What 2020 Success Stories Tell Us About 2021

We recently sent out a survey asking customers to share their experiences and expectations as we move into 2021. We’ll be sharing those in full (and comparing them to the May version), but first, a little bit of sunshine.

We asked race directors to share their positive experiences from races that did happen this year (any kind!). While we know these experiences were accompanied by plenty of struggle, they also provide inspiration as the industry looks ahead.

Virtual Races: Reaching New Participants

Virtual racing took the industry over in the spring. The common thread: while virtual isn’t for everyone, it also opens the door to participants who wouldn’t have joined your event live – and provides powerful connection for isolated people.

We had some new people find a sense of fitness and belonging from virtual events


We were able to engage people from all over the country and all over the world (representing every continent except Antarctica) with the switch to virtual. We were also able to expand the race offerings beyond what we would have done in person. Instead of just a 5K & 1 mile option (which would have run concurrently), we added a 20K option plus the chance to sign up for all three, which was vary popular.


“We are thrilled with the industry recognizing how valuable virtual events are, COVID-19 or not. Getting more people into running is crucial for the industry to grow and the volume of virtual events creates a safe bridge for people to try it. People who wouldn’t show their face at an actual race prior to trying a virtual run are now excited to try in-person events in the future. We see it time and time again that virtual events give people confidence and get their toes we with a sport that seems so accessible, yet so many people are intimidated by it.


We’ve actually seen some new runners or members of the community get into running as a result of the shut down and virtual events. These might’ve been individuals that just never got into running or the racing because it’s more of an event and they didn’t feel like they could compete.


Virtual Challenges: Continued Motivation

Like virtual races, virtual challenges expanded the pool of potential participants. Beyond that, it encouraged creativity from race directors and participants alike, brought friends and family together, and provided a daily reason for participants to stay active.

“My virtual challenge gave runners a reason to continue to train through the summer, and brought much needed revenue into my company when it was needed most.


Our team challenge was great virtual challenge that really drove a sense of community amongst team members. This helped address one of the missing components of virtual races: that feeling of being with other people to enjoy running and walking.


“The challenges have been phenomenal at keeping people active and creative.”


Modified In-Person Events: Getting Runners Back Together

As the year developed, an increasing number of race directors and timers have been able to pull off in-person events with safety modifications. While generally smaller events, these opportunities excited a running community eager for a “normal” race experience. The common theme here: grateful and excited runners.

“I successfully held an in-person event in October that was originally scheduled for March. The event was much smaller and there were definitely modifications, but the biggest thing I would say is that everyone who attended was just very happy to be at an in-person running race again.”


We have been able to hold multiple in-person races, with the largest being about 1,000 finishers in all staggered starts. Our runners were just so excited to be able to get out and run even with the modifications”


“We have been positively surprised by the post-COVID turnout, which was upwards of 80% of a normal operating year for our in-person races. It’s encouraging as we look ahead to 2021 and beyond that we can bounce back rapidly without much lingering participation fear from the pandemic.”


“People were really happy that we were able to have an in-person event, and felt comfortable that we did all the right things to communicate changes due to COVID, and how the event would occur on race day, from packet pickup through awards delivery.”


“We’ve held 3 in-person events, progressing from 300 up to 900 participants. With COVID protocols in place, participants are happy to be out racing and are adopting safety protocols without hesitation.


Hybrid Events: The Best of All Worlds

As we move into the next phase, Hybrid Events are emerging as the key to a successful 2021. Hybrid events, which include elements of both in-person and virtual races or challenges, capitalize on the flexibility of virtual events while offering the opportunity for a more traditional experiences.

“We loved having the opportunity for people around the country be able to participate. We hope to do a hybrid version in 2021 – allowing a virtual race option in addition to in-person.


“We have been able to extend our event reach to over 34 states. Since COVID, we have learned we will always offer a hybrid model.”


“Our virtual/in-person hybrid 1 mile/5K event goal was 100 participants, and we are close, with 80 folks signed up for our event this Saturday. Last year was our first year with a 1 mile event and 50 people.

*editors update: they exceeded their goal!


“Our virtual July 4th race (with options to run the actual course or elsewhere) was VERY well received and appreciated by runners hungry for events. We opted to share our proceeds with first responders who had also lost fundraisers due to the pandemic and this was appreciated.


“After the realization that the pandemic is going to be a long-term challenge, people started accepting the alternatives offered. For me, that meant turning what would-be a debut race series, West of the River, 100% virtual with a hybrid virtual/in-person option for my racers. I had several people reach PRs through my training and on their own in the 5K, 10K, and half marathon.”


Heading into 2021 with Optimism

We know that uncertainty and hardships will continue – as one responder plainly described their year, “We didn’t lose money. This sh*t is hard.” However, the overall enthusiasm of our customers – and their willingness to keep adapting their events to meet the moment – is motivating. For a final note of encouragement, a few miscellaneous anecdotes that made us smile.

“A man was hit by a car and told he would never walk again without assistance. He walked a half marathon unassisted.”

Spirit remains high.”

“I have been able to spend more time with my family.”

I met my girlfriend as a result of changing our event from live to virtual.”

“Although we had to cancel/postpone our 2020 event, 95% of our sponsors from 2020 told us to hold onto the money for our next event in 2021”.

“We were able to raise money for several local businesses and their employees during the pandemic. Most of the funds were transferred directly to employees that worked in the restaurant industry.”

” RunSignup has been a tremendous asset to us this year. I feel like we tried every new thing that was rolled out and found functionality that we had never even considered using prior to the pandemic.”

As you’re working on your 2021 plans, we recommend starting with a Hybrid approach for maximum opportunities and maximum flexibility. Learn more about why we believe Hybrid Events are key, and review setup recommendations today.

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