Venue layouts are important to the success of your event.

Not only do you need to have all the necessary areas in place to effectively direct your race, but you will need to make sure your customer flow makes sense, and everyone knows where to go.

The goal is to make sure everyone knows where to go, and not make your customers have to think about it.

If you keep your venue layout simple, and your customer flows logical, you will go a long way to showing everyone that you know what you are doing.

So what does your venue need?

It depends on what kind of race you are promoting, but most races will have the following venue layout:

#1 – Parking

Parking is an important element of your venue selection. If you don’t have good parking, or parking is far away, it could be an issue with your customers.

However, parking is one of those things that racers tend to forgive, provided it is easy to find, controlled, and not too far away (e.g. a 500-yards from registration is fine, 3-miles is not).

Costumes need to know how to get to where you want them to park. Having a sign at the main entrance of the park, and placed at any major intersections, will go a long way to getting people to your event on time.

Same goes with where you want them to specifically park their vehicle, or where parking is off limits.

Although signs, cones, survey tape, snow fencing, and even barricades can be very helpful in guiding your guest to the correct areas, parking volunteers are great at making parking a non-issue.

These volunteers should be easy to spot by placing them in orange vests and direction sticks, and they should not be shy in telling people where they should park.

#2 – Registration

Registration is the first place your customers will need to visit before they can race.

This area typically includes stations for forms and/or waivers, a cashier, bib number assignment, and goodie bag/swag handout.

This is an important area, so don’t hide it any part of it!

For example, don’t put forms and waivers far away, or off to the side. You want customers to see them as they approach.

Making a customer go back to the waivers table because you hid it, does not make you look good.

One solution is to put your forms and waivers table right in their way, making them have to walk around it to get to the next area.

Sometimes placing a volunteer to direct customers as they approach is another tactic that helps keeps the flow nice and orderly.

The same would go for registration setups that require customers to pay before they get a bib number.

Don’t put bib numbers on the left side of the table, and the cash box on the right, making customers cross over each other.

Left to right registration areas just makes sense. So don’t get creative.

If you have registration set up logically, the flow should align to what you need your customers to do, in the order, they need to do them in.

It may seem like common sense, but moving you customers from area to area, in one, common direction, works to keep registration from getting overwhelmed.

You will also find that a logical setup will stop most silly questions, and prevent someone from jumping the line (e.g. not paying or forgetting to pay) by reducing the chance of confusion.

Because race promotion has a lot to do with reputation, a registration setup that is orderly, logical, and well-defined, makes you and your event look professional.

And looking professional will make your customer’s come back.

#3 – Starting Line

Think about where everyone will start.

When racers start, they will need to be staged in a cluster around the start line, so that they can be organized into categories, and launch in their correct waves at the appropriate time.

This cluster will not form until just minutes before the first wave is launched, and will need to be located between registration and the start line.

This way, racers that have to run back to the car in the parking area, can form up in the staging area, and not disrupt the launch of each wave.

Usually, the race director will be on hand to give each wave a last minute brief about the race, start the race clock, and start each wave.

Other volunteers can help work your staging area by keeping the categories organized, checking to make sure everyone has a bib number, and answering any questions racers might have about the course.

The staging and start line does not need to be in the same area as the finish line. But it should not be more than 100-yards away from each other.

Having a finish line far away from the starting line only serves to make both racers and spectators frustrated.

When both areas are right next to each other, spectators do not have to travel, and racers know where their spectators are going to be.

Placing one, or the other, far away, only makes you and your race look unorganized and poorly planned.

Do yourself a favor and keep them all in the same area.

Not only will customer appreciate the convenience, but it allows you to keep all your gear in one area.

And gear all in one area is easy to secure, and quicker to pack up when you’re done.

#4 – Viewing Area

This is an area where spectators gather to watch the race near the finish line.

It needs to be setup in a way to prevent spectators from impacting those racers still on the course, but allow them the most visibility to the finish line.

Cheering and photos are the norm for this area, and if you put it too far away from the action, spectators will either become bored or find their own viewing area.

