Planning a Race

Start by asking yourself these questions:

Why am I doing this?

You should have a clear answer to this question. Is it to raise awareness, reach a certain profit level, promote wellness, and/or benefit a particular cause? Some other reason? Whatever it is, integrate this into your decisions as you plan, market, and promote your event.

What (big) decisions do I control?

What are my financial parameters and expectations?

Many variables affect cost, including the items listed above as well as extent of signage and general event offerings. Make sure you create - and stick to - a budget.

Lay the Groundwork

Below is a sequence of steps to follow. Do note that some of these items may best occur concurrently or in an altered order based upon the nature of your event.

What are you calling your event? Will it be CITY DISTANCE (ie. The New York City Marathon) or something creatively inspired (ie. The Flying Pig Marathon). Some events choose a name that ties into the community of the event, its primary charity, or the title sponsor. Do what feels right to you. Yes, you surely can change it after you come up with your working title - but at least have this tentative name in mind as you move through this process.

Recruit coordinators for the following areas: Marketing, Registration, Sponsors, Refreshments, Volunteers, Giveaways (ie. shirts/awards, etc.), Course, and General Race Day Logistics. Depending upon the scope of your event, you may need additional coordinators and/or multiple individuals working together on the same task. It is vital that you pick (or are assigned) individuals who are objectively reliable and organized. Be careful working with friends or choosing this team loosely. Set yourself up for success.

You will need to know the date before you can move forward with any permitting, vendors, and many other aspects of the event. Do so carefully and well in advance (12-16 months is optimal). Spring and fall are prime race seasons, which means you’re battling race saturation, location and vendor availability as well as costs associated with these factors. Choosing a less busy time of year, or even a weeknight, should at least be considered. Either now or at some point in the process, decide on the starting time(s). If holding multiple races, you'll need to consider holding them concurrently, overlapping, or fully separately (ie. a 5K that ends, followed by a 10K).

Once you have some help and know when you want to hold it, decide where you want to hold it. You should also have a loose idea of the course at this time - but first make sure you have a viable starting/finishing location. What amenities does the location have? Are other events held there? As it is possible it may not be available, you may need change your date or find a new location.

Start by checking if any (USATF certified) courses exist at that location. If one exists that works for your needs, and you can verify it has been used for an event, it is much more likely that the permitting agency (ie. city/police) will approve its usage. If you need/desire to create a course that hasn't previously been used/approved by the municipality, we suggest you create at least 2 draft courses. Begin by mapping out the route using an online program. To whatever extent possible, run your route. You may notice things that reduce its viability, such as poor footing or it simply is not visually pleasing. Both the online mapping, and even usage of a GPS device, is an approximation of distance - after your course is approved, you should have it certified by USATF.

Course Design Considerations

  • Point to point, out/back, loop, or a combination?
  • If there are multiple races at your event, do you want the different distances to share parts of the route?
  • Avoid creating a route that has overlap/intersecting runners - be especially cognizant of this if you have multiple distances.
The nature of your course will affect the extent of required markings, personnel, aid station quantities/locations, and many other factors.

The Date section above discusses choosing the starting time(s) for your event. If you will be holding multiple distance races, you need to think very analytically about the best way to manage the timeline and course implications of when to start each race.

As soon as you've done the 5 items above, file all necessary paperwork. Typically this is the permit for the staging location and also the government agency that has jurisdiction over the course. It is quite common to need permits from many entities. If your event uses city, county, and state roads, you may need permits from all three of those entities. And do not advertise your event until you have received back all of the permits with a status of approved.

Approved permits will require insurance. Securing it through USATF is an easy and cost-effective way to insure your event.

Note: Your submitted (course) permit application has a better chance of approval (and faster processing) if you include a volunteer plan that indicates the locations you will have course marshals. Once it is reviewed by the appropriate entity, they will tell you your mandated Police/Fire/EMS coverage, as applicable, along with the cost for these services. Be prepared for the costs, which can range from minimal to tens of thousands or more depending upon your event location, distance (and therefore extent of road closures and duration of them), and the associated required services the municipality will mandate.

Sponsors bring a lot to your event - and your event should bring a lot to them too. The benefit to your event is multi-faceted, including direct funds and in-kind donations. In addition, effective leveraging of sponsors can greatly increase awareness and registrations for your event via their social media channels and, if applicable, advertising at their physical locations.

There are many benefits to the sponsor as well, including the opportunity to have you promote them to your audience and for the sponsor to capitalize on the goodwill of being part of your event. This is especially valuable if you have charitable partners, for which the sponsor becomes a de facto contributor too.

There are many ways for you to help market and advertise your sponsors, including social media posts, inclusion on event collateral/signage/giveaways as well as having a physical setup at your packet pick-up. Some events offer sponsorships to cover particular costs, ie. a bib sponsor, shirt sponsor, photo sponsor, etc. Brainstorm with your team and put together a sponsorship matrix.

What is the experience you are creating? What are all participants receiving for signing up? What are some participants receiving for whatever reason, be it awards, a raffle, miscelleanous reasons, etc? Will your event feature a feast after or just a cup of water with a banana? Will your entry fee be commensurate with your market based on these offerings?

The typical race gives all participants an apparel item (usually a shirt), has age group awards, and then offers water with light refreshments after the race. Nearly all events over 10K now give out medals to all finishers. Some events offer (for free or for charge) a meal the night prior and/or an extensive feast after the race. Do you want your event to stand-out? Will you have music at the finish line? Will there be a step-and-repeat banner for photos? Some events offer amenities à la carte, either as different registration types, such as Regular/Premium/VIP, or simply as add-ons that can be purchased during the registration process.

Once you decide on all of these items, promote it! When people see your entry fee, they are going to do the calculation in their head, assessing if the value of the tangible items plus their anticipated experience is worth what they have to pay. Don't keep all the great things about your event a secret! Will there be kids activities? A popular guest speaker? Be sure to view the running race as just one part of the entire experience and atmosphere you desire to create.

As a starting point, research other events in your area and see what they are charging. Look at events offering the same distance(s) as yours, and look at the amenities of those events.

