Negative Split, a timing and race management company based in Washington State, has been hosting hybrid events with in-person participants since July. In that time, they have produced 5 events and timed 7 in two states, and they offered to share their process and key lessons to help other race organizers learn from their experience.
Their model of hybrid race includes options for running on-site in a more traditional race format as well as running anywhere, virtually. Throughout the summer and fall, they saw enthusiastic support for both options – runners were interested in joining in person, but the demand for a flexible, solo option remained as well.
In-Person R.A.C.E. Strategy
The protocols created by Negative Split helped build the framework for the state of Washington to implement new statewide guidelines allowing for safe hybrid races. Their philosophy:
- Reduce participant densities
- Avoid touch points
- Communicate protocols and guidelines
- Evaluate strategies continually
To allow for a socially distant race day, participants pre-register for either the live or virtual option on RunSignup, selecting a corral start time “window” in registration. When they arrive on race day, packet pickup is curbside (shipping can be an add-on), and they are encouraged to stay in their car until their start window, then head to the course and start when the start line is empty. To minimize volunteer interactions, aid stations use pre-packaged products and participants are encouraged to use RaceJoy for runner instructions.
While runners miss real races, Negative Split found that creating runner confidence in the safety of their events was harder than expected. At the Negative Split 100 in July, their first in-person COVID races, they expected to sell out their 100 spots but only ended up with 60. However, those 60 runners provided them with a valuable opportunity to demonstrate the safety of their process.
- Photos and video from the event allowed Negative Split to visually share the setup of their start and finish areas, as well as the on-course experience.
- Runner reviews and word of mouth spread the word that the event had been well thought-out and safe.
The lessons from that event are evident on the websites for every race Negative Split has hosted since – they all share detailed information about their plan, photo and video representations of previous events, and runner testimonials to ensure that runners are confident registering.
Hybrid Events: The Results
In addition to the Negative Split 100, the company has hosted four more events with robust virtual and in-person options. These included:
- Coeur d’Alene Marathon in Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) in August, with 1200 in-person participants and 500 virtual participants.
- Windermere Marathon in Spokane (Washington) in September, with 850 in-person participants and 450 virtual participants.
- The Split Half Marathon in Spokane (Washington) in September with 800 in-person participants and 400 virtual participants.
- Huffin for the Stuffin Turkey Trot in Spokane (Washington) in November with 300 in-person participants and 250 virtual participants.
In the first three larger events, the race ran over a 2 or 3 day period to allow for enough staggered starts to accommodate everyone. In each instance, the no-show rate for live participants ranged from 25% to 35%.
When thinking about the keys to their success, owner Ryan Hite cited:
- Finding a course that requires limited traffic control and volunteers
- Utilization of RaceJoy to provide runners support with fewer volunteers and spectators
- Utilization of the the RunSignup corral system to create staggered start windows
- Constant communication with government authorities, runners, and staff
- A focus on swag and other perks to support the runners without the normal after-party. For example, Huffin’ for the Stuffin’ offered runners a choice between multiple t-shirts with fun artwork and creative puns.
The biggest challenges to the new race structure included:
- Creating runner confidence in safety protocols took time
- Keeping a course open for several days led to stolen equipment and the moving of directional markers
- Staff costs increased due to PPE, hours, etc., although some of that was offset by fewer toilets, less traffic control, etc.
It’s important to create protocols to keep your runners safe, but it is also important to share those protocols with your runners. Negative Split also has many videos available on their YouTube channel demonstrating the safety measures they have implemented.
If you don’t feel comfortable with new protocols, yet, talk to your local timer and see what they have done – you may have an expert like Negative Split around the corner who’s happy to work with you to provide a safe framework for your event.