Anyone who has participated in a 5K knows it’s an incredibly rewarding experience. You train for months and then get to see all your hard work pay off on the big day. It’s rewarding from the organizational perspective too. All the small details add up to an amazing event. If you create a 5K route that sets your race apart, you’re well on your way to a successful race!
Where to Start When Planning Your Route
The best place to start planning your route is online. SpectaSport recommends getting a free account on a site like Strava.com, because race organizers can:
- Manually design the rough draft of the course from your desk, rather than designing by walking around your presumed course and finding out it’s a half mile too short (and repeating the process night after night!)
- Test and fine tune the course in real life, using Strava’s mobile app
- Check out SpectaSport’s Semi Annual Race Series
- Connect with other runners
You could also go for an alternative option like USA Track & Field’s simple mapping website.
Just two notes when you’re using GPS apps:
- Keep in mind that distances will almost always be a little short from the real world (or wheel measured) because of how GPS calculates from mini-waypoints.
- Being in a country that doesn’t use the metric system, we’ve met race directors who didn’t know that “5K” stands for 5 Kilometers (ie 5,000 meters, which converts to 3.1 miles). Advertising a 5K race that isn’t 5 Kilometers long is fraud, so make sure you double check the distance!
Should I Certify My Course?
Certifying your 5K route means paying to have your course professionally measured using specific tools and procedures, marking the exact start and finish locations with surveyor’s pins. You’ll receive certification if the course is precisely the advertised distance—to the inch!
These are the types of races that should definitely get certified:
- Professional races
- Qualifying races for Olympics, Boston Marathon, etc.
- Any road race longer than 5 miles
- Races in certain geographical regions (SpectaSport can tell you if your race is in an area where certifying a course is good marketing or even essential to attract runners)
For these races, course certification is less important:
- Most local charity 5K races (unless your race is in one of those geographical locales where certifying a course is considered important)
- First year 5K races. SpectaSport doesn’t recommend certifying your course until the second year when you’ve had at least one year of experience under your belt to see if unexpected circumstances show up on race day (or on weekends) that could impact your race layout. Once a course is certified, you do not have the flexibility to relocate the start and finish lines.
Here’s a real life example of it being a good thing that a race wasn’t certified:
The race director of a race was a teacher at the school where the race was held, so he was on premises every weekday. But, crucially, he wasn’t on premises on weekends and didn’t realize that four big dumpsters were brought in to accommodate the huge number of youth soccer games held on the school grounds during weekends. Of course, the dumpsters were located right where this teacher had planned to put his finish line.
As the course was not certified, he was able to simply pace off a new finish line location and also relocate the start line by a corresponding number of strides. With a certified course, this would have been much more difficult because of the accuracy required.
Marking Your Course on Race Day
When race day arrives, two things are going to make your job a lot easier:
Make sure your start and finish line(s) are marked permanently in some way so that you can find them the following year.
The evening before the race, mark your start and finish lines with cones, stakes or other high visibility item so they can be located on race morning in the dark. Do this as late as possible the evening before the race—we have seen a number of races where parks or public works employees threw away the cones/stakes so they could mow the grass.
Other Tips to Creating an Amazing 5K Route
- Decide between the city route or the scenic route. This is going to depend largely on your location. Perhaps you’re located in the suburbs, close to the city and the country, what do you choose? Think about the perspective of the race participants. Passing by shops and unique town architecture can be exciting. On the other hand, a more woodsy trail or a route past a lake can be incredibly beautiful. Whatever you do, make it memorable.
- Consider the difficulty of the race. It’s important to take the topography of your route into account. Inclines and declines can all be part of a diverse and interesting race. If the terrain is difficult, make sure to advertise it as such so people know what to be prepared for.
- Involve the proper authorities. It’s important to contact all the relevant officials regarding your 5K race. Depending on where your event is held, you may need help redirecting traffic patterns and placing additional signage. Make sure the community is aware of your race well in advance so everyone regards it as a positive experience.
- Make it unique to your 5K race. Many runners are competing in multiple races and are looking forward to new and exciting routes. Take our advice, if a route has been recently used by another race – just don’t use it!
Plan Your Dream 5K Race with SpectaSport
SpectaSport is a race timing company that also provides race support services. Whether you are organizing your first 5K or you’re a seasoned pro, SpectaSport has a decade of valuable race experience to bring to the table. Start planning today by filling out our online form or calling (610) 306-0574.