Version: April 22, 2020
This document is open under the Creative Commons License. You can download, edit, and distribute the content here under your name and brand. It was originally created by RunSignup with input and suggestions from dozens of race organizers and industry leaders including RRCA.
Please note that this is a living document and changes will continue to be made.
We are moving into a new phase in our country. The first was denial that COVID-19 posed a threat to the United States. The second was acceptance of the situation and an accompanying feeling of helplessness. We are now starting to move into a third phase. The topic of when and how things open up again is becoming the dominant topic rather than death rate and overwhelmed hospitals.
Each local community has a desire to reopen and find their own new normal in safe ways. If the endurance industry can develop sound practices based on local health guidelines, we have a chance to be one of the first ways that communities can regather – at safe social distances.
The endurance community is made up of tens of thousands of micro communities – races, clubs, stores, timers, nonprofits, race organizations, sponsors, volunteers and more. This diversity brings strength to our community because passion drives much of the efforts to put on races. These communities are spread across this huge country and have access to amazing resources.
The diversity will result in creative ideas. Our industry’s sense of community will help spread ideas that make sense and work. Just as races have rapidly adapted to virtual events over the past weeks, races will learn how to put on safe events and allow the micro communities putting on those races to regain momentum.
The goal of this living document is to provide ideas for a suggested path forward for races in the post-coronavirus environment that different groups in the endurance industry can tailor for their specific location and needs. We expect that different governing bodies, race organizations, timers, and other industry partners will create official industry policies and guidelines, and we hope that this living document with crowd-sourced information can help to inform that.
You can download as a Word document and make it your own. We also hope that this aggregate source of best practices, creative ideas, and considerations from individuals and organizations that have been in the industry for decades can provide valuable guidance for everyone as we define our industry’s new and healthy normal. Please keep in mind that the guidelines in this document are suggestions and ideas to consider as you look towards putting on your races after coronavirus, and that every event should consult and comply with national, state, and local governmental orders as well as national and local health officials’ guidelines. We welcome all feedback, and please let us know if you have additional content to add to this document by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com.
A Rapidly Changing Situation
Different parts of the country are seeing different levels of COVID-19 activity. Currently, some parts of the United States nationally are entering the acceleration phase of the pandemic, as others emerge, and still others remain largely unaffected. The duration and severity of each pandemic phase can vary depending on the characteristics of the virus and the local public health response. Because of this, we are all operating with the uncertainty of a rapidly changing situation
Check the CDC Situation Analysis for the most up-to-date analysis and recommendations.
Identify and closely follow the most reliable local and state sources of information for COVID-19 threat levels, state orders, etc.
A Community Approach
Sharing resources and conclusions will help all of the micro communities that make up the endurance industry to standardize procedures, making events smoother and safer for everyone.
At the same time, it’s important to recognize that there is not a single set of rules that can be applied to all races. There is a need to localize your race plan for your community, working closely with local health officials, volunteers, participants, and clubs in your area.
Testing and Proximity Apps
There are enormous resources that will be put into opening up the economy. We are optimistic that there will soon be adequate supplies of PPE for social situations, making it easy for races and runners. Below are some resources about the progress made towards achieving wider testing availability as well as proximity apps and contact tracing innovations.
As testing becomes more widespread, people who know that they have COVID-19 antibodies will feel increasingly confident participating in healthy social activities like race. Likewise, it will be simpler to prevent people who test positive for COVID-19 (particularly those who do not show symptoms) from participating in races.
Proximity Apps and Contact Tracing
We are already seeing significant technology and human resource efforts allocated to contact tracing efforts. As these efforts become more advanced in the coming weeks, races will be able to rely more heavily on these resources to determine who can and who cannot participate in the race.
Best Practices for Runners
While this document is intended to provide guidelines and recommendations for race directors and other groups involved with directing and managing races, it is important to communicate best practices for runners. You can add these resources to your race website, and include links in pre-race emails. Here are some resources to start with:
- Research indicates that face masks “could prevent transmission of human coronaviruses and influenza viruses from symptomatic individuals.” This study states that the risk of transmission both outdoors and when not in a crowd is dramatically reduced.
- This self-published study has recommendations for the distance between walkers, runners, and bikers based on the distance that droplets from breathing/sneezing/coughing can linger. “On the basis of these results the scientist advises that for walking the distance of people moving in the same direction in 1 line should be at least 4–5 meter, for running and slow biking it should be 10 meters and for hard biking at least 20 meters. Also, when passing someone it is advised to already be in a different lane at a considerable distance e.g. 20 meters for biking”. However, this research has not been peer reviewed, and does not take into account the likelihood of transmitting the disease through these droplets.
- Should face masks be worn when running? This article from the New York Times suggests that it’s more about policy and politeness than controlling viral spread.
In these early stages of beginning to restart races, a more conservative approach and requiring participants to wear masks when near others is likely the best, both in terms of reducing any potential risk of transmission and for making all participants feel comfortable and safe at your event.
- Require runners to bring masks that they must wear during CheckIn, Start Line, when passing other runners, and after finishing the race.
- Races should plan to have a supply of face masks to provide to runners who do not bring a face mask to the event.
- One of the big unknowns is how to enforce this policy so that everyone feels safe at the event. This will likely differ between communities, as there is wide disparity in the strictness and adherence to state and local orders.
- The Alanic 7-7-7 program can be used to provide runners with a place to purchase protective gear like masks, while giving back to the race itself.
Other Guidelines, Conversations, and Policies
It's not possible to have one blanket policy for our diverse endurance industry. There are numerous efforts that are going on to address different parts of the industry. As information becomes available, we will continue to add those resources here - and please email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with links to sources that we haven’t added yet.
- IIRM and World Athletics have teamed up to put in place new guidelines for mass events to prevent outbreaks. They are doing a great job of talking to race directors and governing bodies in the endurance industry to balance what is needed from an outbreak prevention perspective and what’s feasible for race directors to implement.
- RRCA launched a survey to better understand runners’ attitudes towards participating in races and club runs. We’ve included some preliminary findings from their survey throughout this document to better understand how participants will view different aspects of a race.Final results will be issued in a week.
- RunningUSA held a conversation style webinar on 4/21 to share ideas between industry leaders on what the “new normal” for mass events. If you missed the webinar, you can check out the notes that RunSignup took when we attended or you can watch the recording here.
