disabilities be sure to take those into consideration as well.
On the Course
Runners and cars and busy intersections can be a recipe for disaster if not handled properly. If your course will be sharing the road with vehicles anywhere make sure to overuse cones and other proper barricades to protect your runners. Place course marshals in these locations as well so that you have someone on site who will remain vigilant and protective of your participants. It goes without saying that you need to also mark your course leaving no doubt to a runner as to where they should go to continue on course. Each course will have its own set of marking challenges. Always err on the side of over marking.
Related: Common Race Volunteer Positons
Having proper medical personnel on-hand for your event is mission critical. Most permit-issuing authorities will require you to have certain resources on-site at your event. It could be an ambulance with EMTs, off-duty police for traffic control, or other requirements. Even if your permit does not require it, you should take every reasonable step you can to make sure you can handle a medical emergency. You need to address medical at the start/finish as well. Staff the medical tent with volunteers who are RN's, EMT's, or other people with medical training.
Related: Choosing a Route for Your Running Event
If your event begins or ends when it is dark or getting dark, then you may want to require participants wear proper reflective safety gear and/or a headlamp. This probably will not apply to most events, but our days are getting shorter. Not allowing runners to wear headphones while running in an event used to be a bigger issue. Today, most do not ban their use altogether, but do make a very strong statement to encourage people to keep the volume low and to remove one earbud so they can remain aware of their surroundings on a busy course. Some race insurance policies may require you to address this issue specifically.
Safety first. We started this article there and we will end it there as well. We do not want to sound too much like your mom, but at RaceDirector we feel this is a non-negotiable for any successful event. We know how hard you work to create great events for your runners. Always go the extra mile in regards to safety!