It will be a bad day for you if you allow spectators to impede someone trying to complete a lap, or have a child wander onto the course as racers coming tearing in.

So you need to put the viewing area in a wide enough area to allow everyone to see the finish, but make it clear where the zone ends, and the course begins.

This is a key position for one of your volunteers, and their presence alone will make most spectators obey the boundaries and keep off the course.

A good viewing area will need to be as accessible to spectators as possible.

This includes access to bathrooms and parking. No one wants to walk a mile to see the race, nor do they want to walk another mile to pee.

And if Grandpa and Grandma come, you don’t want them having to travel a great distance to see their little Zachary, or Emilee, cross the finish line.

#5 – Finish Line

Think about where everyone will finish.

When racers finish, they tend to cluster around the finish line to cheer on their friends, talk with spectators, and exchange war stories with other racers.

This cluster will get dense quick, especially as the middle pack racers starts to finish.

To make sure you can move finishers away from timing and into an area better suited for gathering, channel your customers through the finish using cones, survey tape, and signs to create a Disneyland-effect.

Channels are excellent ways to flow racers into a gathering area while keeping spectators and onlookers out of the way.

The same volunteer that is keeping spectators off the course can be used here to make sure racers exit the course correctly.

#6 – Timing

This one is obvious. You need timing to make this a race.

A race without time is just a good day in the woods.

That being said, the timing team needs to be right on the finish line.

That part is easy to consider.

The part about this that is not easy is figuring out the distance between the finish line, the timing team, and the viewing zone.

These three areas are very close to each other, and it is in their proximity that causes a problem.

Your timing area needs to be quiet so that the timers can… well… time!

Spectators do not want to be quiet, and racers want to know how they did before anything official is posted.

This makes the timing area a paradox of quiet thinkers constantly being interrupted by loud crowds and instant racers.

Solution? Put the timing area on one side of the finish line, and the viewing area on the opposite side.

This creates a natural boundary — the course itself — between quiet timers and noisy spectators.

It won’t prevent all distractions, but it will reduce them.

Racers will still approach from behind the timers and try to peek at their screens, and spectators will try to start up a conversation with the timers due to nothing more than curiosity or boredom.

If the distractions get too bad, sometimes it helps to place a volunteer here to “bounce” question askers, looky-lews, and chatty-Kathy’s.

#7 – Awards Podium

When the races are over, it will be time to present awards.

Just like with registration, starting/finishing lines, viewing areas, and timing, awards should be close to everything.

It is typical to post the final results next to the podium.

This allows an out-of-the-way spot for racers to check (and agree or disagree) with their results, and a great place for the announcer to present.

With small events, a sound system is not always feasible, leaving announcers to yell results out over the crowd.

Yelling isn’t the best option, but with everyone located close by, it will be easy for racers to hear their names being called out.

Not too surprising is the fact that most mid- and back-of-the-pack racers do not stick around for awards.

This can make your award ceremony crowd much smaller than the actual race crowd, and make it easy to announce winners without being drowned out by a rowdy race audience.

Usually, the back of the finish line viewing area is an excellent place to put the podium.

But another ideal place for the awards podium is near the place that most customers came into registration.

This places the exit back to parking directly behind everyone.

This will make it easy for everyone to start heading back to their cars when the race is over.

Venue layout goals

The beginnings of your location development strategy will require you to do some work.

Take this work seriously and put some effort around scouting good locations.

Make sure it includes all the features your event requires to be successful and has some amenities that can help you offset costs (like bathrooms and power).

Once you have a set of good locations picked out, you need to turn it into a venue by laying out all 7 areas.

This will go on to be an effective way to keep your race, and your customers, flowing to the right places at the right times.

Confused customers make upset customers.

Upset customers are often NOT returning customers.

Always make your venue layout simple, and make your customer flow as logical as possible.

Allow your venue design to help you achieve your race direction goal of not making your customers have to think.

A customer that doesn’t have to think about where they need to go is a happy customer.

And happy customers can become returning customers.

And now you know.

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!