Getting Repeat Racers: How to Create an Unforgettable Participant Experience

Planning a marathon or similar event is an incredible endeavor, one that includes securing city permits, renting equipment, finding sponsors and so much more. You want your event to be both safe and profitable — but you also want to create an unforgettable experience for each participant.

How can your race stand out as unforgettable? There’s no shortage of races worldwide, including 5Ks, half marathons, marathons, triathlons and more. As you attempt to create a truly memorable experience for your participants, consider these five ideas:

1 - Choose the Right Location

A race is one of the most unique ways to see a city or rural area. Make sure your route captures the most interesting, the most spectacular, and the most scenic of vistas and attractions in the area. And as your participants pass by, through or near these points of interest, make sure they know about them.

For example, the TCS Amsterdam Marathon passes underneath the famed Rijksmuseum, where notable works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and other renowned artists are on display. If you don’t tell your participants where they are, they won’t know. It will feel like passing through an everyday tunnel rather than passing under a world-famous museum.

Race routes around the globe are full of attractions to be seen. Rio de Janeiro’s Maratona Caixa features occasional views of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. The Philadelphia Marathon passes by the Museum of Art whose steps the film Rocky made famous, as well as Independence Hall where the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed. The Marine Corps Marathon route through Washington D.C. is lined with memorials and other points of interest. Make sure your participants know about and can appreciate these attractions. Publicize them beforehand and make sure they’re marked along the route.

One way to prep your racers for points of interest is through Pic2Go’s futuristic 3D RaceView Flyover. This digital experience highlights the course, the terrain and points of interest and serves as an innovative digital memento for each participant that includes performance data.

2 - Secure Relevant Sponsors

Sponsors are the lifeblood of a profitable race. As you search for sponsors for your event, make sure each one is relevant to your participants. Your final collection of sponsors should include a blend of local and national brands, as well as sponsors that represent a diverse range of industries and non-profit causes.

Many races seek out brands that offer products and services designed for athletes. For example, the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon’s group of sponsors includes obvious brands like Gatorade, Clif Bar, Reebok, and more. These national brands come with large marketing budgets for events just like yours, and they make a natural fit for marathons and similar races.

But don’t overlook the impact of local sponsors. The BMW Dallas Marathon offers local running retailer Luke’s Locker as a sponsor. These local sponsors are a good fit because they are already embedded in the community — they know your participants and can serve a unique role in spreading the word about your event. The BMW Dallas Marathon also features the Dallas Morning News newspaper and a local all-sports radio station as sponsors. These local media outlets are similarly embedded in the community. They can help promote your event using their existing audiences, and they can also help share results and highlights afterward.

The key to securing these relevant sponsors, both local and national, is to offer them an attractive return on their investment. At Pic2Go, we help race organizers create that powerful return through products like our Sponsored (Free) Race Photos, as well as our new Performance Videos solution, which give participants HD video of their race experiences. These videos include performance data like pace, time and distance, and they automatically publish to participants' Facebook. The sponsor of this product gets a customizable intro and outro with branded content. Performance Videos help your race secure sponsors. They help your sponsors increase their ROI. And they help your participants create a memorable race experience.

3 - Communicate Regularly and Clearly

A race is a big deal for participants. They spend weeks and months training and preparing. They deal with aches and pains and sometimes injuries along the way. Training for an individual event like a marathon can often feel lonely, which is why it’s important that you communicate with your participants regularly and clearly.

Start by using a countdown clock to generate excitement. The countdown can run on your website, and you can occasionally publish through social media channels and email marketing. Build your participant emails around a cascade of new services or announcements about race experiences. Each email should include new information that helps build excitement and anticipation for race day. For example, use emails to share the headlining band for the post-race celebration, or to unveil the T-shirt design, or to announce a new sponsor and a special experience it will offer.

And, finally, make sure that each communication includes access to the nuts-and-bolts logistical information that your participants need. Provide a portal for participants to confirm their registration. Make clear where each participant can find information about packet pickup, race day parking and the schedule of events. This information is comforting to participants as they spend day after day preparing for your event in relative solitude.

4 - Make it a Big Deal

For amateur athletes who participate in half marathons, marathons, triathlons and other races, your event is one of their few opportunities to feel like a pro. So make sure that your event exudes professionalism and organization at every turn — make it feel like a big deal.

Most marathons make the start line feel like big deal by including music and an emcee that helps participants count down to the gun. The Rock n Roll Marathon Series makes the actual race feel like a big deal by including musical acts throughout. Many races also feature organized groups of supporters along the route, including cheerleading teams from local schools. Members of Wellesley’s all-female student body are famous for the “scream tunnel” they create around Mile 12 of the Boston Marathon.

The finish line experience is important, too. Almost all races have some sort of medal or token for finishers, but some stand out from the crowd. The former Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco gave finishers a custom necklace from Tiffany’s rather than a medal. Finishers of the Hershey Half Marathon in Pennsylvania get two free tickets to the Hersheypark in the Dark amusement park. And finishers of the Sinister 7 Ultra in the Canadian province of Alberta get a bottle of cabernet-merlot customized with their name, bib number and finishing time. How can your finish line giveaway make for a truly memorable participant experience?

Beyond giveaways, race photos are another memorable part of completing a race. At Pic2Go, we help your event make the most of finisher photos through our Performance Photos product. Your finishers enjoy a custom photo that includes the route and location on the map, as well as a smart data bubble that displays pace, time and distance. These Performance Photos are branded, too, which delivers another attractive benefit for your sponsors.

5 - Celebrate the Achievement

The end of a race is a moment of joy and catharsis for your participants. It’s the end of months of training and preparation. Help your participants celebrate this special moment.

Your finish line setting can play a role in creating this celebratory finish. The Schneider Electric Marthon de Paris finish line rests near the Arc de Triomphe, and the Virgin Money London Marathon reaches its completion at Buckingham Palace. But your finish line doesn’t have to sit in the shadow of a world-famous landmark to make the finish celebratory.

The Dole Great Race of Agoura Hills offers 50 food booths, live music, inflatable slides and a pancake buffet. It also features rock climbing and obstacle courses if you’re not completely out of energy after the 10-kilometer run. The Campagnolo Gran Fondo bike race in San Diego offers an Italian pasta spread, a beer garden and free massages as part of its post-race celebration. And the Grand Forks Wild Hog Half Marathon in North Dakota hosts hog races after the completion of its event. Pick the winning hog and you’ll be entered to win a barstool from the Wild Hog Smokehouse Bar and Grill.

These post-race events may seem over-the-top and cheesy. But they also extend the life of an event and help to make a more memorable experience for your participants.

Pic2Go: Innovative Products for Creating Memorable Experiences

At Pic2Go, we help you craft a memorable race experience through innovative products that both participants and sponsors will love. Our products include Automated Race Photo-Tagging, Branding and Social Sharing solution (based on our patent-pending 2D barcodes on race bibs technology), as well as innovative solutions as Performance Photos, Performance Videos and our 3D RaceView Flyover. Each can include branded content from your sponsors, and each offers the possibility of massive social reach, emotional brand engagement and Facebook Fan acquisition. In short, these products boost return on investment for both your event and its sponsors.

Learn more about our memorable products.

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