Do Athletes rush to sign up for your events as soon as registration opens? Are you the go-to race director in your region, known for your high-quality, Athlete-friendly events? Do you aim to earn that reputation? The popularity of racing shows no signs of slowing down, and with a proliferation of events in nearly every city and town, it’s more important than ever to do everything you can to make yours stand out.
One of the most important ways to ensure that your race is one that Athletes flock to is to focus on making it Athlete-friendly. But what does it mean to optimize the race experience for Athletes? It’s simple, really: think like an athlete. Carefully consider every aspect of your event, and make sure you deliver benefits that Athletes will enjoy, and that will improve their experience, every step of the way. Oftentimes, these are little touches—but ones that make a big difference, and show that you, as a race director, really “get it” in terms of what your Athletes want and need.
Some of these athlete-friendly solutions are obvious, like using our easy Athlinks Services registration platform to streamline the reg process, and working with us to offer free, sponsor-supported photos and videos post-race. But there’s more that you can do, much of which requires only a little extra effort on your part to guarantee a positive impact on your participants. Here are some things to consider:
- Pre-Race Prep—Once an Athlete has registered for your race, make sure they feel supported and informed as they prep for the start line. At a minimum, your pre-race communications should answer FAQs and clearly communicate all event details. But take it a step further and offer a free training plan, an organized pre-race run or ride to get familiar with the course, or a Facebook Live Q & A session with an elite Athlete who has experience with your race.
- Race Morning Munchies—If Athletes travel to your event, they’ll need access to proper race morning breakfast—without the comfort of their own kitchens. Work with your host hotels to provide a special race morning breakfast for Athlete guests. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy—coffee, oatmeal, bananas, and bagels make a sufficient pre-race spread—but it does need to be available extra early.
- Taking Care of Business—A well-executed pre-race bathroom break is critical for any Athlete—and the fear of failing in this area is a source of great stress. Just read a handful of race reports, and nine times out of 10, Athletes will touch on this topic, sometimes in TMI-level detail! You can set your Athletes up for the best chance of success by providing plenty of port-a-potties—and be sure to include plenty of TP.
- Make it Personal—Personalized bibs, containing Athletes’ names, are a small touch that make a major difference. There’s nothing quite like having thousands of strangers cheer for you by name to give your race performance an extra boost.
- Type-A Aid Stations—Let your inner perfectionist shine when it comes to planning and stocking your aid stations. First, make sure everything you serve is clearly organized and clearly marked, so that Athletes seeking sports drink won’t end up with a cup of plain water or cola instead. Also be sure that the volunteers staffing your stations are spot-on with their skills—like properly mixing sports drink and understanding how to hand off a water bottle to a cyclist in motion. Finally, be sure to have more than enough supplies so that every Athlete, from the first to the last, has access to the food, drink, ice, and sponges that they need.
- Say My Name—A charismatic announcer can have a huge impact on your event. Some of the most popular professional race announcers have earned near-celebrity status due to their incredible energy and enthusiasm, which carries over to the Athletes. Make sure you have a winning voice behind the microphone, and expand your announcer’s duties beyond the finish line. For an Athlete, hearing a personal call out over the loudspeaker while passing through a hot spot on the course, or while going through transition in a triathlon or duathlon, can add extra motivation. Plus, it’s a great way to help spectators keep track of their loved ones on course.
- Fire up the Fandom—Speaking of spectators, make sure that yours have ample opportunity to track and cheer for their favorite Athletes, and that their overall experience on the sidelines is positive. Consider these fans an extension of your Athletes, and cater to them accordingly. (Learn more about how to enhance your events for spectators here.)
- One Word: Water—This may seem obvious, but trust us, not every race remembers this basic requirement: provide plenty of water right at your finish line. There’s nothing worse than finishing a race and having to walk quite a distance to a water station—or discovering that no water is offered at all.
- Standout Swag—The cheapest race tees and swag are rarely the best. Sure, you need to operate within budget, but it’s also important to give your Athletes race mementos that they’ll truly appreciate. Here are some standout swag ideas that won’t go straight to Goodwill.
- Party Time—Who wants to finish a race and immediately head home? Athletes love to celebrate their accomplishments, so be sure to encourage this community-building by offering an organized post-race party. This doesn’t mean you need to foot the bill for a live band and beer garden (although that’s one fun option). Partner with a local brewery or restaurant as the designated post-race party spot, and arrange for them to offer the first beer for free or a 10% discount on the tab with a race bib or medal. They’ll more than recoup the cost through the added business, and your Athletes will have a designated gathering spot to swap post-race war stories.
- Not One and Done—Your post-race communications are critically important to keep the momentum for your event that you’ve worked so hard to earn. Consider each Athlete a part of your race family and nurture those relationships, rather than let them fall off. Thank your Athletes for their participation, ask for their honest feedback (and take it to heart), and consider offering an incentive if they encourage friends to join them on the start line next year.
If you already incorporate some of these details and practices into your event, you’re ahead of the game. If not, consider them as you plan for next season. Keep your focus on your Athletes first, and your race is sure to earn a reputation as one that everyone will rush to experience.