Running Events During Covid-19 - Episode 2: Sean Osborne

In the second edition of our ‘Running Events During Covid-19’ series we travel across the Atlantic to Wisconsin, where Sean Osborne has been doing a number of Covid-secure events.

We spoke to him about the challenges and successes which come when staging an event during the current global climate, and, through photos and video of his events, we can begin to build a clearer picture of how these events will look, for both organisers and participants.

The key take-aways are:

1. Invest big and early in inspiring consumer confidence
2. Be creative in the communication of your safety measures
3. Start small and trial what methods work best for your events

Read in detail about Sean and his events in our Q & A below.

Q. “Who are you and how long have you been race directing?”

I started Silver Circle Sports Events back in 2010, when a village board asked me to stage a 5k. Since then we’ve grown into an event management, timing, equipment and technology company; now owning approximately 40 races and managing, organising timing or providing equipment to another 75 per year. 

Our first event was a kids mud run and adult 5K, which had about 75 people at it. Since then, the company has ballooned and we now organise and manage far larger events.

Recently we’ve organised a number of secure, socially distanced events which have around 100 people attending each distance. 

Q. “What were your main apprehensions about staging an event in the current climate?”

Generally, there weren’t any major apprehensions as I had already started to work on social distancing before we got shut down. When the Governor of WI closed businesses for 3 weeks, this eventually turned into 3+ months and we had over 40 events cancelled.

Therefore, our major concern was cash flow and whether we would be able to make it until we were allowed to race again, and as a result I knew I had to start thinking early about how races would work once they were permitted.

Fortunately we were finally allowed to reopen with a social distancing plan in one county, who we have partnered with for the past 6 years and have a great working relationship. We committed to being 100% contact free and they approved our social distancing plan.

Q. “How did you inspire confidence in your participants from the outset?”

Firstly, we increased our presence on social media by showing how we maintain distance and how we are contact free. Alongside this, we made public our social distancing plan, to ensure that people are well aware of the measures we take.

These measures include pre-event covid screenings and taking runners temperatures, offering virtual races along our in-person races and we are also very liberal with our transfer policies.

Finally, we hired a videographer and put together the video shown above, which is great for really illustrating participants how we implement safety measures and what an event day will look like.

The hardest part is convincing people that you can attend in-person events safely and with our measures in place I certainly feel that our races are safer than being at a bar or restaurant.

Q. “How did you handle the pre-race registration process?”

The night before the race we send runners a short covid screening questionnaire, if they answer yes to any of the questions then they are told to stay home and we will refund their entry. Alongside this, we send out individual QR codes and ask them to bring it along the day.

Pre-racing socially distanced queuing
Pre-event check-in process

Upon arrival, participants queue in a line with cones which space them 10ft apart and everyone must wear a mask before the race.

While the recommendation for social distancing is 6ft, we found that using 10ft distancing makes it simple for everyone to understand and for us to then stage our waved starts.

Check in then includes:

1. Runners use anti-bacterial hand wash
2. Individual QR codes are scanned
3. Bib number is found and scanned
4. Pre-packed shirt is slid under the plexi-glass

Q. “What area of the race proved most complicated to organise?”

The actual start is definitely a new challenge and we tried and tested a couple different ways to start a race, eventually settling on waves. Since most of our races are limited to 100 people, we set out our cones spaced in rows of 10, as shown below.

We then ask runners to self stage based on their estimated time with the fastest leaving first. Runners take their position 5 minutes before the start and are released in waves of 10, every 30 seconds. This limits groups of people running together and passing.

Race start-line structure

Q. “What challenges remain for the future?”

The one thing we are yet to figure out is aid stations as I can’t guarantee that a runner won’t touch something that another runner or staff might touch. For example, a runner grabs a water bottle but it slips out of his hand and another person grabs it or it rolls across the table contaminating the table. I know it’s a long shot, but we are not willing to take the chance.

Our solution is a self-administered bag drop. Right now we are mostly doing looped distance races in parks. We encourage runners to drop a bag in a designated bag drop area on course before the race and the bag drop is usually located close enough to packet pickup that they can walk there. Since they are doing loops (usually 3 or 4), they are able hydrate every few miles.

We have also done races where we combine the wave staging area as a bag drop (see below). Runners simply set their bag next to their cone and are already set 10 ft apart.

Waved start-line, also used for bag drop

Both methods have worked very well and we haven’t had any complaints about it!

Staged a Covid-secure event? Looking to help out other organisers? We are looking for any event organisers who have successfully staged an event in the current climate to feature in our EO Spotlight Series. Simply reach out to to get involved.

Helpful Resources:

Check out Episode 1 of our ‘Running Events During Covid-19’ here
Check out our free tools and resources page here

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