Unless you are a big budget event that has no fear about reaching your participant goal for your new event, be conservative your first year. Remember, this is the first time for your race. Even if you own other events, this one has no reputation. No returning participants to talk it up, nor any photos/footage from a previous year to use for marketing. Don't price yourself out of consideration, especially if there are other proximate and similar races that same day.

When determining your fee structure, be sure to consider two types of pricing (which can also be used in tandem):

  • Date pricing
    Date deadlines for which the entry fee changes after each deadline
  • Registration level pricing
    Participant count breakpoints at which the fee changes
Date-based is the most common form, with nearly all events having at least 2 price points. For events offering day-of registration, at a minimum, they have a pre-race price and a day-of price. More commonly, and especially for large events that don't offer on-site registration, there are multiple tiers of pricing, with the fee potentially increasing each month.

Registration level pricing has grown in popularity the past few years, and is when you advertise a set price for the first X registrants, with it then increasing after that quantity is reached. If your event is well marketed and has a strong following behind it, this can be advantageous - but if your potential registrants aren't aware/connected to you, this is harder to leverage compared to the more objective/absolute nature of having hard date cut-offs.
Offering registration promotions is a great way to boost participation - especially as a fashion that ultimately is initiated by prospective registrants.
Some examples include:
  • Family discounts and/or flat fees for families up to a certain size
  • Cart discounts (ie. 4 people register at the same time, and a $5 discount applies to each one)
  • A Referral promotion (ie. Refer 5 people via your personalized reg page link, and your entry is refunded)
In all cases, ultimately the discount only applies if multiple people register. And in all these cases, you then are given valuable data that highlights how some of your registrants are connected to one another - which can be useful for marketing in future years.

Your first goal is to build awareness of the event. In fact, many events like to spread the word before opening registration, so as to build up excitement and an energy that hopefully will yield a strong opening. Build a website. Put the big items at the top (when/where/what). Make sure your website clearly provides all the information someone might want to know, including the prices, amenities, and awards. Create social media pages for the event, post about it on your personal pages, and encourage your friends to do the same. Share, share, share! Create meaningful content; don't just make posts that tell people to register - tell a story! Talk about the fun details of the event. And get it on as many calendars as you can. Are there 9 running/bike/tri clubs in your area? Make sure it's on their websites.

Get your event in publications/magazines/newspapers. Do a spot on the radio and on your local newschannel. Create attractive flyers and posters and get them in the windows of local businesses. Distribute the flyer along the homes on the route and in the neighborhood of your event.

You've now reached the most exciting part of launching a new event: the opening of registration. When people register, ask them why - and share their stories. Promote your promotions. Show your appreciation for people trusting in your new event and also keep your website and social media channels active in the months and weeks leading up to race day.

You'll need an online registration company for this, and we'd love the chance to have you experience the power of our very own ZippyReg, which is an incredibly powerful platform for not just registration, but also event fundraising, an integrated online store, volunteer management, and course operational planning.

THE DETAILS PHASE

The 10 steps above are the 'Big Picture' items - but a lot of details remain, both as part of those steps and also after you've launched registration.
Here is a list of the remaining components to bring your event to life.

When choosing where to stage your event from, it's vital that you pick a place that has sufficient amenities and infrastructure. Per the list below, it is possible you may need contract for additional items to make the location work - or ultimately go with a different place.

  • Create a schematic of the staging areas (start/finish)
    Where will registration be? Refreshments? General congregating areas? Based upon these decisions - is there enough space to allow for the free flow of participants to move about?
  • Parking
    Are there enough spaces at the venue? Will you need to use satellite parking lots (ie. adjacent businesses/facilities)? Will you need parking volunteers to orderly and efficiently manage parking on a field that lacks clear dileanations/parking spots?
  • Bathrooms
    Do you need to rent portable toilets? Have at least 2 toilets for every 100 registrants; increasing this to 3 or 4 per 100 is suggested. And do not forget to bring your own extra toilet paper to add to whatever your facilities are providing. If the facility has restrooms - explicitly confirm they will be open at your event. Have the contact number for whomever you can call in case you get to your event and they remain locked.
  • Overhead Coverage
    At a minimum, placing registration and refreshments under a tent provide clearly delineated locations for those components of your event. (Use 12' or taller banners for wayfinding.) Even if the weather is gorgeous, the last thing you want is a gaggle of well-fed geese hovering 100' over your uncovered refreshments area. And if your event is on a day with precipitation, you'll want overhead coverage to provide places for people to gather pre/post run. (A plain, but very large tent is ideal for this.)
  • Indoor Facilities
    If there's any chance that it could be considerably cold on your event day, having an inside staging area is ideal. Many events are held from school grounds specifically for this purpose - the ability to use a large gym for people to congregate within before and after the race. To that end, schools are a great option for staging an event because they typically also have ample parking and ample bathrooms. When considering your staging location, while a school permit may potentially be higher than a park at first, if you consider additional rental items an outdoor location would require, the school may end up being cheaper.

Weather Considerations
You need to have a plan for the weather, and clearly state it on your website. YES, it is possible your event will be canceled if conditions are bad enough, either by your own choice or a permitting agency. Weather led to the cancellation of the 2012 NYC Marathon. In 2016, severe heat lead to the cancellation of the Vermont City Marathon during the event. Numerous other major events been canceled due to weather as well as fires affecting the air quality of the region, if not on the course, itself, in the case of some trail races in the western U.S. In addition, emergencies, crimes, and other obstacles may arise unexpectedly that require an event to not be held or to be stopped.

Refer to our Cancellation (Weather & Disaster) Policy for guidance in creating your own.

Below is a list of the many items that you should cover in the different mediums you use to advertise your event. You don't need to cover all of them everywhere - but your website certainly should address all pertinent items in an organized fashion.