- NYCRuns surveyed 3,500+ runners in a preliminary report distributed April 21, 2020. The overall finding was that not every athlete is going to come back immediately, but more than 2/3 will be back sooner rather than later.
Your pre-race checklist will be considerably longer and more nuanced in the post-coronavirus environment. This section is intended to give you a foundation of ideas on how to plan a safe and compliant race that you can tailor to your local community. We will continue to add new ideas and update with relevant information as the COVID-19 situation evolves.
We also recommend checking out these additional resources if you are looking for more information about planning a race:
Applying for a Permit
At this time, it’s not certain what the post-coronavirus permit application process will look like. We know that cities are financially hurting, and that means they may look for ways to generate more revenue. It’s possible that permit costs could increase in the coming weeks and months. On the other hand, cities and municipalities may be desperate for healthy ways to bring people together again, and work hand-in-hand with races to accomplish this goal. If you don’t know where to start with the permit process, reach out to your timer who will likely be able to share insight on their local experiences.
A permit is generally one of the keys to your race; at the same time, it’s necessary to have your plan in place before applying for a permit.
- As of April 21, 2020: Across the board, race directors have permits in a holding pattern. Local permit agencies will not officially receive them until social distancing guidelines are relaxed. All agencies are being cautious.
- Check with your local officials to determine whether a permit is required to hold your race.
- If you have produced races in the past, keep in touch with your contacts in charge of permits as closely as possible. Work with them on changes and modifications to your race to proceed in a modified format at a planned date in the future.
- Keep in mind that when they re-open, permitting agencies will be flooded with requests and you will need to be patient. Create a modified race plan now for your future events (even if they aren’t until later this year or 2021) to be prepared.
- If you aren’t able to get a permit, pivot to a virtual race as a way to get some cash flow to sustain your organization until 2021.
As we continue to gather more knowledge from the community, we will add experiences that race directors have in receiving permits to hold races, as well as best practices and lessons learned for obtaining permits.
Size of Race
The size of your race depends on more than the total number of participants allowed to register; rather, it’s your ability to provide an experience that complies with local and state guidelines and allows for appropriate social distancing throughout the race.
- Check guidelines from your local and state authorities on social distancing and how many people are allowed at a gathering. These guidelines will likely be impacted by the level of transmission in your local community. To better understand the level of community transmission in your community, consult with your local and/or state public health department. See CDC Mass Gathering Guidelines for more details: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/large-events/mass-gatherings-ready-for-covid-19.html#follow-up
- It’s also important to consider the level of transmission in the areas from which your attendees may travel. If caseloads in your municipality are extremely low, you may be able to limit the participation to locals only and minimize or limit out of town runners to come in to run the race.
- There could be legal issues with this if someone were to claim discrimination; it may be worthwhile circulating the idea with your local officials and race committee to determine whether this is a path your race wants to take or not.
- You may want to consider only marketing the event to your local community and use limited targeting if you do online marketing
- You will also want to consider additional variables that contribute to the overall size of your race, including:
- The density of attendees within confined areas given your starting line area, and how that compares to local and state guidelines.
- ■Base your corral or wave starts off of these guidelines
- ■Set up corrals with caps on your registration platform to ensure that you don’t have too many people in one corral.
- How long your course can be kept open. This could be several hours on a road or several days on an off-road course.
It’s difficult to define what constitutes a small race versus a large race; however, it’s safe to assume that small races (whether it’s 10 or 1,000 participants) will likely be allowed to return first. This will happen at different times throughout the country as determined by municipalities and states.
Preliminary data from RRCA’s runner survey indicates that the smaller the race, the more comfortable the runners will be:
For smaller events, there is a shorter timeline needed to be ready and there is less economic risk because the financial outlay is smaller. The gradual return of small races will give race directors and timers the opportunity to determine the most effective and efficient ways to hold an event, slowly building up to the return of larger races in the future.
Large races have more challenges in making a comeback. These events have more participants, generate and require more revenue, and can have national spread. There are two potential benchmarks for determining when large events that inevitably have crowds will be allowed to return: the success of smaller races and the return of larger sporting events.
- The Berlin Marathon, scheduled for September 27, was cancelled. It’s one of the first major fall sporting events cancelled.
- For some races (especially large ones with a long lineage like Boston), the best race plan for 2020 may be to time a smaller elite wave only.
- The success of smaller races, gradually building up to larger events.
- The ability to transition to a hybrid (in-person and virtual) or multi-day event
- The return of larger sporting events like college sports, NFL, concerts, etc. These events have more risks in terms of contagion; at the same time, they also have better lawyers to encourage negotiations with governing agencies on the return of mass gatherings. A municipality that allows large football events/games would have difficulty justifying turning down a race event that improves the health of their community.
Location of Event and Course Design
It’s going to be easier to have races in rural areas. Regardless of the course design, metropolitan areas will be more challenging in terms of road closures, logistics, and transportation.
Distance of Race
- Longer races may want to consider shortening their distance in the near term. For example, drop a marathon to a half marathon or a 10k to a 5k. This could help manage the time of road closures, volunteers on site, etc. while maintaining proper social distancing.
- Loop courses are generally going to be preferable to an out and back course, as you won’t need to double the people on the road at any time.
- You can limit the need to close down a full road by using cones to block traffic in one lane rather than the full road.
- Consider whether or how you can use the sidewalk and biking paths, particularly with smaller races and/or smaller corrals.
- Point to point courses may be more challenging than a course with the same start and finish. In addition to starting line logistics, your race will need to implement plans to ensure the safe and virus-free transportation of participants, spectators, and gear.
- Consider the costs involved in closing a road. In the pre-coronavirus world, some small towns offered this for free because they wanted people to visit. This logic could apply to towns that want to promote a community event that’s safe.
- With road races, you typically have to pay for police officers. This is one of the largest expenses, and must be considered in your race logistics and financial plans.
- Trails present a more economically viable alternative to roads for races, depending on when municipalities begin to issue permits again.
- The ability to get a permit depends on your municipality, state, and the trail/park. National/State parks are weary of keeping staff on-hand for a large event if there is a health risk.
- Most trail races are loop courses, giving them an inherent advantage to spreading out runners.
- However, trails can leave less room than a road for proper social distancing between runners, particularly when passing other runners.
