This is a tale of three races.

It kind of starts off like a bad joke.

A mountain bike race, an adventure race, and an epic ride all walk into a bar.

So the bartender says, “What is this, some kinda joke?”

Ba-Da-Boom!

Tip your waiter!

No, in this tale, all three of these races happen on the same day.

However, what happens to these races by the end of the day is very different.

The Racer’s Perspective

First, we need to see these races from your customer’s point of view.

If you’re a racer that loves all three disciplines and wants to race in all three events, this is a tough day for you.

Unfortunately, your choices are decided for you early on.

The mountain bike relay race sold out months ago, so there is no chance of getting into that race.

Your team isn’t all that motivated to go race a 12-hour adventure race, meaning you’ll have to race that one solo.

That can be a real bummer, especially if there is no solo category.

Meanwhile, the epic mountain bike ride is right next to your house, and it supports a great cause.

With all that data considered, you decide to sign up for the epic ride and prepare yourself for a day of long-distance riding.

Then one of two things take place: bad weather or and even worse pandemic.

Bad weather in the form of heavy rain will always trash a sensitive trail system.

Rain always sucks for racing.

However, this year, the threat of infection from a contagious virus sweeping the world was something nobody planned for.

The risks from COVID-19 have caused hundreds of race cancelations all over the United States.

Rain is certainly a show stopper, especially when it happens just moments before the first riders are supposed to begin riding the course

For a rain cancelation, the real bummer is having to go back home, put your bike away, and take up a spot on your couch.

The virus cancellation is a whole different animal.

Everything is being canceled months in advance.

No options, no workarounds, and no bad weather.

Just a sad email or post that starts with something like, “Due to the COVID-19 outbreak…” and then goes on hoping you will join them in 2021.

That is the worst bummer of them all: an empty race schedule.

Now, with no races to go to, you’re left with sitting at home to watch the sunshine pass by on another perfect day.

Sigh.

The Promoter’s Weather Perspective

The common way races get canceled is from bad weather.

So how do each of these three race promoters deal with a situation that includes heavy rain?

When it comes to weather, most race promoters adopt a “wait and see” mentality.

No promoter wants to shift their race to their Rain Day.

All the work that is put into setting up the venue, wrangling volunteers, and getting racers to show up is hard.

Nobody wants to do that twice!

That being said, race promoters want to be invited back to the venue they are using.

So each one walks a tightrope of GO and NO-GO decisions.

Each one knows the property manager and their sensitivity to their respective trails.

Many are very risk-averse and will ask the event to shut down if so much as a snowcone drops on the trails.

Others could care less.

If we think about our epic ride promoter, he has no way to check all 50-miles the morning of the event.

Seeing the forecast, he decides it is better to err on the side of caution and does what he needs to do to protect the trail and his racers by calling the ride off.

This does require reaching out to all those who have pre-registered (if it’s not race day) and informing them of his decision to cancel along with the date of a Rain Day.

Meanwhile, other promoters might push through bad weather.

A mountain bike race promoter might press forward with an event if he knows the course is tough, full of rocks, and use to dealing with a little rain.

Venue experience has its advantages.

The adventure race promoter might also continue according to plan.

To them, it is not that “some rain” has fallen, but how much and what kind.

If heavy rain starts to fall right in the middle of both events and doesn’t stop, they may still push through until mud or safety force them to.

Nothing like a good lightning strike to help make up a race promoter’s mind.

So long as the end result is a race without incident, many race promoters will push their luck.

The Neverending Rainstorm

The recent global pandemic is a rainstorm without end.

Face it — the COVID-19 outbreak has knocked race promoters out of their plastic lawn chairs, onto their heads, flipped them upsidedown, and traped them underneath their hot barbeque grill!

And is hurting a lot of race promotion businesses.

Every week we hear about another race being canceled.

Now, everything is being canceled!

It is a weird time to love outdoor sports.

Sure, some of these cancelations are due to State restrictions, permit problems due to the virus, or proximity to large population centers.

We all knew those were going to go first.

However, now we’re hearing about races that happen in the boondocks.

These are races where you only see your competitors at the Start and Finish.

The main reason for this new way of virus cancellations is simple: Fear.

Turn on the TV or search the Internet.

COVID-19 is downright scary!

Nobody wants to put on a race that could potentially cause all their customers to get sick.

Could they work through the challenges of keeping everyone away from each other?

You could but what if it doesn’t work?

And in all seriousness, how do you keep racers 6-feet apart at the start, on narrow trails, or at the finish?

Especially when the entire endurance sports industry is built on social interaction!

It’s a serious problem that needs serious thought put into how it can continue into the future.

Most race promoters have decided to not risk it and canceled their entire portfolio of races wholesale.

And can you blame race promoters for doing this?

For most race promoters and the kinds of races they create, I can’t.

I don’t see how a 5k, marathon, or triathlon happens without careful planning and execution.

If you build races as a hobby, or use it as a way to get all your racing friends together, then canceling your events because of COVID-19 makes perfect sense.

But if racing is the foundation to your small business — your way of making a living — then I have a hard time understanding why you’re not pivoting and pivoting FAST!

Pivoting?

