This is the first blog in our four-part series on how to plan a turkey trot. You can download the full guide to plan a turkey trot here.

Start Early

What are you doing the day after Thanksgiving? Kicking off the planning for next year’s turkey trot, of course! That’s right — it can take up to a year to organize and plan a successful race. You might be able to pull it off in as little as six months, but trust us, you’ll never hear a race director say, “Gee, I sure started planning too soon.”

Like any business venture, start by writing up a plan for your race, including everything that goes into creating the event. Then work backwards from your target race date, scheduling important deadlines. Some items on your to-do list won’t happen until race month, race week or even race day, but others — securing a venue, the support of local officials and any necessary permits — will require your time and attention immediately.

Follow Your Heart…

Before anything else, do some big-picture thinking:

  • Why do you want to plan a race in the first place?
  • Is there a special tie-in with your local community?
  • How many participants do you aim to attract?
  • What overall experience do you hope to deliver?
  • Consider races that you’ve enjoyed and the reasons why.

Craft these ideas and ideals into a mission statement (or, if you’re a visual person, create a vision board) and use it as a guiding principle.

…But Be Realistic

There will be times throughout the planning and production process that you will need to compromise (for example, when working with local authorities to determine your race course) or when your big-picture ideas may not align with your event budget. Be a visionary — but a flexible and accommodating one — for your best chance at success.

Find a Hook

Plan a turkey trot_3With an ever-increasing number of themed running events around the nation, you’ll need to get creative to stand out. What will make your race different from other turkey trots? Find a hook that will appeal specifically to runners in your area, or that is simply a fun and unique departure from existing races. Here are some idea starters:

  • Put a spin on the date. Rather than a traditional Thanksgiving morning race, consider a day-after “Pie Burner” run.
  • Create special race and award divisions for family participation. Calculate family volunteer hours along with the number of race participants and/or their performances in determining the winning teams.
  • Give thanks — in a big way. Create a giant white board at the finish line (or even one at each mile marker) where participants are encouraged to stop and write something they are thankful for. Call out some of the most interesting statements of thanks at the awards ceremony, share images of the board(s) on social media and invite the local press to share your “5K of Thanks” in the paper and on the nightly news.
  • Create a charity tie-in — a natural fit for a Thanksgiving race. Feeding America is a great place to search for your local food bank. Race to Rebuild helps families displaced by disasters return to their homes. Partnering with one of these organizations (or countless others) can add a compelling element to participation and do good for others in the process. You can also donate a portion of each registration fee to charity, offer an additional donation option at checkout or have an on-site race day food drive.

Decide the Details

Select your start/finish venue, course, distance(s), date and start time well in advance.

  • Suggested start/finish venues include local parks, businesses or nearby trailheads (no one wants to drive far on a holiday).
  • Consider an established course, as the permitting process will likely be much easier than starting from scratch.
  • The 5K run/walk distance is your best bet for a turkey trot’s family crowd, as it is relatively all-inclusive; if you want to offer an option for very young children, add a 1-mile fun run to the mix.
  • If your race is on Thanksgiving Day, start early so that participants can get home in time for their family festivities. If you opt for a day-after-Thanksgiving event, people will appreciate a little extra time to sleep in.
  • Be sure to confirm the venue, course, date and time with local authorities prior to making any public announcements.

Secure a Core Staff

It takes a village to produce a successful race. And while a majority of these villagers will ultimately be volunteers, you’ll need a core staff to cover the following key responsibilities:

  • Operations
  • Marketing/Social Media
  • Sponsorship
  • Expo Coordinator
  • Volunteer Coordinator
  • Customer Service
  • Registration
  • Website

Make sure your staff is in it for the long haul, starting with day one of planning. Keep communication going throughout the year so that everyone is informed and on the same page, and so that any challenges can be addressed as they arise, rather than in a mad rush on race week.

Permits: The Joy of (Properly Completed) Paperwork

Oh, the joys of paperwork and red tape, right? We’re kidding, of course, but it’s no joke that you will feel a clear sense of joy and relief knowing that your paperwork is properly filed and your race permits are in place. Here’s a handy Q&A to help make sure that happens.

How Long Does It Take to Get Permits?

Six months to a year is typical for the start-to-finish process. That’s one reason applying for permits should be one of the first priorities in your planning process. The other is that you should never open registration until your race course is confirmed. If your permit application isn’t approved, you’ll have an unhappy bunch of athletes on your hands and you’ll be unlikely to regain their respect.

The exact timing of your permit process will depend on factors like the course, the distance and the estimated number of participants; these variables determine the complexity of your event and its potential effects on the community. Some city governments work like well-oiled machines, while others simply do not — and there’s little you can do except patiently wait.

Where Do I Start?

Depending on your venue, multiple agencies could be involved in the permitting process. You’ll usually need a special event permit from your city government, as well as a permit from the city police department. You may also be required to work with public transit authorities, park officials and more. As a starting point, consult your city government’s website, or call your local police department for guidance.

What Are Some Obvious Obstacles or Challenges to Avoid?

Plan a turkey trot_2Make sure your proposed event does not overlap with any others (same date and similar time and venue). Permitting officials will want to limit the impact on the city, so choose an opening on the calendar. This is obviously tricky with a holiday-themed race, but again, you can get creative by producing a day after “Pie Burner” run or a Thanksgiving Eve “Evening of Thanks” turkey trot.