  • Event Date
  • Distance(s)
  • Start time(s)
  • Packet Pick-up (PPU) date(s), time(s), location(s)
  • Event Contact name, phone number and email address
  • Exact Location of start and finish
  • Course description (terrain and elevation) and course map
  • Awards categories
  • Team competition information explicitly indicating how many score, how many can be on a team, what timing method for scoring (GUN or NET)
  • Entry fee schedule (include clear deadlines)
  • Race limit (entry cap)
  • Amenities (ie. T-shirts sizes/gender-based shirts, etc.)
  • Refreshments and other race-day activities
  • Race beneficiary
  • Sponsors
  • Prohibitions (strollers, dogs, headphones, etc.)
  • Event website and online registration address (get an easy to remember vanity URL if putting the link on flyers)

Whether you want to bring in a consultant at the outset or later in the process, it's recommended that you work with a company that specializes in event production. They can guide you through the entire process. As a full-time, full-scale event timing, technology, and management company, ARE Event Productions can be contracted to be your partner to help you with all of these items, serving as a single vendor that covers the 3 major production components below:

  • Event Production/Consulting
  • Online Registration Provider - AREEP's ZippyReg
  • Race Results/Timing
Other items you potentially will need to procure from vendors:
  • Bibs/safety pins
    Get creative with your design - make it commemorative. Bibs can be leveraged to sponsors as a place for their logo to appear - they'll appear in just about every photo from your event. Another consideration of the bibs is how you will use them: will your event have corrals at the start? If so, it's recommended that each corral have its own color that is matched between the bib and signage in that corral. In addition, your bib may need to have tear-off tags for tickets towards a post-race meal, free beer, gear check, and other amenities you might choose to provide.
  • Event signage
    From the start and finish banners on a truss, to flagpole banners, fencing, wayfinding and more, don't skimp on the utility and attraction of ample signage and branding.
  • The Primary Giveaway
    Shirts (or some kind of wearable apparel) are the most common giveaway. A disadvantage of these items is the sizing aspect - and typically the need to place the order before registration closes. When you place the order, extrapolate upon current size proportions with a slight increase towards the larger sizes. It's also best to use a registration platform like ZippyReg which offers inventory management to ensure no one orders a size that is no longer available.
  • Finisher Medals and Awards
    If you plan to give out finisher medals - order enough. The strain on your budget if you significantly overestimate finishers is far less important than the chaos you cause by skimping on this. When you run out of medals, it affects your back of the runners, who at other events may have the unfortunate experience of reaching depleted water stops, post-race feasts with no items remaining, and lackluster course and finish crowd support. The medal commemorates an accomplishment for all of your participants - and is also the first touch-point/expected recognition a participant expects at the moment of finishing.
  • Food/Beverage
    Whether you plan to do this within your committee or have it externally catered, start planning this at least 2 months prior to the event. If your race has thousands of runners, you should start several months in advance. Also note, that for very large events, you may need to have a food permit with the local municipality.
  • General Infrastructure
    You may need to rent portable toilets, tents, tables, chairs, and more. Finding a single vendor for all of this is optimal.
  • Photography and Videograpy
    Have a professional on-site. Offer race photos. Have candids taken for your own use to market the event in future years. Have a professional videographer on hand capturing ample footage of the event, including from above.
  • Medical Services
    Your permits will probably require this, and even if they don't, have EMTs on-site. At least one ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulance is strongly recommend to address the most dire of emergencies. For larger events, the governing munipality or your event medical director will inform you of your exact needs.

At a minimum, your registration form should ask for:

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Street Address
  • City
  • State
  • Zip
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Date of Birth
  • Age on Race Day (yes, ask for this and DOB)
  • Gender
  • Race distance choice
  • Emergency Contact Name
  • Emergency Contact Phone
  • Agreement to your stated, explicit event waiver
  • Participant Signature (or guardian if under 18)
Some other pieces of information, as applicable, to ask for/state:
  • Team
  • Giveaway (ie. shirt) size (if gender-specific items, indicate as such)
  • If you offer a mail-in registration form, include the mailing address and to whom the checks are payable to
  • Donation to event beneficiary
  • Meal tickets, bus tickets (ie. point-to-point event providing busing), extra give-away sizes, etc.

Packet Pick-up (PPU) is a colloquial industry term that refers to when participants receive their bib (/pins) and giveaway(s). Some events literally package these items as a single 'packet', but that is not required. PPU is typically configured as a set of tables with either letters (of the last name) or bib ranges (ie. 1-100, 101-200) hanging above where each line should form. A person gets in the appropriate line, walks up to the table, tells the individual her/his name (or bib # - known from a pre-race email or webpage), possibly shows identification (if you require it), and is handed her/his materials.

It's also possible to assign bib numbers dynamically, such that no one is assigned a bib number until physically at PPU or someone in their stead. Note: Some events require the participant, her/his self, to be physically present at PPU, while others allow for one person to pick up for others, provided that person has their identication and/or a forward of their confirmation email. We highly recommend that when you allow designees to pick up for others, that you record the name of who is picking up for that person. It's not uncommon, especially when not requiring verification of permission, for someone at PPU to decide that they'll pick up for someone else without telling that person - only for the other person to arrive and their bib is gone (or assigned dynamically already). Best to know if it truly was picked up or a mistake was made. The next section goes into detail about bib assignment methods.


When/Where to Hold PPU
First, do note that PPU is an opportunity to leverage a sponsor. Perhaps you have a local running store that wants to get involved with your race. Having PPU at their location, in exchange for something from them, can benefit you both. PPUs are highly desired by running stores as it puts a captive audience inside their door. As such, you may be compelled to hold pre-race day PPU(s), even at multiple concurrent locations, for such a reason.

If your event has less than 500 participants, unless compelled for the reason above, we highly recommend only offering race-day PPU. The additional logistics of being setup and ready the day prior, coupled with the issues that can result (ie. people showing up on race day forgetting their bib) are not worth it when you have a few hundred participants. It's not wrong if you still elect to do it, but the major advantage - to YOU - of pre-race day PPU is the reduction in race day staffing and space associated with having to process more people in a matter of typically just the 90 minutes before the start.

