Business Resources - Special Events - November 2017


For the Knoebel Lumber 5K Road Race, Knoebels begins planning in the spring to organize supplies, volunteers, awards, and partnerships before the race in October. (Credit: Knoebels)

Gold Rush

Running events can be complicated to host, but they offer many benefits to attractions

by Jen A. Miller

According to Running USA, road races in the United States had nearly 17 million finishers in 2016—and that number does not include untimed events like mud runs, color runs, and obstacle course events.

The attractions industry is in on the act—or run—too. Funworld spoke with three facilities that have created events catering to their own goals and needs, whether it is connecting with the community, expanding the shoulder-season crowd, or building toward a world-class event.

The Expert: Blair Faust, senior manager, Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania

The Event: Knoebel Lumber 5K Road Race

This race started in 1993 as a fundraiser, says Faust, who served as race director from 1997 to 2014 and is still involved in the event: “We started it for the public library, and to this day, the proceeds benefit the public library.” The first year, the race drew about 50 finishers; last year, Knoebels had almost 350.

  • DIY What You Can, Hire What You Can’t

  • For a race this size, Knoebels runs just about everything except the timing of the event, which a hired company handles. At first, the timer tracked runners manually. “Now we’ve advanced to a computerized-chip finish, and that makes it a lot easier with the larger volume of runners,” Faust says. 

  • Make a Checklist

  • Checklists and starting planning early are vital. Knoebels’ 5K runs in October, but planning begins in the spring. “It’s better to order supplies, line up your advertising, and have race supplies, because if you wait too long, there’s always going to be a delay,” he says.

  • Go to Your People and Running Fans

  • Some races have outside sponsors, but Knoebels decided against that, relying instead on volunteers from inside the company and a ready-made group of runners willing to help: the local high school cross country team. They help “with preparation as far as folding the shirts and making the packets,” Faust says. 

  • Use Door Prizes to Promote Your Brand

  • Awards are given to the race’s top finishers, but any participant can win door prizes, such as gift certificates to the lumber company that is part of the Knoebels brand.

  • Coordinate with a Local Event or Two

  • This 5K is on the same weekend as a covered bridge festival and craft fair. Having all three events at the same time makes coming to the Elysburg area on a fall weekend more attractive. One family member can run while another attends the craft fair, and everyone can check out those covered bridges—and the amusement park, of course. Faust says Knoebels gets runners “from New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, and they’re coming obviously not just for this 5K race but also to spend the remaining part of their day in the amusement park.”

The Expert: Maggie Warner, public relations manager, Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Water Parks in Wildwood, New Jersey

The Events: “Wild Half,” which includes a half marathon, 8K, 5K, 1K kids run, and Doggie Dash


Morey’s Piers presents runners who participate in its “Wild Half” weekend with free admission to Morey’s Piers amusements and a free-day coupon for a water park. (Credit: Morey's Piers)

When Morey’s Piers discussed putting on a half marathon, it wanted to do more than just host a race; it wanted to create a world-class event. The 2017 “Wild Half” weekend had more than 2,000 finishers across three events. 

  • If You Go Big, Hire Help

  • Morey’s puts on the beach race and doggie dash itself, but for the “Wild Half Weekend,” the attraction operator uses DelMoSports, a race company that handles almost everything, from putting on a race expo, to timing, to setting up barriers and start and finish lines. The race company is also well-informed about race trends and what runners want. For example, participants receive free photos, which is a popular offering in the running world. 

  • If a Date Doesn’t Work, Move It

  • Initially, Morey’s put on the race in late August—still in the Jersey Shore’s summer season, but on a weekend that was not as busy because kids had already started going back to school. Unfortunately, the first year Morey’s planned to put on the event, a hurricane forced a cancellation. The next year, race day was steaming hot. Now, the race series is held on the last weekend in April, a time of year with better weather that brings people to the shore in the spring shoulder season. Also, the area through which the race is run is less crowded, overall.

  • Involve All Stakeholders

  • During the scheduling transition from summer to spring, the race had to skip one year because Morey’s did not have enough time to get all of its neighbors on board, which include five different municipalities and the local business community. “We require a pretty big footprint. In a sense, we’re blocking off streets up to the [Wildwoods] Convention Center,” Warner says. In the spring, “it’s fairly easy because there’s not as much going on.”

  • Bring in Your Brand—and Your Community

  • Runners who participate receive free admission to Morey’s Piers amusements and an e-mailed coupon for a free day in a water park later in the season. This could bring them back into town and to Morey’s, which is one of the overall purposes of hosting the race. Warner says Morey’s knows it is attracting runners who “have not or never would have come to Morey’s Piers otherwise, or Wildwood, in general.”

  • Make Up for Mistakes 

  • The 2016 half-marathon course was a half-mile short due to a miscalculation on where runners should have turned around on a bridge, says Warner. To make up for this mistake, Morey’s offered $50 off registration for the following year's event. The 2017 course was distance certified by USA Track & Field to ensure it would not happen again, and this year’s race went off without a (timing) hitch.

The Expert: Kyle Allison, general manager, Andy Alligator’s Fun Park and Water Park in Norman, Oklahoma

The Event: “Swamp Stomp5K/1K

In 2014, Andy Alligator’s held its first “Swamp Stomp,” which is not a traditional 5K, but instead an obstacle course event (with a 1K as a shorter option). “Seeing a lot of different fun runs and charity runs popping up across the country, we wanted to do something different,” says Allison. Andy’s has had close to 200 participants each year.

  • Skip the Timing

  • Since this was not a traditional road race, Andy Alligator’s decided not to time it. “It’s a fun activity—not about who can run the fastest,” Allison says. 

  • Obstacles Galore

  • Without timing, Andy Alligator’s could focus more on creating an experience rather than a fast course. For obstacles, “we did some traditional mud pits where we flood an area with water,” Allison says. Andy’s also had participants go over hay bales.

  • Use Your Park

  • For the grand finale, participants were in the water park itself. “They finished going through the lazy river at the very end of the race,” says Allison. A finish like that not only made sure to bring participants into the park, but also gave an interesting finish to an already different kind of event. Participants were also given free admission to the water park for that day.

  • Reach Out to Your Vendors

  • The “Swamp Stomp” was a fundraiser for the charity Give Kids The World, so Andy Alligator’s recruited businesses with which they already had relationships. “Work with the current partners you already have to get donations of in-kind services,” Allison says. For example, the park’s marketing company donated graphic design services, its beverage provider provided water, and its food vendor donated finish-line snacks. Acquiring those items via donation allows you to give as much of the money raised as possible directly to the charity, says Allison. 

  • Lock Down a Date—Early

  • Andy Alligator’s will not host the event this year because it could not find a date that worked for the park and the community, which was a must since the “Stomp” is not just on its property. “Try to get a date that doesn’t conflict with a lot of other community events,” says Allison—as early as possible.