Also identify any community members (neighborhoods, churches, businesses) that will be impacted by your event due to road closures, parking, spectators, etc. You’ll need to work with them as part of the permitting process.

How Can I Positively Sway the Permitting Authorities?

We’re not going to lie — you’ll likely have a lot of competition for your city’s good graces, simply due to the rise in popularity of road races. But you’re an athlete and you thrive on competition, so tackle this like you would any challenge for the best chance of success.

As with any race, preparation is key. Be organized and professional, and show your city officials that you’re a valuable, reliable partner by sharing the basics of your business plan. While a turkey trot may not have a major tourism draw (something that correlates directly to dollars and thus is likely to give an event director a leg up), don’t hesitate to tug on heartstrings (a particularly effective technique when tied to holiday events). Explain that you’re fundraising for charity, promoting a healthy lifestyle, celebrating community, encouraging participation among all ages and abilities — or all of the above. Be passionate and persistent (while playing fair), and like any race, you’ll have a good shot at a positive result.

How Flexible Should I Be?

Extremely flexible. Remember, your city holds all the cards, so the extent to which you are willing to adjust your event date, start time, course, etc. can make the difference in whether you’re granted a permit and are able to produce a turkey trot at all.

How Much do Permits Cost?

Every city is different, but permits can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the size and specifics of your event. A 100-person 5K will pay a smaller fee than a 15,000-person marathon with live bands on course and at the finish line. Prior to even receiving a permit, you can also expect to pay a permit application fee ranging from $50 to $200 or more.

Can I Make Changes to the Event After the Permit is Final?

Work directly with the permitting authorities as soon as possible if you need to make changes. This may delay you a bit, but it should not take as much time as the initial permitting process.

Whom Can I Turn to for Advice?

Reach out to other local event directors — they’ve all gone through the permitting process and may very well know (and be willing to share) a few tricks to jump through the permitting hoops as efficiently as possible. And remember, down the road when a rookie race director calls you for similar advice, be sure to pay it forward.

Budget: How to Keep Your Turkey Trot from Breaking the Bank

Plan a Turkey Trot in 2016 with our tools and resourcesTo help you in the budgeting process, we’ve created a Race Management Cost Calculator, which most likely contains some line items you never would have considered. Using our calculator, take a long hard look at what you will need and what you expect each item will cost. Along with the larger line items, maintain a miscellaneous “other” fund for little things that can add up (like pens for in-person registration and sunscreen for your volunteers and staff).

Keep in mind that once your budget is in place, you can prioritize mandatory and optional expenses. For example, permits, police and porta-potties are mandatory; gold-plated finisher medals are not.

Here are a few key items of particularly high importance:

Permits, Police and First Aid

We’ve talked extensively about permits (i.e., there’s no way around this cost, and it can vary greatly).

You’ll also need a police presence at your event, as police assist with road closures and security. Contact them as far in advance as possible, provide them with your course map and plan, and request a cost estimate.

Most likely (but not always), you can get medical staff to volunteer as an in-kind sponsorship deal. If not, you’ll need to pay for this mandatory service.

Paid Staff vs. Volunteers

Chances are, you’ll need both paid staff AND volunteers. Invest in the core paid staff you can afford: people you know and trust and expect to be around for the long haul. Don’t skimp on compensating these folks because you’re guaranteed to demand a lot of their time and energy in return.


You’ll need signs everywhere: registration, parking, course maps, course markers, more course markers (trust us, you can never have enough), info booth, start/finish line, athlete food, etc.

Rental Trucks, Toilets, etc.

Now is not the time to call in that long overdue favor from a friend with a 4×4. Pony up the rental cost for a serious-sized commercial truck. Likewise, you’ll need tables and chairs (for aid stations and registrations), traffic cones (to separate runners from traffic, runners from spectators, or runners from runners running the opposite direction) and probably far more porta-potties than you imagine.

Registration and Timing

All race registration platforms charge a transaction fee, which is typically a small percentage of the cost. Be sure to factor this into your budget (unless you choose to pass these fees on to your participants).

Likewise, you’ll need to invest in a sophisticated race timing system (we’re not talking about hiring an individual to stand at the finish with a stopwatch). ChronoTrack can provide a turnkey timing system, complete with either disposable or reusable timing tags, to record and broadcast participants’ precise splits when crossing over your timing and finish mats.


Remember also to take a long hard look at the revenue section of your budget. How many participants do you realistically expect? What will you charge for registration (this fee may need to be adjusted as your total budget picture becomes clear)? Without a doubt, sponsorships are your best bet for boosting your event balance. Cash sponsors are extremely desirable, so aim for those first, but don’t discount sponsors who could provide a product or service that you otherwise would need to buy (e.g., bottled water and post-race food for your finishers, or race day photography).

Do your best to be a brilliant (yet bluntly honest) budgeter and a savvy sponsorship salesperson, and you’ll be well on your way to producing a financially healthy event!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this piece of our larger guide on how to plan a turkey trot that you can download here.

Contact us to learn more about the features above, or for help with any aspect of your Turkey Trot planning. Gobble, gobble!