- Require runners to use a buff/mask when they are within 5 - 10 meters of or passing another person on the trail. Your race could provide branded buffs to runners instead of a traditional t-shirt, or require runners to bring their own. This policy is one that runners, like professional runner Aisha Praught-Leer, are already implementing on training runs: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-zkxiZJieq/
- The size of waves and corrals may need to be decreased to adhere to proper social distancing, particularly triathlons hosted at pools.
- Transition areas will need to be sanitized between waves and corrals, and participants will need to be aware of these sanitary measures being taken.
- It’s important for triathlon directors to consider that athletes aren’t training for the swim since pools are closed, and very few people have access to open water/private pools. This may increase liability issues if participants are unable to complete the swim.
- Many participants will travel to a triathlon. This travel could require more money spent on hotels, restaurants, and transportation - fees that many participants may not be able to spend in the near future. Additionally, the natural geographic spread of participants may make it difficult to keep participation truly local.
- In the near term, triathlons may need to pivot to a run, duathlon, and/or have a virtual scoring plan in place for holding virtual triathlons. The virtual scoring option can be handled by your timer.
- Public transportation will be more limited in terms of its schedule and will feel less secure, which could impact races in metropolitan areas.
- For large urban races: Potential coordination with car sharing apps (like Lyft, Uber) for opportunities to do transportation between the start and finish line instead of buses.
- Fewer people will feel comfortable carpooling. Ample parking will be more important.
- Requiring people to stay in their cars until the start of the race could be an effective way to implement social distancing during CheckIn and at the start line.
Emergency & Cancellation Plans
Having a contingency plan for emergencies and last minute cancellations is necessary. At this point, our industry is better prepared to expect the unexpected. You can view detailed action plan steps to take here.
- For events happening in the near-term that are in limbo (June - September), it may be prudent to set up a shorter registration period closer to the event. This should give you more time to prepare if the event is cancelled as opposed to needing to refund many participants at the last minute. It seems likely that if your even is able to proceed, there will be significant last minute registrations (primarily on race day) due to pent up demand for races.
- Marketing via waitlists: One creative idea we heard is to enable waitlists for all events and get contact information for all interested participants. See if the race is going to happen or not, and if yes, you can open up the waitlist. This doesn’t do much for cash flow, but it’s a great way to grow your marketing lists.
- When you set up registration, give your participants the option to receive emergency text messages from your race. This gives your race the flexibility to communicate last minute delays or cancellations via text in addition to email so that you can more easily reach all of your participants (even if they aren’t checking their email).
- Emergency plan options include:
- Changing the date to later in the year
- Canceling this year’s event
- Hold a virtual event
- Make sure you have flexible participant management options in place that allow participants to easily defer to future years, change their registration fee to a donation, etc.
- Make sure that your financial plan allows you to execute your emergency plan, whether that’s hosting an event next year with a significant number of deferrals, offering full/partial refunds, or funding potential chargebacks.
- Your emergency plan should include your communication plan to ensure that your participants know what options are available. See best practices for communicating emergencies and cancellations here.
One of the big questions that has come up in discussions: How will you handle if a runner lets you know that they tested positive for COVID-19 after your race? How do you ensure that you can alert the most at-risk participants without violating privacy?
- One idea is that you could potentially go back to your timer and try to figure out where they were on the race course via split times. But that gets tricky. Ultimately, you will need to notify everyone (while keeping the person who was sick anonymous).
- Recommend to runners to improve their own knowledge of whether or not they have come in contact with a positive coronavirus case. Apple and Google have teamed up to embed a feature in iPhones and Android devices that would enable users to track infected people they’d come close to. Participants will be able to run with their phones and use this technology to determine whether or not they come in contact with a positive coronavirus case (at the race or otherwise).
We are optimistic that tracking technology (combined with human-led contact tracing efforts) will help race directors put on safe events, and encourage participants to get back to races faster. It’s likely that this sort of technology will become a foundation for endurance events’ emergency plans and participant safety.
In normal times, finish-line EMT’s and ambulances are required by many municipalities. With increased medical concerns, don’t overlook on-site medical care.
- IIRM and World Athletics have teamed up to put in place new guidelines for mass events to prevent outbreaks. We will add these policies and recommendations to this living document as they become available.
- One of their big focuses is how the medical side can assist with permitting for races. Local health departments are going to be involved in permitting moving forward, and IIRM can help the endurance community by providing mitigation and outbreak prevention strategies to meet these new local standards.
- EMT and medical professionals in many communities are stretched thin due to increased time required for care (with additional protective measures) and a workforce that is out due to illness concerns or family needs. A stabilized medical community is necessary for races to proceed.
- That being said, there are medical workers, specifically those who work on elective surgeries, who are being laid off due to declines in revenue. There are also medical professionals who are passionate about the sport and want to contribute to restarting it. This indicates that there may be individuals with appropriate medical training who could be available to provide medical care at races, either through paid and/or volunteer positions.
- New medical concerns may arise, with hydration changes due to limiting water stops, breathing or overheating concerns from protective gear, and added anxiety around asthma attacks. Additionally, there could be lingering health effects from COVID-19 that may require medical attention.
- Communicating the medical staff coverage that you will have at your race can help participants to feel safe signing up and participating, so be sure to add this information to your website, email, and other marketing materials.
- Make sure emergency contact and number, along with medical issues, are printed/written on the bibs.
Procurement and Contract Provisions
It’s important to work with your vendors to secure the most flexible contracts available for your race.
A major issue for timers is if they are providing goods and services for a race that’s suddenly cancelled and if they don’t get their fees paid up front. That means timers will have sunk costs (like bib tags or time spent setting up race registration) that they aren’t getting paid for.
- Some timers are doing non-refundable deposits up front with the contract. This could be a flat fee or a percentage of the overall quote.
- Timers that have a per participant fee will invoice after the event. It’s best to collect this per participant fee at the time of registration, as a non-refundable fee.
- Timers who provide additional goods like medals will likely start doing invoices for these sunk costs up front instead of post-race.
- It’s important to clarify the responsibilities and decision chain of the race director and the timer in the event of a cancellation or change.
Protective Equipment Procurement
Manufacturers who typically produce race apparel and swag are offering protective gear that may be available for races to purchase to protect volunteers and/or offer as swag or add-ons for participants.
