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Searching for innovations

This week, I’ve been on a reconnaissance mission, trying to find the latest and greatest road race innovations.

Maritime Race Weekend is a not-for-profit event, but that doesn’t mean we can let the event go stale. Our board of directors is made up of runners, who strongly believe that every year it should be a priority for us to maintain and improve our runner’s experience. In order to support our goal, they’ve sent me on a road trip to the largest race director conference in North America (Running USA in New Orleans).

Here’s the top five innovations I found:

AppleWatchFrontMobile apps

Mass emails are annoying and we know a majority of runners delete race emails without reading the content. Races are moving towards keeping participants up to date with Facebook, Twitter, text notifications and mobile apps for smartphones. I was shocked to learn a custom mobile app costs between $5,000-$10,000 per year. I’m sure it would improve communications with participants, but think the price tag will deter most race directors. Typically, the content in the mobile apps are a condensed version of your traditional race website, but has the capability of quickly updating runners and spectators on any changes during race weekend. The coolest feature I saw on a mobile app was tracking racers on race-day – but that is only possible if your timing company has compatible technology.

Virtual race-kits

Let’s go green! Stuffing race-kits with flyers is a lot of work, is bad for the environment and is also the cause of many painful paper cuts. Historically, sponsors are paying for exposure in race-kits but offering a web version of the race-kit is definitely an eco-friendly alternative and supports the tech-savvy direction road races are moving. Race directors should expect to pay at least $1,500 to implement this idea.

Free finish-line photos

Maritime Race Weekend / Steve Tomlinson
Maritime Race Weekend / Steve Tomlinson

Runners pay a lot of money to enter a race then pay again for a commemorative photo. This has always annoyed me. There are a number of alternatives available and many races are now including free photos for runners. Keep in mind, even though it’s free to the racer, it isn’t free to the race organizer and the cost will depend on the options you choose. Race directors should expect to pay a couple dollars per participant for this perk.

Alternative options for post-race food

Bagels and bananas are expected at finish-lines but healthy pre-packaged lunch boxes are easy to distribute and give runners a variety of tasty treats. It also seems to be a cost-effective and quick way to feed thousands of runners. Of course, the price per person depends on what snack options you include in the lunch. I was quoted about $4-5 per participant.

Virtual running video

Allowing participants to be involved in a virtual race has become very popular. Usually, participants will run on their own streets near home. This could change with the most innovative idea that I found.

A company has developed road race videos that you can use while running on your treadmill. You get to experience a road race via a pre-recorded race-day video. In the video, you’ll see other participants running the route, water stops, cheer stations, mile markers, amazing scenery, an energetic finish-line and paparazzi too! The speed of the video is linked to the pace of your run.

The race director gets a professional-quality video to promote their course and great exposure from runners all over the world who can download the video for a run. Runners do need some hardware to make these videos work, but can purchase a video of their dream destination race for only a few dollars, train and learn about the course before committing to the travel costs. A race video is a substantial investment for a race organizer, I was told the approximate video charge was about $500-800 per mile.

The trip to Running USA was amazing. There were lots of interesting innovations for road racing. If my budget had no limits, I’d pick them all!