Why Now is the Time to Think About How to Stage a COVID-secure Event

Exactly when in-person events will return remains unknown, however, the recent UK gov’t guidance surrounding the return of team sports, the opening of outdoor pools, and allowance of outdoor performances suggests that in-person endurance events will return to our schedules sooner than initially anticipated. One thing, however, is clear; when events do return, they will be an entirely different prospect to before, and event organisers will need to be prepared for such change.

This may seem overwhelming, but now is the perfect time to start planning. Don’t let yourself be caught out when in-person events do return and use this time to think creatively about ways you can run zero-contact races.

In the US, in-person events have slowly begun to trickle back into action, the largest of which was a Spartan event on June 13th in Jacksonville, Florida, which attracted 1,400 participants - a significant drop from their usual 5,000. We also spoke to Connecticut based race director, Jim Gerweck, who has begun to offer small-scale in-person events, about the safety measures he has taken.

PRE AND POST RACE LOGISTICS

Generally, races involve large queues, numerous points of contact, mad rushes prior to the race start and people hanging around in groups after crossing the finish line. Evidently, none of this will be allowed with social distancing legislation and, as a result, event organisers must begin to think about how they can make these stages of race day safe.

Self-Service

One method is a self-serve bib collection. Prior to the event, organisers can email all entrants their bib number and ensure that, upon arrival, runners are clearly signposted and directed toward a pre-packed bib collection. This is a method that has been used with success by some race directors in the US.

Pre-Posted Packets

Pre-posting packets, albeit more expensive, is another great contactless alternative which means that participants can arrive ready to race. To make life easier for you, tools such as a mail-merge are a simple way to print off mass labels for postage.

Alternatively, you could use a third-party provider to handle this process, from start to finish, for you. If you need help with distribution, Michael Winterior - of Crevasse Clothing - works in both the UK and the US, distributing medals, t-shirts, race packets and more. You can access his contact details on our helpful resources page here.

Finish Line

Another issue facing organisers is mass gathering of runners following the event. While we’d love for participants to be able to hang around, interact and meet like-minded individuals, this will not be possible for the time being.

Spartan solved this problem by giving people a strict time-limit; people had to enter the venue no more than 30 minutes from their start time and leave no longer than 30 minutes after finishing.

A more creative option, and one which has been successful in the world of virtual racing, is offering a Zoom meet-up the evening after the race for all entrants. This allows participants the chance to debrief and discuss the event with fellow competitors from the safety of their own homes. This is something which Maverick successfully implemented for their virtual event here.

WAVE/CORRAL STARTS

In the COVID age, wave starts will now become standard as they offer the only definitive way to ensure that participants are safely distanced at the start-line. Spartan have led the way here, by reducing their heats to 24 from the usual 300, and staggered the start with waves going off every 5 minutes.

In Connecticut, Jim Gerweck also used a corral start (pictured below). Jim recommends the hexagonal pattern over a square grid set-up, citing that you can save half a foot per row and reduce the risk of entrants running directly into the person in front.

Hexagonal race start-line formation
Hexagonal race start-line formation
Jim Gerweck's Hexagonal Start Line Formation



That said, Jim notes that the hexagonal pattern is better suited for a static lineup, while a square grid set-up is better for walking runners forward and maintaining a consistent flow. An example of a walking flow can be seen at Spartan’s event below.

Spartan's Walking Flow Start Line



For organisers who are new to wave starts, Overland Timing’s Race Corral Calculator here offers a great interactive tool to help you calculate corral sizes based on area dimensions and social distancing constraints.

What is clear is that a successful wave start relies on clear communication and it’s important to obtain the correct information such as expected finish-time during the booking process; to inform runners to arrive close to their allocated start time; and to ensure that signage toward the start-line is clear and safe.

INSPIRE CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

As event organisers, we are all eagerly anticipating the return of in-person events. That being said, it is important to understand that many people will be apprehensive about returning to in-person events.

These are a few easy ways to instil a sense of comfort and security in your participants:

1.  Ensure that all payment or registration stations have plexi-glass screens in place (these can be purchased here)
2.  All staff onsite should wear a mask and gloves at all times
3.  Enforce participants to wear a mask both before and after, but not during, the race
4.  Have extensive hand sanitisation stations set-up (perhaps even include some within your race pack)
5.  Make sure everything, from toilets to sign up, is clearly sign-posted and distanced

6. Inform runners to be self-sufficient as aid stations are an unnecessary point of contact. This will also reduce waste and minimise environmental damage. If you do wish to provide nutrition during the race, make it a grab-and-go system with individually wrapped snacks and no hand-offs.

While taking part in a race is, arguably, safer than visiting your local supermarket, it is not an essential risk, and as an organiser it’s crucial to offer participants both comfort and security throughout the event. Here is a good example of Jim Gerweck’s clearly marked route to the start-line.



Alongside a well laid out start and finish area, consumer confidence can be instilled through clear and instructive signage, which outline the regulations and expectations from the organiser. We put together this sign which instructs runners to wear a mask both before and after the event and to adhere to social distancing regulations. This can be downloaded as a PDF to help you get started when the time comes.



Summary

Excitingly, the return of in-person events in the UK seems imminent after the most recent government guidelines. Clearly, the US illustrates that races can still attract and excite participants. What remains unclear is whether or not the demand will be there or if consumer confidence remains low.

With this in mind, starting to plan for in-person events now will really serve to benefit your business when events do return. Use this time to interact with your audience, ask about their main concerns, and what they would like to see at your events in this new age of mass participation sport.

Tools

Wave Start:Overland Timing’s Race Corral Calculator
Signage: Downloadable PDF Sign here
Distribution: Michael Winterior, Crevasse Clothing, details here
Protection: Plexi-glass screens can be purchased here
How to: Mail-Merge guide here

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