For race day only PPU, we recommend that your PPU have lines limited to 100 participants each. Based upon your giveaways, you will need 1 or 2 helpers for each line, handing out the items/potentially retrieving them. As such, if you elected to have race day only PPU for 5,000 person event, you now need 50 lines. The sheer amount of space, overhead coverage, and personnel to do this would be unwieldy. There is also the added anxiety and pressure on race day as the clock is ticking down until the start - and long lines can greatly frustrate your participants and lessen their experience.
PPU (On-Site) Registration
Some events have a cap (registration limit) forced upon them. Perhaps it is a restriction of your permit. Other events create a self-imposed cap or simply a hard cut-off registration date, so as to ease their planning/ordering and not have to worry about estimating quantities. If your event is not (externally or internally) restricted from accepting registrations come race week, you need to decide if you will allow for registrations race week/race day.

It is our strong recommendation that if you are in a position where you can think about whether or not to do it, then you should do it. Simply raise the fee (make it excessive if you so desire), limit what they will receive (which reduces your anxiety in placing orders well in advance), and allow their participation to both increase the fundraising efforts of your event while mitigating the likelihood they bandit your event anyway.

If you are accepting on-site registrations, be sure that you advertise (and are prepared for) whichever payment methods you are accepting, including:
  • Cash
    Come with a cashbox(es) that have sufficient/appropriate money for making change. (A $40 or $100 race day fee is a lot easier on your staff than $28, $89, etc.)
  • Credit Card
    Do you have credit card swipers? Able to rent them if you don't own them?
  • Check
    Be clear in your communications indicating to WHOM the check is to be made out to and in what amount.
When permitting on-site registration, we recommend accepting cash and credit cards. (You don't want to deal with bounced checks/tracking money down after the event.) For any payment methods not accepted, explicitly indicate that in your description of how people can register on-site. (ie. "Cash or credit cards only, no checks will be accepted.")

As part of AREEP's consulting package, we can walk you through what works best for your event and how to optimize your PPU configuration.
PPU/Data Troubleshooting
First, we highly recommend that your PPU setup include a 'Solutions Area' - namely a single table with at least one dedicated person there whose only task is to assist people who have a problem/need a data change. Your general PPU staff should solely handle 'normal interactions', namely giving out/assigning a bib. If your general PPU staff member has an issue assisting someone, be it an inability to find the person's registration record or bib, that (supposed) registrant should be sent to your solutions table.

The Solutions Manager (SM) is, ideally, your registrar. It should be the person with the deepest understanding of your registration system, with the capability to check every possible piece of information attached to both a person and all of the transactions associated with your event. It is best that the SM be on a computer, with the following two pages/places open:
  • Registration Entrant Administration Page (ie. ZippyReg Entrant Maintenance Screen)
  • A spreadsheet with a complete export of all registrant data
When someone approaches the solutions table, your SM should immediately ask that person to pull up her/his confirmation email, while your SM asks her/him for their birthday, which your SM then does a search for in the spreadsheet. This is faster than beginning with the other approach of searching by name, generally because it was probably a typo that caused the issue in the first place. In addition to typos, sometimes people reverse their FN/LN or register with one LN and then it changes before PPU, and they forget which they used. Birthday will not change - and hopefully they entered it correctly. If you don't find a match on DOB, try phone number, street address, or email.

If you can't find it, and the person can't produce a confirmation email but swears they registered, the simplest solution (that benefits the event) is to simply ask that they re-register as though they never did, and if they can find proof of their registration the following week, to contact your registrar for a refund of the second payment.

Some considerations when dealing with this particular type of situation that may affect the actions you take:
  • Is your event sold out?
  • Are you otherwise accepting registrations today?
  • How much to charge if they claim they registered when it was cheaper.
  • Their disposition/attitude during this interaction.
    Are they respectful/belligerent/somewhere in the middle?
  • Do you have a line of people in front of you waiting?
    Can you afford to spend more time trying to figure this out?
  • Is there an audience watching this scene evolve?
  • Do they seem tech-savvy enough to be able to pull up their credit card history on their phone? (And not take 30 minutes to do so.)
    Rarely will the charge explicitly make it clear that it is for that exact event (it may either shown the merchant's name or an abbreviation for the event) - so while it is helpful to be shown a charge, your SM might not be able to fully determine if it was for this exact event.
A word of caution: If it gets to this point, it is highly unlikely that they registered. Do also be careful - there are some people who lie about his to gain free entry into races. Ultimately, if your SM can't find a record of the registration, the event director should have a stated internal policy that either mandates the SM require a new paid registration (if still taking registrations), give the person the 'benefit-of-the-doubt' and accept that person without paying, or empower the SM to decide on a case-by-case basis.

Before talking about bib assignment, be aware of the term attrition, which refers to the percentage of participants not coming to your event, AKA the 'no show' rate. At the least, generally 8%-10% of your pre-registrants will not come to your event. For a marathon that sells out 6 months in advance, this could be as high as 25%-30%! Other factors affecting attrition include the race day forecast, the actual weather on race day, and also your transfer/deferral policy. Keep this concept in mind as you keep reading.


There are two ways to assign bibs:
  • In advance of packet pick-up (known as pre-assignment)
  • At packet pick-up (known as dynamic assignment)
You can also do a hybrid version of this, in which you pre-assign bib numbers for some portion of your field, while dynamically assigning the rest.

What is best?
It depends - and below we get into the specifics and present cases for when we choose one over the other.


How does dynamic assignment work?
Here's a basic example:
  1. Participant arrives at PPU and walks up to any kiosk (a device operated by an event helper)
  2. The participant says her/his name and is pulled up by the kiosk operator
  3. The kiosk operator takes a bib number from her/his pile and types that number into the program to assign it to that participant
  4. The participant is handed her/his bib and walks away
As indicated, that is a basic example. With a higher level technical integration/equipment, the accuracy and efficiency of this process can be improved with any/all of these alterations:
  1. Email the participant with a barcode embedded in the email that can be scanned by the kiosk operator
    This avoids the need for the participant to say/spell her/his name and avoids the need for the kiosk operator to type/choose a name
  2. Print barcodes on the bib that can be scanned by the kiosk operator when assigning the bib
In both cases above, using a scanning device removes human error.