Insurance has always been a top priority for races and running clubs, and as we restart our industry it’s more important than ever. Insurance is complex and there is not a one-size fits all approach.
- Every race and organization should have the goal of self-insuring their events by building a financial reserve for emergencies. The recommended percentage of this reserve should fall somewhere between 5-20% of net revenue from all registrations.
- If you have an existing insurance policy, you will likely want to consider sticking with it. Now is not a good time to shop around. There are going to be a lot of opportunists who will promise things, but they may not have the claims history or coverage process to back up those promises.
- It’s extremely important to understand what the policy that you are purchasing covers and doesn’t cover. Look at different clauses - i.e. general event liability vs event cancellation vs participant cancellation
There are a number of relevant insurance types that are specific to endurance events. In this section, we provide some general notes about general liability insurance, event cancellation insurance, and registration insurance. Please see RRCA’s Insurance Guidelines for more nuanced information about race insurance.
General Liability Insurance
- General liability insurance for your race is required. If a claim arises from your event, defending the claim can generate extraordinary legal expenses. General liability insurance policies for races should cover the cost of litigation as well as any settlement costs related to a claim.
- Governing bodies that offer insurance like RRCA and USAT are very specialized and require certain levels of operating standards of people in that insurance pool.
- Liability insurance hasn't changed in terms of cost structure, at least through 2020.
Virtual Event Insurance
- USAT: Expanded insurance for virtual events.
- RRCA: Also expanded insurance for virtual events because they want to be able to cover for members who have events on the books that have had to go virtual.
- There is some concern in the space of insurance for new virtual races that are coming up and aren’t attached to a reputable race management company.
Event Cancellation Insurance
- Event cancellation insurance prices may increase, potentially astronomically.
- One race director has reported receiving an initial quote of 1-1.5% on gross for event cancellation insurance (excluding COVID-19, but including other pandemics).
- The general consensus is that this seems like a pretty good quote and a worthwhile investment for races that can afford it.
- Event cancellation insurance isn’t required. Be sure to have sufficient financial reserves to handle chargebacks and/or refunds, flexible participant options (i.e. deferrals, refunds, virtual), and a robust emergency plan in place.
- There will be pandemic clauses for event cancellation insurance. It’s important to understand whether the insurance you purchase will cover your event if there is an uptick in COVID-19 cases in your area, forcing you to cancel the event.
Registration Insurance (for Participants)
- Read the terms and conditions of registration insurance policies for participants. For example, Allianz registration insurance does cover the registration fee if you have COVID-19 and cannot attend a race. Allianz does not cover the registration fee if a race is cancelled, whether that’s because of a pandemic or weather.
- Make sure that your participants understand the registration insurance policy that your race offers. Communicate the provisions in plain and easy-to-understand language.
- We anticipate that some participants will want the option to purchase registration insurance in case they get sick and are unable to attend your race.
Events have long struggled to find the optimal number of porta-potties. With sanitation concerns, the formula is likely to change. At this time, there are shortages of sanitation products, and some of these recommendations may not be feasible.
- Provide sanitation options like hand wipes right outside each porta potty door.
- Ensure that each porta-potty is stocked with hand sanitizer.
- Talk to your vendor about the process of refilling sanitizer if it runs out.
- Lower the ratio of runners per porta-potty to limit lines and account for increased time for sanitization.
- Increase the physical footprint by adding some space between port-a-potties to keep lines spaced out. Cluster only a few porta-potties together.
- Provide hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations outside of each port-a-potty
- Keep a volunteer(s) on-site to monitor and restock supplies continuously. As a more extreme example, at the 2015 Liberia Marathon in Monrovia, held in the wake of Ebola, volunteers sanitized porta potties between uses while wearing full PPE.
Love it or hate it, swag is a motivator for runners - and people will be eager to get new “in-person” race gear. However, it’s important to note that it’s ok to put on a low-key, no frills event without swag if you aren’t able to coordinate it given the points made below. Just be sure to communicate up front to your registrants and make sure pricing reflects that so that no one is upset.
There are several new considerations for races operating currently.
Supply Chain Disruptions. The possibility of future waves of coronavirus infections make it difficult to predict what factory operations will be interrupted.
- Verify what products your vendors keep in stock versus what is ordered on a custom basis, and proceed with caution on products that are not already in stock.
- Talk to vendors about their sourcing options, and seek out vendors who work with multiple factories in multiple countries.
- Discuss tiered ordering in which you can order swag early and have it produced at that time, then add additional runs later as needed.
- Plan for swag to arrive earlier than normal to allow for delays.
Swag number estimates. Runner behavior, including their likelihood of registering early, is likely to be impacted, making old algorithms for estimating swag needs a challenge.
Distribution. Standard swag pickups represent an additional large gathering point, while mailing swag creates mail delivery complications and added cost. Please see Finish Line Flow for more information about medal distribution at the finish line.
- Extend your pickup over several days to limit crowding. Consider having registrants sign up for a specific time-slot for pickup to further spread out the risk.
- Mail packets ahead of race day, or offer it as an option to participants. Multiple companies are able to offer fulfillment services where they ship your swag directly to participants. Some options for fulfillment include emedia, BoulderBibs, and Virgo3.
- Shipping services with tracking information is recommended for shipping swag, with USPS First Class typically considered the least expensive.
- If shipping swag, either as an organization or through a fulfillment service, assume some number of packets will be lost in the mail and order extras accordingly.
Protective Swag. New regulations and concerns are shaping the type of gear that runners need. Offer race swag that is functional in the new environment.
- Consider a Buff or other version of protective face material in place of a shirt. Leslie Jordan offers both a face wrap and a non-medical cloth mask option, and many other companies have similar versions.
- Allow runners to select (or add-on) a personal hydration option so they do not need to use water stops. Include items like hand-held water bottles, waist hydration belts, or collapsible cups and water bottles.
Go Virtual (for Swag). Use services like RunSignup Sponsor Offers, Fanomena, Virtual Event Bags, or Digital Event Bag to focus on virtual swag rather than physical swag.
- Think outside the box, and beyond just in-kind donations from a sponsor. For example, work with a local running store to identify an affordable shirt option that the runner can opt to claim. The shirts can be kept on-hand or ordered based on claimed offers, and the race can cover some or all of the cost, depending on the sponsor type.
