A very nice and essentially free amenity is to offer pace groups. Your runners will initially (let me explain later why I say initially) love this. It shows that you are not just some stingy race director, focused on collecting a big entry fee and not re-investing into a quality event.
But it will also help you manage your starting line. First, you can place the pace groups strategically at the starting area. Using signage, bright shirts on the pacers and other means of identification, participants will line up accordingly. Even if someone is not looking to follow the 8:15 pace group, they will also not want to go out to fast (or to slow).
So they will likely line up within that group, knowing that after a mile or two, they will run their own race. This will greatly help reduce congestion at the start. And equally important, it will keep slower runners towards the back and not clog up the faster runners.
Now let me explain why I said your runners will love this initially. The key is finding good pace groups. Someone who says they can run a 40 minute five mile race should not necessarily qualify as the 8:00 pace group leader. What if they run 8:30 pace for the first four miles, then hammer the final mile coming in at 40 minutes exactly? That's not 8:00 pace. For pace groups, pace is measured by mile, not the overall average.
So where do you find such people? Try local running clubs, or even better some local semi-elite clubs. And ask them to lead a group below their personal best. Don't ask a runner with a 35 minute personal best for 5 miles to lead the 7 minute pace group. Instead offer them the 8:00 pace group for example.
And make sure they are given the tools during the event to be successful. Give them bright colored shirts, bright numbers, big hats, something that is easily identified during the event. Make sure they know where mile markers are located. If you don't have course clocks on each mile, then make sure they are wearing watches. And don't rely on a Garmin or some other device. A certified course will "be longer" than what a GPS device will measure.
So do some research, invest a little time, and even less money and find the right people. Your runners will love this additional and very thoughtful amenity.
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