Advantages of Dynamic Assignment
  • The biggest advantage is that it enables you to hold multiple, concurrent PPUs at different locations. Using dynamic assignment allows for you to host simultaneous pick-ups all over town/anywhere, provided you have the locations and resources to do so. This enables your registrants to visit whatever location is most convenient for them on that given day.
  • You can order less bibs. Does your event historically have a 10% no-show rate? With dynamic assignment, you can order 10% less bib numbers.
  • Less Prep Work & The Cool Factor In the pre-assignment section, we refer to 'A Full Service Hand-off' as being an advantage. From a customer perspective, if her/his items are retrieved quickly and pre-packaged corectly, then yes, that's great. But it takes a tremendous amount of time and prep work to do so. With dynamic assignment, there's virtually no prep work involved, other than having your bibs ready, the tech setup once you're in your PPU location, and all giveaways ready for distribution. To that end, using technology for this makes your event stand-out for yes, what we're calling the "Cool Factor". Ideally, if using dynamic assignment, your event is also integrating technology in other ways, such that collectively your event stands out compared to this with less technological integration.
  • A Faster Transaction/Process. With pre-assignment, participants must go to a line specific to either their name/bib #, where they possibly need to wait even while a different 'line' might be empty. In addition, with pre-assignment, the volunteer may then need to thumb through a whole bunch of bibs - rather than with dynamic assignment, where they can just grab the top one off the pile*.
*If you have different types of bibs (ie. a corral assignment based upon anticipated finish time), then you'd need to ensure they look at the kiosk data to indicate which type of bib. To acommodate this, ZippyReg's Dynamic Assignment system can show on the screen a picture of the bib that person should receive, along with apply validity checks at the time of assignment, to ensure the correct type of bib is assigned.


How does pre-assignment work?
The bib numbers are assigned before packet pick-up. Typically the lowest numbers are reserved for elite/VIP participants, and the rest are either assigned alphabetically (by LN/FN) and/or in the order of registration. You can assign them in any order you choose, in fact, sometimes sorting by shirt size can make for a much smoother PPU process depending upon your PPU setup.

When you should do the assignment depends upon your event. If it sells out months before race day, and your packet pick-up is restricted to a single location, we recommend pre-assigning all the bibs in "one fell swoop" just before placing the bib order, and printing the key participant information on the bib (more details on this below). If your event has no cap and even allows registration on race day, you may need to pre-assign bib numbers in batches based upon order deadlines, and then use a hybrid fashion of pre-assignment with dynamic for your later registrants.

What is the PPU process like with pre-assignment?
When doing pre-assignment, we recommend that you email all registrants their bib number. When they arrive at PPU, this enables them to simply show event staff their phone showing their number. You should also include this info on the confirmed entrants page, and yes, have a way for those without phones/web access to look it up at PPU.
  1. Participant arrives at PPU and waits in the specific line for her/his bib (based upon either name or bib # per your PPU configuration)
  2. The participant shows her/his phone to the kiosk operator which shows the bib number
  3. The kiosk operator finds the bib number from her/his pile
  4. The participant is handed her/his bib and walks away
Advantages of Pre-Assignment
  • The biggest advantage (compared with dynamic assignment) is that it does not rely on technology. If the network (Internet access) goes down at a dynamic bib assignment event, you are brought to a halt. On a related level, it therefore does not require any of the equipment used for dynamic assignment such as computers, barcode scanners, electricity, and more, all of which come at a cost and may require additional infrastructure/facility amenities not needed otherwise. Lastly, using technology is most efficacious when your personnel have strong familiarity with the equipment and process. If your PPU staff mostly consists of inexperienced volunteers, unless they are adept with technology, it is these people, themselves, that will delay the process, need help, and potentially make mistakes that simply can't happen with pre-assignment. Two common examples include a bib being assigned to the wrong ":Jane Doe" (2 participants with the same name, with your staff member not drilling down far enough to realize you have multiple registrants with the same name) and more deleteriously, making a typo when doing the bib assignment.
  • Bibs can have participant information pre-printed on them. This is a considerable advantage over dynamic assignment - and from a participant data accuracy perspective, typically our preferred reason for pre-assignment over dynamic. To this end, there are two ways in which this benefit is realized: external personalization of bibs (ie. the name appearing clearly on the front of the bib, visible by cheering spectators) and the event-level advantage of all vital information (ie. name, age, gender, shirt size, etc.) appearing on the bib (often on the back) - serving as a verification of who should be wearing it and also a chance to quickly say to each participant, "Please check the information on the back of the bib and go to the solutions table if you need a correction."
  • A higher percentage of people wearing the correct bib. When bibs are pre-assigned, everyone in your system already has a bib assigned. The only way someone participates wearing the wrong bib, is if that person puts on the wrong bib without realizing it. To be clear to why we phrased it that way, consider the bullet above: pre-printing participant info on the bib, and telling each participant to quickly verify it when receiving their bib. That, combined with emailing them their number ahead of time, should create a situation in which participants are empowered to know their specific bib number, and if one person is picking up bibs for multiple people, pre-assignment will significantly reduce the case of unintended swaps (ie. a family of 4 all wearing one another's bib). When using dynamic assignment, either the 4 bibs are given to that one person without your event staff writing the names of all 4 individuals on the bib, or your staff member does write the names - which adds a significant (relative) amount of time to that transaction. (Yes, it is possible to also have bibs dynamically assigned and printed with participant information, but the tech infrastructure required to do so would only be feasible for large-budget events - and is still subject to the same halting issues if there a problem.)
  • A Full Service Hand-off If you have the extensive staffing to pull this off, pre-packing literally everything for each participant makes a great first impression as their kick-off touch point to your event. We mean literally to prepare a bag (canvas tote, etc.) that has their bib, pins, exact shirt size, VIP parking pass, etc. so that they just show up, show you their confirmation email/bib, and you hand them everything at once. It takes tremendous time up front, but surely is seen as first-class service.