- Work with local businesses that are struggling and offer small coupons to participants. For example, a $5-$10 coupon for a take-out restaurant is a good value for the runner, but also brings people to the local business to support their operations.
Plan a Virtual Option(s)
Virtual races are events (runs/walks/rides/etc.) that can be completed by participants anywhere over a set or open range of time. Why offer a virtual option?
- Even if you get permission from local officials to host a race, there will be people who are not comfortable attending any sort of non-essential social gathering. Offer these participants a Run Anywhere option that they can complete on their own time, with the ability to submit their results to the race.
- Offers a sense of accomplishment similar to the experience of participating in a real event
- Limits waste of previously ordered medals, bibs and other swag
- In areas with strict social distancing guidelines that won’t provide permits to host a race, make your event virtual from the start. See guidelines on how to create a virtual race here.
- Our community has become extremely creative with virtual races during the peak of COVID-19.
The ultimate cost management strategy is to cancel your event for this year and go fully virtual. With costs likely to rise in some areas, new areas of expense (like PPE), and limited savings to fall back on, races may find that they have the most success with a virtual event.
There are other creative and unique ways to cut costs, and we will continue to share new ideas here:
- Lean on the all-volunteer model of race management as events are allowed to re-start until things slowly progress to a return to normal.
- Consider a no or low-frills model with no swag, finish line party, etc.
- This model can help provide
- Offer premium pricing for frills (lE., shirts only as an add-on, or post-race beer included only for a higher event price).
- Consider untimed events for charity runs/walks where the focus is on the cause rather than the “race”.
- Present the elimination of provided food/drinks as a positive (reducing risk for participants) rather than as a cost-cutting measure.
- Work with cities to find courses that require minimal road closings.
- Order swag only after a clear deadline, with clear communication about when participants will receive their swag, to eliminate costs of over-ordering shirts, medals, etc.
The uncertainty of how to secure sponsors and give them visibility is a problem facing all events. There are still creative ways to include your sponsors.
- Be kind in your communication with existing and potential sponsors. Now is not the time to be aggressive with a potential or previously made sponsor commitment. Even if they are unable to follow through on a promised commitment to your race, continue to check in on them. Strengthening relationships with sponsors during this difficult time will have immediate personal rewards, and potential future sponsorship money as the economy recovers (and yes, the economy will recover).
- Sponsor agreements should include virtual benchmarks (website, RaceJoy advertising, digital race bags, email and text communications, etc.) wherever possible to ensure a sustainable relationship in the event of a change to the race.
- All businesses are taking a financial hit right now. If your regular sponsors are not able to financially support your race, see if they are able to provide some sort of in-kind donation. Even if their product isn’t directly useful to your race, you could offer it as a prize to your participants.
- Present your race as a cost-effective marketing opportunity for sponsors. Provide them with real data on their virtual exposure and enable them to offer discounts and special offers to your participants. You can get creative, even renaming events at your race after your sponsors to give them additional attention.
- Look towards innovation coming from other sporting events facing similar sponsorship challenges- from professional sports to the NCAA to clubs, there will be ideas that our industry can customize and adapt to our sponsor and participant audiences.
While it’s no guarantee against chargebacks, a solid refund policy is a starting point for setting expectations for your participants and potentially helping fight chargeback.
- It’s best to include your refund policy as a pro-active checkbox in the registration path that’s separate from the race waiver. This can be set up as a custom question on your registration platform.
- You should also add the refund policy to the race waiver.
- Additionally, add your refund policy to your race website so that it’s simple to refer to in communication with participants seeking a refund or to fight a chargeback.
Examples of good refund policies include:
- This event follows the standard running industry policy: all entry fees are non-refundable. When you register for this event, you are making a non-refundable purchasing decision and must agree to this policy. You may not give or sell your number to another individual outside of the authorized transfer policy and process - if you do, this will result in disqualification and banishment from this event. This policy stays in effect whether you are injured, have an unexpected business or family emergency, illness, pregnancy, etc. There are NO exceptions. Once you register, unrecoverable race course services and items are paid for for you as if you will be attending the event.
- We reserve the right to postpone or cancel the event due to events out of our control such as a natural disaster or emergency. No refunds will be issued under these circumstances. We may also alter the courses and distances at any time if required due to course blockages or other restrictions or impediments.
- NO REFUND FOR ANY REASON. I understand that all fees paid for The Event are non-refundable for any reason. If The Event is cancelled because of weather, natural disaster, governmental or court order or any other reason, refunds will not be given. If possible the event will be postponed and your entry will be transferred to a new date. There will be no fee refunds for a postponed or canceled event. The Event will consider on a case-by-case basis a request for refund by active military who are suddenly deployed and cannot participate in The Event, with official documentation supporting such deployment.
It is a best practice to require participants to agree to the refund during the registration process, and save their response. Additionally, the refund policy should be listed on the website and included in the confirmation email.
Standard race waivers should be updated to include language specifically addressing health guidelines for participating in events. An example would be:
- “As it applies to my participation in this race, Iagree to abide by the Center for Disease Control (CDC)'s recommendations for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 and attest to having read the CDC's guidance at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html. I also agree to abide by any COVID-19 distancing and other safety guidelines issued by the state, the community or by this race for my participation in this race.”
You can also check out RRCA’s suggested language for waivers.
Additionally, involved parties (race registration companies, race production companies hired as a third party, municipalities, etc.) may want to include their own clauses in the waiver to protect themselves from potential liability.
Based on the size of your race, you may want to enter a participant cap for the overall race or for individual events within your race. If you are using caps to control the flow of participants, it could be beneficial to set up corrals so that people are appropriately spaced out at the start line and on the course.
Corrals are a great tool for keeping people spaced out at the start and throughout the race, ensuring social distance is practiced.
- You can set up corrals in very flexible ways. For example, set them up by estimated finish time so that you have the fastest athletes starting first. Another way to do this would be letting people choose a time slot to start.
- Apply caps to limit the number of people in each corral.
- For larger events (1000+ events): To comply with spacing requirements and limit the amount of time spent standing in a crowd, have each corral set at a different race time.
- Potentially require participants to remain in their vehicles, or at a certain spaced out distance from the starting line, up until their corral is called by the starter.
- For smaller (>1000 events): Setup micro-corrals, with very small groups going off in 5-10 minute increments. Each runner gets their start time before the race.
