Modifying Your In-Person Event for 2021

We saw a steady increase in in-person events throughout the fall and winter, and expect to see significantly more in Q2 and Q3 of 2021. With more race organizers looking to secure permits for safe, modified events, we are increasingly seeing questions about the type of plan required keep participants safe and to to obtain permission for an event.

This post includes the primary areas of concern for modifying races, as well as some resources and a framework for writing your own COVID-19 Safety Plan.

Important: Consult with your timer before finalizing any plan. If you don’t usually work with a timer, consider engaging one this year – 58% of timers put on an in-person event in 2020, and another 29% are actively planning them for early 2021. Find a timer here.

COVID-19 Race Plan Framework

Every race is different, and the requirements for permitting will vary widely, so we can’t tell you exactly what to do or say. However, to give you a starting point, we did put together an outline that is representative of many of the plans we have seen around the country.

This is NOT a complete plan, and cannot be used as-is. You should edit the entire document to reflect your event and your decisions before submitting it. Some sections will require you to choose a modification option for your event and some will require additional details specific to your event. You may also choose to remove or add entire sections.

It is recommended that you include photographs, videos and/or diagrams to illustrate your distancing setups for packet pickup, start lines, porta-potty area(s), and the finish area.

You can download the document by going to File -> Download. From there, you can edit the document in Microsoft Word. Alternatively, you can go to File -> Make a Copy to create an editable copy in Google Docs.

Additional Resources

Setup Considerations And Examples

Make it a Hybrid with a Virtual Option

Even the most stringent COVID-19 plan won’t convince 100% of potential participants to show up on-site – nor should it. Include a virtual option parallel to your in-person race to accommodate:

  • Participants who are immunocompromised or otherwise uncomfortable racing in-person at this point
  • Participants who cannot attend the in-person event due to a COVID-19 exposure or symptoms on race day – but want to participate safely later if their health and CDC guidelines allow.
  • A built-in back-up plan if local restrictions change and the event is no longer able to proceed.

Staff Management and Safety

It’s your job to keep your team safe. Regardless of the rules you put in place, it’s likely that there will be athletes not wearing masks while they are actively competing, and possibly at other times. A few precautions to protect your staff:

  • Set up earlier and tear down later
  • Wipe down all touch points with approved disinfectant
  • Provide PPE for your staff
  • Provide written guidance and virtual trainings with staff to review expected protocols

Provide no-touch services to limit exposure:

  • Remove any unnecessary touch points
    • No results kiosks or printed pages (point athletes to results website or RaceJoy)
    • No on-site registration (keep online registration open instead, so procrastinators can register from their own phones)
    • Offer self-managed aid with foot-pedaled water stops and BYO water bottles
    • Offer RaceJoy to communicate remotely and backup your timing
    • Encourage timing remotely to separate the timer from the participants

Packet Pickup

Plan for social distancing.

  • Communicate the plan for packet pickup IN ADVANCE .
  • Spread stations out if possible
  • Have a plan to manage/limit crowds and enforce social distancing
    • FM Radios, text alerts, signage
  • Use cones/flags/dots on ground to show safe distances

Consider mailing packets.

  • Keep in mind the extra costs, decreased lead time for orders, and lost bibs in mail
  • Turn on Shipping Management tools in RunSignup

Use the RaceDay CheckIn App for efficiency.

  • QR Code scanning of digital bibs and QR/barcode applied to bibs
  • Ensure settings are uploaded to the cloud for use on multiple devices

Consider changing your process for swag pickup. Alternate Setup:

  • Have packet pickup for bibs only as part of the start line chute
    • When an athlete checks in, dynamically assign their bib and have them start immediately
  • Give shirts or other giveaway items at the end of the race
    • Avoids participants going back and forth to the car
    • Easier to manage the flow of athletes onsite
Packet Pickup Setup with X’s for spacing and arrows to direct the flow of traffic.
Use signage throughout the packet pickup area to reinforce your safety measures

Start Line Considerations.

The traditional start line is one of the biggest concerns – but it doesn’t have the be that way. 

Creative options to support social distancing:

  • Add multiple courses, with different start locations for the same distance
  • Host the race over multiple dates to spread out participants
  • Set up staggered starts, corrals, etc.

There are multiple options for the start line:

  • Mass Start: Everyone starts at once
    • Pro: Feels like pre-COVID
    • Pro: and everyone is through the start quickly.
    • Con: COVID-19! As fun as mass starts are, they are not recommended right now.
  • Limited Wave Start (Corrals): athletes start in small groups, such as 10 athletes every 2 minutes
    • Pro: Athletes feel like they’re racing each other, even if it’s in groups of 10
    • Con: You still have clumped groups
    • Con: Frequent waves can be confusing and runners may start in the wrong wave
    • Additional Consideration: Timing mats at the start are recommended to allow for participant confusion/flexibility within corrals. Without timing mats at the start, additional volunteers/staff should be engaged to ensure the accuracy of the start time for each participant.
  • Time Trial Start: One athlete at a time, such as a runner starting every 20 seconds
    • Pro: Athletes spread out and have little contact
    • Con: Start can take longer
    • Con: It feel more like racing a clock than racing other runners
    • Additional Consideration: Timing mats at the start are recommended to allow for participant confusion/flexibility within corrals. Without timing mats at the start, additional volunteers/staff should be engaged to ensure the accuracy of the start time for each participant.
  • Grid Start: Everyone (or waves of people) start at once but spread out with markers keeping them at least 6 feet a part
    • Pro: Gets everyone through the start line fairly quickly
    • Con: All timing off of chip timing
    • Con: Lots of setup with cones, etc.
    • Likelihood of clumping on course
  • Open Start/Finish: Set start window (like 2 hours) with runners starting whenever they want within the window
    • Pro: Athletes start whenever they want
    • Con: Some responsibility left on athletes to not start in groups
  • Multi-Day Event/Open Start Finish: Course is open for multiple days for a set time like 9am-5pm
    • Pro: PLENTY of time for athletes to spread out
    • Pro: Flexibility to accommodate schedules
    • Cons: Requires a lot of time from your team and volunteers
    • Con: Doesn’t feel as much like a real event
Orange dots mark the starting spot for participants in a corral (or small race). Cones, survey flags, and chalk marks are also options for marking.
Socially distant participant start from above.

Course Considerations

The things that make a course great in normal years aren’t necessarily the same things you want to look for today. Keep in mind:

  • If using roads, factor in the extra time for wave starts to ensure that the last runners will be off the course before traffic is re-opened
  • Look for off-road courses or paved trails to allow for longer windows for participation
    • Consider how much light the course gets if you’re running outside of sun-up – many athletes do not feel safe running on trail in the dark
  • Parking may be less of an issue if you’re spreading out the timeline to participate
  • Out and back courses reduce the resources (equipment/staff) needed for on-course splits, but loop courses provide a more socially distant race experience.
Keep lighting in mind if your race will have participants on-course during potentially dark times of day.

Resource Management

Elongated starting times can make a simple 5K take as long as a half marathon. That leaves a lot to think about for equipment, staff, and volunteers.

  • Power, connectivity, and data
    • Consider moving splits closer to power sources and have generators available to plug them in
    • Come up with a creative solar application for longer term use
    • Protect your equipment from theft, especially expensive gear like generators
  • Consider outfitting split points with SIM cards for remote access (or ask your timer about this)
    • Reduces staff and increases speed of results
    • Confirm you have connectivity at your split locations
    • Confirm your data plan will hold up for longer races
  • Ensure staff/volunteers are safe and have appropriate PPE
    • Let staff know your expectations prior to arrival 
    • Use plexiglass between staff and athletes when possible
    • If possible, allow remote timing or place the timing tent on the opposite side of the finish to limit interactions
    • Consider putting a staffer/volunteer with a bike/car and RaceJoy activated to show where the first and last athletes are on course
  • Changes to food and hydration available
    • Food should be pre-packaged. More food may be required than a normal race, since each participant must take a full portion.
    • Bottled water only: requires significantly more water than normal to account for wasted water.
    • Hydration stations with participants filling their own water, with hand sanitizer available and/or foot pedal options to operate the water jugs.
    • Give out or sell water bottles or other types of collapsible hydration devices to ensure no participant arrives unprepared.
Invest in additional generators or other power sources to manage the course for a longer period of time.

Finish Line Considerations

The finish line won’t be lined with spectators, but you still want to use it to highlight accomplishment.

  • Limit Crowding
    • Proper spacing at the start is your first step to ensuring spacing at the finish
    • No gathering of spectators allowed – keeping spectators away from the direct area not only keeps people safe as the finish, it also discourages gathering
  • Results Delivery
    • Enable text and email notifications
    • Don’t have kiosks or scrolling results TV’s (they’ll be back in 2022!)
  • Limit the Awards Ceremony
    • Consider a PDF awards list from the timer
    • Pre-place all awards on a table and allow the athlete to come up and take their award
    • Zoom awards
      • Get comfortable with the format in advance, and build any technology needs into your budget
    • Mail out awards
      • Consider the extra costs
    • Setup Finisher Certificates for speedy digital recognition
  • No Post-Race Party
    • Any refreshments should be pre-packaged and easy to grab-and-go
    • Use signage and volunteers to encourage participants to move away from the finish
No spectators lining the finish – but all the structure and decorative elements to maintain the sense of accomplishment.

RaceJoy for Management of RaceDay

We often talk about how RaceJoy can enhance a race by providing a more interactive and engaging experience; But that’s not all the app can do. Features of RaceJoy that can help you manage your modified event include:

  • Create a tangible race experience for on-site and virtual courses (via audio experience)
  • Safe real-time engagement with participants (via messaging options)
  • Integrate automated results and performance data (for instant post-race result)
  • On-site course map customization options. (for off-course alerts)
  • Valuable Remote Timing tool. (to limit timer’s time on-site)

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