Should we pre-print 'In Case of Emergency' (ICE) information on the bib?
It is an unfortunate reality that things happen - and there are times when a participant becomes unconscious during an event. In those situations, when you are unable to communicate with the participant, there are generally just 2 quick ways to get the emergency information you need:
  1. Look at the ICE on the back of the bib
  2. Call into your event's command center (or your RD/timer, etc.) and ask for the ICE that was provided during registration
With respect to the ICE on the back of the bib: many events include an area for the participant to fill-in, asking for name and phone number of who to call, along with sometimes asking for any allergies and other pertinent data to how they should be treated in an emergency situation. The unfortunate reality is that many people do not fill this out when they receive their bib. As such, events need to consider if they should pre-print this information that they receive when the participant registers. Reasons not to include that it may potentially ultimately be different on race day and/or be wrong (ie. a typo in the phone number), and there is also a (very) slight additional expense.

Our recommendation would be to print it on the bib - and have strong communication with participants to check it and correct it if it is wrong. Furthermore, if someone is illegally participating in your event with someone else's bib, it is our hope that perhaps when this person is putting on the bib and sees the ICE for the other person, that the person putting bib on will feel some level of humanity/guilt to at least cross it out/correct it at that point. While not a guarantee, we do feel that them seeing the ICE for the other person would be more compelling than its total absence.

And in the event this bandit falls unconscious, if the information were changed on the back of the bib, it avoids the truly horrific scenario of the event potentially calling the ICE for the other person, who take it at face value (and not know that their dependent is not actually participating) and lead to more problems.

Let it also be stated: no person should ever give their bib to another person without doing it as a formal transfer via the event's registration system - with the situation above being the most devastating and life-threatening outcome that could result.

On race day, and in the final days and weeks leading up to it, you're going to need extra help serving in a variety of capacities, including:

  • Packet prep/item organization/inventory verification
  • PPU/Registration (Pre-race day and on race day)
  • Parking
  • Information
  • Course Marshals
  • Course Support (ie. lead vehicles/cyclists on course/walking sweep [last place designee])
  • Water Stop
  • Start
  • Finish
  • Equipment/Collateral Setup
  • Refreshments Management
  • Awards Management
  • Event clean-up

In addition to maintaining a marketing presence, it's important to communicate with your registrants - especially in the final weeks leading up to the event. You might also want to email your existing registrants (potentially a few times) during the few months before the event, encouraging them (tactfully on your part - and theirs) to recruit their friends and family to participate as well. This is especially effective if you offer a referral program.

At a minimum, absolutely prepare a pre-race email. Send it a few days before packet pick-up starts. Ensure that it clearly communicates the following:

  • Event Date/start time(s)/exact address (with a clickable link for directions) to where the event is staged from (and where they should park, if different)
  • PPU hours/location(s) (with a clickable link for directions)
  • A schematic (image) of the general staging area for the event (indicating the locations of parking, the bathrooms, PPU, the start/finish lines, refreshments, etc.)
  • Their bib number (if pre-assigned)
There are numerous other items you may want to cover, but on a minimal level, at least the information above will get them to the right place, at the right time. We recommend that you end your email with "For additional information about the event, including the course, awards, and more, please visit our website here: TheEventWebsite.com"

EVENT DAY OPERATIONS

Per your schematic that should have already been shared with your participants, ensure that your parking area(s) are ready. Check in the few days prior to ensure there are no blockages (sometimes a venue may have construction occurring, etc. and the equipment blocks part of a parking lot). You may need to have parking volunteers direct cars.

This has been covered above in the PPU section. Be sure you have sufficient coverage here. If allowing for on-site registration, make sure you have the capacity to accept payments, be it cash (with ample change) or swipers to process credit cards. In addition, on-site registration requires either paper forms (have ample pens/forms) and/or kiosks (ie. laptops/iPads). If you have any technical integration, be sure to have someone proficient with the equipment on-site to troubleshoot any issues.

At a minimum, have music playing at your start and your finish. Have a dedicated emcee with your type of event experience (ie. running races, triathlons). If you have a radio station sponsor who is going to be present playing music/announcing, do not rely on them for this purpose. Chances are that they have no experience at this type of event, will be ineffective in communicating with your participants, have no wherewithal to provide vital and pertinent extemporaneous information/direction, and probably also not have a sufficient enough setup to be heard as extensively as is needed.

The value of this aspect of an event cannot be understated. Having upbeat music and a fun and energetic announcer will elevate your event and effect its atmosphere more than any giveaway or perk. When an event is called fun, it's typically because this was well provided by the event.

Ideally, provide your announcer with a list of sponsors. A full 'Run of Show' is welcome, which is a schedule providing the exact timeline of when to speak, and what to say. Your announcer should also be provided with a live feed of finish data (or from the announcer line, if available) - this is coordinated with your timing company. If you can work with a company that provides this all-in-one, that is best as it will ensure they have experience with one another and expectations/responsibilities are well understood.

The planning for the course happens months in advance, namely the design of the route and the confirmation of where course marshals are needed. In the months that follow, you recruit volunteers/personnel to work at the designated locations. These are called Course Marshals.

Course Marshals
Being a course marshal is perhaps the most stressful position in that, depending upon their assigned location, your course helpers may be subject to an endless supply of angry drivers who have no care about your event, and may potentially be belligerent. It sounds harsh, but it happens - a lot. Your best course marshals will be:

  • Those with previous experience at this same event, in that same location
  • Those with previous experience at this same event, in any other location
  • Those with previous experience at any event serving in this same capacity
  • Adults
  • Able to follow exact instructions
  • Have confidence, good stage presence, and a take charge personality
  • Able to be calm under pressure
  • Have a cell phone with a long lasting battery, and not afraid to dial 911 if the situation requires it
  • Not need frequent bathroom breaks
  • Can withstand being outside for a long duration, potentially in unpleasant conditions