Hybrid Events - In-Person and Virtual
Hybrid events that offer in-person and virtual event options will become the norm as we navigate the post-coronavirus transition to hosting races.
- List each event in your race as physical or virtual from the beginning. This allows for room to say service was delivered if service was initially listed as virtual.
- Charities for at-risk populations (Cancer patients, etc.) should offer virtual options for participants who are not comfortable showing up in person.
- All races should offer this option to accommodate individual preferences. Provide runners with a course map (could be via an app or just add to your website). Set a time period when they can run the course, for example 2 weeks, and submit their result.
- Offer a longer-term experience (a training program, race series, etc).
- If your race is timed, let your virtual participants add their results. Be sure that their event is separate so that their results are presented in a different set.
- Ensure that your virtual participants also receive their virtual bib and virtual finisher certificate.
Flexible Participant Management Options
It’s more important than ever to have clear policies and free options in place for participants who are sick or have been near someone sick.
- Do not penalize participants who are unable to participate. To ensure that your race is safe and make people feel confident signing up, you need to offer free and flexible options to everyone.
- Allow participants to defer right up until the start of the race.
- Allow participants to transfer their bib to a friend. Remind them that if they are sick, they should only transfer to a friend with whom they have had no physical contact recently.
- Make communication around policies clear, and provide options to transfer/defer/etc. directly on your race website.
- Check out RunSignup’s coronavirus hub for participants to see ideas and options that you can offer to your participants in the case of an emergency.
4. Event Communication and Marketing
More than ever, control over messaging is key. Access to quickly update website information, send out emails, and reach athletes on social media is key to managing a fluid situation.
It’s important to consider participant perceptions of races when planning your race. If runners do not feel safe, they will not sign up - and you may be better off offering a virtual race instead. To make sure that runners feel as comfortable as possible, make sure they know that your race is working with local health authorities, implementing measures to ensure social distancing throughout the race experience, and offer registration through Race Day to allow people to make a last minute decision.
There is some early survey data to measure runners’ perceptions of when they will want to participate in races again. We’ll continue to add as more organizations measure participant attitudes towards races.
Communicating through Your Website
The first place your participants are looking for information is on your website. Keys include:
- Ensure that someone on your team has access to make rapid updates to the website. IF you aren’t currently able to update your race website with new content at a moment’s notice, you need to find a solution that enables you to do so.
- In the event that the website requires technical skills that no one on your team has, work with your website team to create an editable section via iFrame or pop-up that you can edit for quick updates. Lay out a timeline for additional edits. Also consider a light-weight data-driven website that you can link to from your main race website, enabling you to more quickly add updated information.
- Date-stamp updates about the event to give participants confidence that the information they are reading represents the latest update.
- Include a clearly labeled page or section to highlight additional requirements from participants (such as BYO water or face covering required in the start/finish area).
- Include safe spectator information, including any guidelines about spacing while watching, face coverings for spectators and remote tracking options.
- Include any refund policy and/or information about possible refund, deferral, or transfer options.
- If your race has options (like an add-on they may want to select later, the option to transfer to a virtual event, or the choice to defer), include a FAQ/How-To section that includes or links to how-to videos and information for a participant to update their own options.
Event Logistics and Race Status Communications
It is impossible to over communicate with participants (or potential participants) right now. The more touch-points you use, the lower the chances that someone is missed.
- Website. See above for recommendations, including time-stamping of updates and easily editable sections.
- Email. Email feels more “official” than social media, and allows for more detail.
- Maintain separate lists (with separate unsubscribes) for marketing style emails and informational emails to ensure that participants are receiving your emails.
- Email all updates to the race status in a timely manner.
- Use email to communicate crucial logistics information, such as requirements for protective gear, limitations on spectator behavior, and the flow of activity for packet pickup.
- Social Media
- Keep social media messaging clear, concise, and positive. When more information is needed, consider linking to details on the website or in a separate announcement.
- Use social media to remind participants where to find logistics details like wave times or bib pickup instructions.
- Include links to your social media on emails and on your website to encourage participants to engage with you.
- Post frequently. Athletes looking for updates on events will need reassurance that the event is moving forward as intended, and is safe.
- Understand that not everyone is on social media. Use social media to reiterate important messages, not as the sole messenger.
- Text Message
- Text messaging services should be used judiciously, but can be assets in the event of a last minute change that needs to be communicated clearly.
- Text services are always opt-in. Assume that many participants will not be opted in, and prepare for multiple forms of communication.
- In-App messaging (like in RaceJoy) is an alternative to texting that allows a race to communicate with people through their phones. As with texting, never assume that all participants will receive the communications.
Marketing the Event as Safe
All marketing needs to balance the dueling needs to reassure participants that the event is safe and will happen, while keeping the tone positive.
- Include a safety section on your website to state the measures you are taking to keep participants safe and at appropriate distances.
- Cite CDC and local guidelines to demonstrate that you are following best practices.
- Use subtle marketing to demonstrate safety without screaming it. For example, “race” photos with runners in masks doing all the things expected at a race - running, crossing the finish line, accepting an award, etc.
- Preliminary survey findings from RRCA indicate that the safety & hygiene measures put in place by the race will be the most important consideration when deciding whether or not to participate in a race.
Marketing through a Crisis
The pandemic will be on everyone’s minds regardless of what you do. While it’s important to share the safety measures you will have in place at your race to put minds at ease, it’s also important to focus on the joy of races.
- Inspire joy. Use social media to remind people of the thrill of a real race day. Instagram is an under-utilized platform for races to appeal visually to runners.
- Emphasize community. People have been kept apart for a long time, and are eager to socially interact with others. Your race is a safe, healthy, and affordable way to do that.
- Focus on the positives. For example, share the fun of having family in other states track you remotely (rather than the limitations on in-person spectating), or the uniqueness of starting in mini-waves (rather than the space requirements that led you to do so).
- Highlight your cause. A charity cause is always a reason to participate in a race, and nonprofits are more in need of funds than ever. Whether your event is 100% fundraising or a for-profit race that makes a donation, remind your audience that their participation is about more than just the race. Include social media highlights about the work your nonprofit is doing and the people that it is helping.
- Offer multiple ways to get involved. No matter how safe you think your event is, some people may be wary initially. Offer virtual options, donation and fundraising options, and “supporter tickets” as options for people who care about the event and the cause to stay connected...and promote those as much as you promote your “real” event.