Yes! This is a fancy business term for, “Well, that didn’t work! Maybe we should try something else.”

The time has definitely come for trying something else!

COVID-19 doesn’t have to be a neverending rainstorm for your racing business.

Benefiting From Misfortune

When it rains, our three races might have three different outcomes.

But now with the pandemic, no outcome is certain.

This should give you all the time in the world to think about the issues associated with each cancelation.

What can you learn from all of this?

What can you do differently in an age of social distancing that could benefit from no competition and a massive pool of bored racers?

1. Refunds vs. Revenue

First, you need to deal with your cancelation.

Canceling an event means having to regroup, replan, and start again.

There is no guarantee that all your pre-registered riders will attend your rain day.

You’re going to have to give some refunds if you want to practice good customer service.

On the bright side, putting your race off a year may give you a chance to market your event way in advance.

A few more months will bring in new riders.

Your goal should be to bring in at least the same number that asked for refunds.

2. Risks vs. Revenue

If you press forward instead of canceling, be prepared for a lot of no-shows.

Holding an event in the era of COVID-19 can have an impact on your bottom line if you decide not to offer refunds.

Maybe not right away, but it could cause racers to consider staying away.

Why is that?

Plenty of mountain bike riders are now out of work.

Those that don’t want to risk exposure at your race will not appreciate it if you decide to keep their entry fee despite the unprecedented closures.

Your reluctance to cancel the race could turn some of these riders off to your next event.

Is keeping the revenue you already made from registration worth being ostracized by your customers?

I believe that revenue is not worth angry customers.

That being said, not all races are built the same.

The choice is yours.

3. Resolve vs. Revenue

Some races are built for social distancing.

In adventure racing, racing in bad weather has become a badge of courage.

So is adventure racing for 6-hours without seeing another soul.

In fact, an adventure race that takes place in horrific rainfall, unseasonal cold snaps, or super hot humidity, or during a pandemic, are the most memorable races experienced.

Overcoming the human condition — albeit weather, stress, nature, or virus — is a feature in adventure racing.

But you need to balance your need to give your racers a great experience with looking out for their best interests.

Sometimes bad weather happens.

Sometimes it does not.

Just like some people have the virus.

Most do not.

Not every cloudburst or shower is a race stopper.

Not every racer is a COVID-19 carrier.

Knee-jerk reactions because it COULD rain or someone COULD be exposed may not do you any favors.

Be careful not to overreact.

However, that being said, be careful not to “underreact” either!

Have your racers wear masks, keep their distance, and be responsible adults.

Think Harder

What’s my point about all of this virus and cancelation thinking?

The reason you don’t cancel your race because someone dropped a snow cone on the trail is the same reason you don’t cancel your race because you can’t figure out how to keep everyone away from each other.

The VOLUME of traffic is what you need to direct.

An epic ride or a mountain bike relay race might have a very high volume of racers.

So break them up!

Launch them is small waves.

Used start techniques like “Pursuit Starts” or spaced out “Le Mans Start” as a way to break up the crew.

Hold smaller races!

Have a ceiling for entry and only allow so many racers on the course throughout the day.

Instead of a 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM start, have a 8:00 AM and a 12:00 PM start.

Hold longer races!

Racing 30 teams across 100 square miles makes social distancing a breeze.

A racecourse that is 25- or 50-miles is also a good way to space folks out.

Hold pre-race qualifiers!

Ever thought of figuring out who should start your race?

Have pre-race qualifiers so that you know who should go to the front at the start.

This would limit the social distancing problem created when passing other racers on the course.

You could also make the course point-to-point, removing laps and the possibility of faster racers lapping slower racers.

Take your race virtual!

Virtual races and online membership clubs are all the rage right now.

Do you have a virtual race in mind or a monthly challenge you could create for your customers?

This is the kind of content that bored racers are looking for.

Even if they only get a t-shirt they will enjoy the opportunity to participate.

Consider another venue!

If your venue is not geared to survive this pandemic, maybe it’s time to consider a new place to race.

Change of venue is not always a bad thing.

Maybe what you learn at a new venue will help you convince the old venue to take you back.

The point is to THINK HARDER!

Consider Race Day Refugees

Races and events normally get canceled for all sorts of reasons

However, this virus has become the plaything of Mr. Murphy and will now make race promoters think twice.

Consider the next cancellations that are coming from Fall events.

Can your new race save any space for race day refugees?

If a fellow race promoter cancels a race, it might present an opportunity for you to capitalize on those disappointing racers.

You could even work with the canceling race promoter to help promote your event.

You could even give those race day refugees a discount if they show you their pre-registration for the race that was canceled.

You might also benefit from other race promoter’s misfortune by shifting your schedule around to take advantage of a special date that was once off-limits to you.

If you could whip up a social distance friendly event, maybe with a shorter course or a complementary discipline, you could become the race promoter that owns that date.

This is how you can capture new race day refuge dollars by presenting hungry customers with racing options.

Think about all the disappointing racers that are just sitting around post-quarantine with nothing to do.

If you can pivot your race promotion efforts towards having something safe and ready for them to jump on to, you could become the savior of their race day free time.

But more importantly, you could save your business from bankruptcy too.

And now you know.

Kyle Bondo

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!

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