Designing the Course
As mentioned previously, if a previously used USATF-certified course exists at your location, consider using it. If one exists that is not certified, consider getting it certified to ensure it is accurate, and use it. If you'd like to design your own route, here are some considerations:
  • An out/back reduces the footprint of your event by 50% over a point-to-point course
    The advantage of this cannot be overstated. Compared to a point-to-point course, it reduces the amount of volunteers, extent of road closures, number of locations requiring volunteers, unique aid station locations, centralizes your staging area, and a host of other cost-reducing and logistic-reducing advantages. With that said, there are three primary disadvantages:
    1. The physical path/road may not be wide enough for this
    2. Your permit might not allow the starting miles of your event to be closed for that long (many big city races shut down the most vital streets for the shortest amount of time, using lesser used roads for the last half of the race)
    3. It simply is not as attractive as a point-to-point or loop course
  • A loop course reduces the distance event personnel have to travel from the start/finish to any other point on the course
  • A marathon that is simply a repeat of ~6.55M out/back loops could potentially get away with just having 2 unique water stop locations - that are accessed every ~5K. These 2 locations would be the equivalent of 8-9 on a point-to-point course.
  • A figure-8 course (essentially 2 unique loops that meet at the start/finish area) enable for a reduced event foot-print and also ease of offering multiple distances (ie. stop after the first loop, or continued for the 2nd part of the figure-8)
  • Do you want to offer multiple distances? If so, shall the shorter route follow the longer route completely, not at all, or some hybrid of the two?

  • Marking the Course
    First, make sure you are using an accurately measured course. Do not skimp on this. If you've been tasked with marking the route and it is not USATF certified, ask your event director how it was measured. A course doesn't have to be certified to be accurate, but at least that comes with a guarantee.

    Your course should be marked both directionally and also include markings at each mile. If you have an international field, you may want to additionally consider the inclusion of kilometer marks. Lastly, many larger-scale half marathons and marathons will have markings at each 5K and at 13.1M of a 26.2M.

    A race in which participants either do not follow the course due to poor marking or incorrect marking is among the worst things that can occur to destroy your event's reputation. Put another way, this is fully in your control, and its poor execution falls solely in your hands as the event producer. Putting together a plan for marking a course is a learned skill, particularly with events that have multiple races, repeated sections, and a variety of other overlapping sections. Most races, however, do not have overly complicated routes, and the marking/usage of them boil down to three redundant methods:
    1. Have cones continuously visible along the whole route (or ground flags + ribbons hanging from trees for XC/trail)
    2. Have signage at each intersection (indicating LT, RT, or ST via their corresponding arrows and text)
    3. Place a course marshal at each intersection
    To whatever extent permissible, we also recommend either the use of spray paint or chalk to draw arrows on the ground (to supplement your signage at intersections). Some events even paint a continuous line for literally the entire route!
    Leading the Way
    For road races, the police typically are involved and will provide a lead vehicle. Make sure the police know the route. Besides confirming that well in advance, on race day, have your course director meet with the officer leading the way for a final verification of the route they will be driving.

    In addition to this, you should always provide your own lead cyclist. Beyond ensuring that everyone is going the right way, it is best if this person is part of your pre-race course marshal meeting, explaining to the volunteers that, if 'all else fails' (ie. you forget what to do), simply point in the direction I'm biking.

    Absolutely never hold an event that doesn't have a lead vehicle or designee (cyclist/fast friend on your committee), etc. This lead person is also your eyes on the route, and can attend to items that may be minor (ie. easy to fix) - but have disastrous consequences if not addressed. Furthermore, we recommend that you utilize numerous cyclists, ideally a few for your top males and top females, along with course floats and course sweeps (in last place). They serve as mobile course marshals who can help participants in need, fix minor course marking issues (and/or deploy stacks of cones that couldn't be put in position prior to the start), etc.

    Lastly, your course manager or assistant should hold a meeting with all course marshals and go over the three major components of course assistance:
    1. Safety
      Review emergency procedures, who to call, how to use a flag, how to position yourself on the course to keep the participants - and yourself - safe.
    2. Direction
      How to effectively indicate direction to the runners.
    3. Encouragement
      With a consciousness on the items above, smile, have fun, and cheer!

    A division of AREEP specializes in course management and works with events of all sizes and distances.

    Water Stop Frequency
    In short, race distance and race day temperature affect how often you should - and are expected - to provide water/aid on the course. The simplest, most reliable formula is to have 1 water stop for every 2 miles of your race. With that said, typically it is OK every 5K (or more in a trail race), although in a major marathon on a hot day, you may see them as frequently as each mile. Ultimately it comes down to balancing expectations and safety of your participants. Most long trail races have them much less frequently, anywhere from every 3 to 10 miles, depending upon the race. Be clear up on your website/event promotional materials so that participants know what to expect. If they should carry their own water, make direct recommendations of the minimum quantity they should have.

    Amount of WaterUnder 50°F50°F - 64°F65°F - 74°F75°F - 84°F*85°F+
    Runners/Gallon3216864
    DistanceUnder 50°F50°F - 64°F65°F - 74°F75°F - 84°F*85°F+
    Under 4M0-111-21-22
    4M to 10K0-111-22-33-4
    10K to 15K1-22-32-43-53-6
    15K to 13.1M2-42-53-63-74-8
    13.1M to 30K3-54-55-75-86-10
    30K to 26.2M5-86-107-128-209-26

    *For races 10M or longer, you may need to consider shortening your course, forcing participants to run a shorter option at your event, and/or canceling the event.


    Water Stop Supplies
    Typical supplies include:
    • Water (in jugs, giant containers, from the running water of the venue at the water stop, etc.)
    • Cups
    • Tables
    • Electrolyte Drinks/tabs, etc. (ie. Nuun, Gatorade, etc.)
    • Snacks/fruit
    • Vasoline (with tongue depressors for application)
    • First Aid Kit
    • Garbage cans and bags
    • Rakes (for collecting the cups)
    • Portable toilets - for runners & volunteers who will be there for potentially many hours!