Volunteer Communications and Safety
Communication isn’t only about participants. Your volunteers will also need more communication than normal to understand new protocols and feel safe helping your event.
- Anticipate a more challenging effort to find volunteers, with patterns of behavior changing. Typically, many volunteers are older and they may opt to skip this year or request a role that doesn’t put them in close contact with others.
- Work with schools who are trying to re-engage kids, churches who want to bring their members back together, and nonprofits that your race supports to find new volunteers.
- Wave starts and “run anytime” events are long days. You may need multiple shifts of volunteers throughout the day.
Adapt Your Volunteer Plan
- Add additional course markings. This helps remove course marshals from positions that put them in close contact with runners, eliminates long volunteer shifts, and reduces the overall volunteer count.
- Build out teams for your volunteers to keep contact limited and streamline communications. Team coordinators can be your main point of contact, and can share all instructions with their team. On race day, volunteers can go directly to their station and receive any volunteer materials there, rather than checking in at a central point.
- Create ways for volunteers to indicate that they are on-site from their phones, either with a tracking app like RaceJoy or via texts to coordinators.
- Adapt your volunteer appreciation plan. For example, rather than a doughnut and coffee station, send each volunteer a $5 gift certificate to a nearby doughnut shop so they can pick up something for themselves on the way. Or, offer a volunteer swag bag at the volunteer’s station, with bottled water and pre-packaged snacks.
Update your Volunteer Training
- Offer volunteer training remotely via zoom, with a main training for information everyone needs and additional trainings for each team.
- Communicate clearly what protective equipment (I.E., masks, gloves, hand sanitizer) the race is providing, and what volunteers should bring. If volunteers are bringing their own protective equipment, set out clear expectations about what that should be.
- Create written volunteer packets that can be viewed or printed from home so all volunteers can be prepared for their responsibilities before race day.
5. Timer Ideas
Timers are the key to making RaceDay happen. Beyond this, there are a lot of ideas on how timers can help our industry transition to the “new normal”.
As you start to figure out how to have a race, your timer is your best resource. They will be able to take industry best practices and guidelines and provide real solutions that meet your local and state guidelines & requirements.
Timers can help your race with:
- Course design that complies with social distancing
- Procurement of PPE and swag
- Virtual race set up, user-submitted results, and scoring
- Setting up registration and flexible participant management options
- ○Setting up corrals based on time preference or estimated finish time
- Providing “no touch” Race Day registration options
- Managing CheckIn and Packet Pick Up to reduce contact and the number of volunteers needed
- Bib Assignment
- Start line logistics
- Finish line logistics
- Providing a mobile race experience with GPS tracking apps like RaceJoy
- Video streaming of the finish line to reduce crowds but allow friends & family to be involved
- Providing online bibs, finisher certificates, etc. for all participants
- Timing, scoring, and providing results via text/email/website to finishers
We expect that this section of the guidelines can be forked by timers to serve as a standalone resource hub. We will centralize some creative timing and scoring ideas here.
- With a common start and finish, you can put out a mat to collect reads throughout the day or over a period of several days. You can use a single reader, and it doesn’t matter if you have a mix of start times. See this discussion on The Race Director forum for more information.
6. Race Day
This is where it all comes together. Races have traditionally been about gathering, but new adaptations will focus on celebrating with a bit more physical distance.
Concerns about cancellations or postponements are likely to make runners even more likely to wait until the last minute to register, but long lines and shared kiosk screens are a concern. Suggestions for updating the RaceDay Registration flow include:
- Leave online registration open, and encourage participants to register on their own smartphones.
- Share information about race day registration remaining open on social media (so they register before they arrive).
- Print signage for onsite to let people know how to register on their phone.
- Keep a dedicated volunteer who is familiar with the process of registering online via phone and can answer questions.
Start Line Logistics
Crowded start lines are at the top of everyone’s list of concerns about races. As a starting point - how does the math work at the starting line?
- RunSignup started to crunch the numbers (with input from a number of experienced timers) on what a starting line with proper social distancing could look like. As a starting point, let’s assume a 12 foot wide start line, so you can have three people on the start line. Then, let’s imagine drawing lines every 6 feet, where 3 people could stand on each line:
With this set up, it would take 34 lines to hold 100 runners (or 201 feet). In reality, people wouldn’t be that uniformed in lining up - so let’s assume it ends up being 50 lines to hold 100 runners. That’s 300 feet, which is the length of a football field. Let’s assume that the last line starts slowly – about the pace of a walker at 3 miles per hour, or 4.4 feet/second. They cover the 300 feet to the real start in about 68 seconds. So it takes 3 minutes to clear the starting area.
Now you face the challenge of getting the next 100 people to line up while practicing social distancing. Maybe this is 5 minutes - or maybe it’s significantly longer. The rough formula for calculating the number of runners you could safely start per hour is:
So in our example from above, the math is: Runners per hour = (100 Runners/wave) * (60 Minutes/Hour) / ((3 Minutes/wave) + (10 Minutes/wave)) = 100 * 60 / 13 = 461 Runners per hour. Those aren’t the easiest numbers to communicate, so for our example it might be logistically easier to say every 15 minutes, which is more simply understood to be 400 participants per hour. You can plug in your own numbers and assumptions to the above formula. Check out the blog for more information and the data that timers shared with us to come up with these starting assumptions.
- This Popular Mechanics article provides the math for social distancing at the LA Marathon, estimating how the 44 foot long start line for 20,000 participants with 6 feet of social distancing would work. They would be able to have 7 rows of runners with 6 feet of space, as diagrammed below - which, given their estimated number of participants, results in 2,846 rows of people with 17,070 feet of 6-foot buffers. That’s a starting line that is 3.77 miles long!
Race Solutions and Ideas
Consider changing the approach to space out the start line and keep everyone safer.
- On the more conservative end, test for health of participants going into corrals and transition areas using Infrared Thermometers.
- Consult with medical professionals on the impact of running and physical activity on body temperature reads.
- Create long start lines (like a cross country start line) with a gradual narrowing to keep people from running on top of each other.
- Offer wave starts, based on health guidelines for group sizes. For example, send off 20 runners at a time, every 4 minutes for 5 hours to send out 1,500 participants.
