Three Ways to Engage Past Participants

In the business world there’s a commonly cited stat about how it costs five times more money to attract a new customer than it does to retain a current one. Some refer to it as a “leaky bucket.” The moral of the story being that you should do everything you can to keep customers around. Constantly replacing lost customers simply isn’t sustainable.

Though it may not be as common a topic of conversation in the endurance events space, runner retention probably should be. Many may be surprised to know that our 2023 Race Trends data shows only around 16% of people return to the same race, and event, year-over-year. 

So, what can race directors do to bring back past participants? In this article we cover three tactics you can use and share a couple examples of how current races put those tactics into practice. 

Follow-up emails

One of the best things you can do to engage with past participants is send an email. It may not sound like a lot, but simply reminding people you exist can go a long way, especially if there are long spans of time between events, or if it doesn’t happen on a consistent day. 

If you use RunSignup’s free marketing tools, past participant lists are actually prebuilt in the system, so all you have to do is create an email and send the message. The past participants list includes people from the most recent event, as far back as three years prior.

Turkey Trot email

One example of a race doing this well is the Moorestown Turkey Trot. They send out an email a couple months prior, and then another closer to the event. Putting in that effort each year is part of how the event has become a staple in the Moorestown community, with many returning participants. 

Loyalty programs 

Letting people know you still exist is a big help. But if you want to take it a step further you could also consider offering an incentive for people to return the following year. Loyalty programs offer the ability for races to do things like offer discounts to returning participants. 

Setting up a loyalty program may seem complicated to do, but with RunSignup it’s actually quite simple. There’s a built-in loyalty program option that gives people early access to sign up for a race. If you want to offer a discount along with early access you can do so by setting up a reserved entry list. You can find all the details on how to set that up here

The Boilermaker 15k Road Race has done a great job with their loyalty program. They’ve offered it the past two years. Since it’s an event that often sells out, having early access to register is a big incentive. It all but guarantees past participants a spot in the race. Making it very valuable.  


Getting people back to an event often comes down to how invested they are. Creating a membership option for your races could be a good option to improve how invested someone is in your races. Similar to signing up to be a member at Costco, you’d offer them special access to races, discounts, or even products. 

Since they’ve already spent money becoming a member they’ll probably be more likely to choose to attend one of your races over another. Our new Memberships product makes setting up a membership program simple. You have options for membership length, and cost. You can also create age-specific memberships and have the option to set them to auto renew. 

Example membership levels

If you want to sweeten the deal a bit more, you can also offer member-only discounts for events you host. Giving people another reason to return to a past event. Or participate in a brand new event in your series.

Moving forward  

Keeping people coming back year after year is a key component to a continually successful event. Retaining runners year-over-year doesn’t have to be a huge hassle as long as you have access to the right tools. Let people know they’re valued, offer some incentives, and stay in touch. If you do, you might be surprised at how many people come back. 

If you’re ready to get started building a RunSignup race, you can sign up for free here

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