    Amount of Water and Cups
    You absolutely do not want to run out of water. To whatever extent possible, have more at each location than you could possibly imagine needing. On hot water days, the amount of water used may more than triple, especially if you take into account participants not just drinking it, but also dumping it over their heads. Beyond the intricacies of advanced planning for having enough, with a reserve vehicle on the course to distribute more if supplies run low, we recommend adherence to the basic principle below:
    Recommendations:
    1. Use 7 ounce paper cups
    2. Have water stop volunteers fill them just past halfway (minimize spillage)
    3. Water stop volunteers to hold cups on top of their palm, runner can grab from top (and immediately collapse the opening to avoid spillage / drink from a 'funnel')
    4. Refer to the chart above for how much water to have per participant.
    An out/back course reduces the amount of unique water stop locations you would need to setup/requires less staffing, etc.

    Nearly all running events are timed. From first to last, knowing one's time immediately creates a goal to try to do better the next time out. With timing, you have three options:

    1. Self-Reported
      When people finish, they submit their time in some form (be it on an index card, into a computer program, etc.) and you tabulate results based upon your trust of them. This is not a recommended method, and inevitably will lead to some incorrect times submitted and a host of other issues based upon the inaccuracy (intended or not) of some participants.
    2. Hand-timing (not using transponders)
      When people finish, a member of the timing team has to do something, be it press a button on a timing device/computer to record the time. The bib number then must be entered into the timing program, either manually (ie. typed) or via a barcode scan of the bib.
    3. Transponder (RFID) timing
      This is the most common method today, by which participants are given an RFID device (ie. a 'chip' or 'timing tag') that is read/sends data when the participant crosses a mat/runs past a receiving device. On a basic level, the receiving device records the bib number associated with that RFID device, the timestamp at which it was read, and sends it to the timing software.
    Timing, Scoring, and Results
    Did you know that timing is the easy part? It's true, getting timing data is a piece of cake. For small events, hand-timing can be just as accurate as transponder timing, albeit it may require a larger staff. Ultimately, it is scoring that is the real magic sauce of "timing" a race. Below, we break down these 3 concepts into more detail:
    • Timing
      The collection of raw timing data, namely BIB|TIME, at each timing location.
    • Scoring
      The technical act of doing calculations and generating rankings that both determine all relevant split times (/paces) for that person, as well as that person's applicable placements (ie. overall/gender/age group place). During the scoring phase, a strong timer will also utilize validity checks to ensure the data makes sense. The best timing companies not only have the most robust timing software, but ideally are programmers themselves who can customize and write reports 'on the fly' (ie. modify the software, on-site if need be) to adapt to whatever may arise even on race day. (For an example, ask us about the 2014 San Francisco and DC Nike Women's Half Marathons.)
    • Results
      This refers to the actual report generation, be it a dynamically generated live report, accessible publicly on the Internet, as well as any reports printed on-site. A common mistake made by some timing companies that offer live results is that they don't have built-in validity checks to prevent incorrect results from being posted to the Internet during live tracking. A simple example is when an event offers a 13.1M and a 26.2M, and someone in the 26.2M decides to run the 13.1M instead, crossing the finish line in 1:45, and appearing live as the winner. This simply should not happen. More insidious, but equally detrimental, is if someone runs a time that appears more globally acceptable (ie. a 2:45) - but still only did the half marathon, and wins her/his age group in the marathon. Additionally, with the unfortunate existence of some people who cheat to earn a BQ (Boston Qualifier) or simply win an age group award, it is important to ensure that your timer's software is configured to also live validate intermediary splits, red-flagging any omissions or clear inconsistencies/impracticalities.
    "Result Problems"
    There are two types of problems that can occur:
    1. A true 'timing' problem
      Either caused directly by the timing company or fully under their domain due to an equipment issue.
    2. A participant data problem (ie. faulty data)
      These are problems caused wholly either by PPU staff or a participant, such as the incorrect bib being given to someone (or recorded incorrectly via dynamic assignment) or the registrant data simply being wrong due to a typo during the registration process.
    The first type of problem simply shouldn't happen. Ideally the company you hire is reputable, has back-up equipment, and extensively experienced. Nonetheless, if they do have an issue, ideally they are able to rectify it on-site so that it only causes a delay - and not a complete postponement of providing results/awards, etc. In the event they have a considerable issue that requires their attention post-event, off-site, expect them to offer a reduction in price and hopefully work with you in a respectful and humble manner.

    For the other type of problems (ie. mistakes made at PPU or during the registration process), a well run PPU can help reduce these issues. A full description of tips and processes appears above in the Attrition & Bib Assignment section.

    Good Timing and Great Results
    A strong timing company will have multiple staff members on-site, and utilize select timing to verify, at a minimum, the top finishers by gender. The most common issue that occurs (related to this), is when a male is wearing a bib assigned to a female, and finishes before any other females. While this is (most likely) completely the fault of the participant, himself, (ie. put the wrong gender at the time of registration, which, statistically is most seen happening when a wife registers herself and then her husband, registering him also as a female) - a strong timing company will catch this and tactfully/respectfully confirm the issue and correct it essentially in live time. A strong timing company will also utilize other checks and tricks to ensure that they provide you with the most accurate data for both timing - and the participants.
    GUN vs. NET & Awards
    For a full description of what this means, please refer here.

    The "Decide on the Amenities" section above goes into more detail on this. It is best that the food items are under a tent (or indoors) and that you utilize some type of restriction for access - be it the presentation of a ticket, a visible bib, etc.


    Visit here to learn more about what age groups to offer and what to base times on.
    Operationally speaking, most 5Ks have their awards ceremony 45 minutes after the start, regardless of if everyone is done or not. Many longer events (15K+) are moving towards not having age group ceremonies, but rather allowing them to pick-up at the results kiosk (or simply an awards table) and only having a ceremony for the top overall finishers.

    THE DAY AFTER

    Congratulations on pulling it off! Results should have been posted in live time. You also should have been posting some live photos and videos to your social media channels. Within a day or two after the event, send a post-race email that thanks everyone for attending. Include links to results, media, along with any information concerning total donations to a charity/benefactor. Administratively, be sure that if you collected paper forms at PPU, store them in a safe place. Send thank yous to your sponsors and volunteers. And if you have the date for the following year confirmed, let them know about that too.