- Ask runners for estimated finish time during registration to help create appropriate waves. Waves may want to group together people of different speeds to ensure spacing once they start running.
- Ensure that your start area is large (like a field, or a parking lot) with space for participants to wait for their start time away from crowds.
- Offer “Run Anytime” where the startline is open all day and runners can show up at any point to start.
- All results are calculated off of chip time rather than gun time. Timers can operate largely remotely.
- Provide live scoring online, as well as on onsite results kiosks to maintain some sense racing competitiveness despite runners coming in at different times.
- Require all participants to use a face covering in corrals and transition areas.
Spectators are a highlight of race day, but also create an additional opportunity for crowding. Use spacing and remote tracking options to keep them involved, safely.
- Add markings to the ground around potentially crowded areas (like the finish line) to encourage people to spread out. Provide educational signage and ground markings for physical distancing - not just at the start line, but in all areas where spectators may congregate.
- Limit areas that allow spectators. Only allow participants in areas that are already likely to be crowded by participants, such as packet-pickup or refreshment stations.
- For large, urban courses like a marathon, have “Spectator Sign-up’s” where spectators register for a location/time and each time/location is limited. This can operate on an honor system, but provides structure to prevent over-crowding.
- Enforcing guidelines is going to be challenging. Have the race announcer make announcements periodically to remind spectators about guidelines and government regulations.
- Encourage spectators to “watch” from home instead, with virtual ways to support.
- Use RaceJoy and promote the use of cheers and tracking.
- Add cameras to the finish line and aid stations and livestream runners.
- Highlight the fun and convenience of tracking from home, rather than just the potential dangers of joining on-site.
- Compliance from spectators will be challenging. Be armed with local and national guidelines as backup for why you have your requirements.
Finish Line Flow
Racers tend to want to STOP at the end of a race...but moving them quickly into other areas will help limit pile-ups and gathering in the finish line area.
- Offer live streaming of the finish line and/or free finish photos encouraging spectators to watch along the course in less crowded areas or from home.
- Offer incentives for moving away from the finish line quickly by providing the pickup of any items (water, medals, etc.) away from the immediate finish line.
- Use barriers to widen the finish area into a large space, with volunteers to encourage participants to keep moving to claim their incentives.
- Setup multiple stations for the pickup of medals, water bottles, and any provided food to limit the gathering of people around one station. Consider where you can eliminate having volunteers to keep the finish-line chute as self-serve as possible.
- For example, use a medal board at the finish (one medal per peg) so that runners can self-serve their medal pick up, rather than having multiple volunteers stationed at the finish line.
- Keep your announcer removed from the immediate finish-area, with calls made via livestream view and audible both on-site and online.
- Host a virtual awards ceremony and arrange for shipping or pickup of awards, since winners may not still be on-site.
Participants are used to kiosks and/or results print out after finishing the race. To minimize crowds at this finish line, it’s important for timers to create a new norm for results.
- Participants should expect online results only with no kiosks or print outs.
- Set up email and text notifications for results so that participants can see their time right when they cross the finish line, reducing the risk of people crowding the timer tent.
Post-race refreshments are a staple of race day. How do you get people fed, without adding unnecessary risk?
- Eliminate food entirely and remind runners to bring their own.
- Turn this into a positive: pass the savings onto runners, and highlight that they can ALL have their favorite post-race snack.
- Only offer individually wrapped foods (like granola bars) instead of loose cookies, fruit, etc. This has some environmental repercussions, but may be necessary in the short-term.
- If you do hand out unpackaged food, ensure that every volunteer has been pre-screened for symptoms, and has, and is trained to use, appropriate gear (mask, gloves, sanitizer, etc.). Limit one volunteer for each item, with the volunteer handing the item to the runner, and no swapping allowed.
- Consider pre-packing food with pre-screened volunteers packing food into swag bags to be picked up either at check-in, or as they cross the finish line.
- Prepare for uncertainty around amounts of food required. Participants may take extras (if allowed to take their own), or may skip the food altogether if they have concern about health and safety.
Hydration is a health and safety concern of its own. How do you provide water, on-course and after the race?
- Encourage or require participants to bring and carry their own water via bottle, hydration belt, or hydration pack.
- If you do have water on-course, make it self-serve via a water jug with a spout.
- Look for no-touch, pedal-operated jugs.
- Have hand sanitizer next to the jug and require all runners to use it before refilling their hydration device.
- Have single use-bottles at the finish line, set out by pre-screened volunteers with gloves and spaced widely enough that runners can grab them without touching additional bottles.
- Include a stock of wipes that can be used to clean off the bottle if there is concern.
- This is not an environmentally friendly long-term solution, but may be necessary to bridge to “normal” events.
Post Race Clean Up
Keep volunteers safe, even after the event is over.
- Provide grabbers (in addition to gloves) for volunteers so they don’t have to physically touch things.
- Clearly assign volunteers to areas of responsibility to keep them spread out throughout the space.
7. Real Race Examples with Social Distancing
Races will look different in the weeks and months to come, but technology and creativity are letting us get back to racing in a way that complies with social distancing.
The examples we put here are from across the United States. The social distancing guidelines and presence of COVID-19 will differ greatly between locations, so keep in mind that the external environment where these example races took place may be different from your own. Always consult with local health and public authorities.
If you have notes about a race with social distancing that you would like to share and add to these guidelines, email firstname.lastname@example.org
May 9, 2020 - Connecticut
Jim Gerweck (email@example.com) put on a 20 person race made up of friends & acquaintances to test out a contactless 5k
May 2, 2020 - Arkansas
Agee Timing, http://ageeracetiming.com/about/default.htm
May 2, 2020 - South Carolina
Crisp from Go Race Productions (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) did another free neighborhood virtual race to test out with the same set up as the previous week. He added in a livestream media component using RaceJoy maps and finish line video. Watch his set up here: https://www.facebook.com/GORaceProductions/videos/1413818528805621/
April 25, 2020 - South Carolina
Crisp McDonald, Go Race Productions - firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Free neighborhood event with 4 distances, 35 participants
Course maps on RaceJoy, self check-in / bib assignment, real chip timing, and posting results to RunSignup
Hand sanitizer to use - if you touch something, then disinfect yourself
Some participants texted their name and bib ahead of time so that they didn’t have to touch anything when they arrived