It’s Not a Race, it’s a Trot

November 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Among the many traditions we experience on Thanksgiving, there is one that cannot be denied due to its simple popularity. This is the Turkey Trot. You may know it as the Gobbler or Pie Run, etc. No matter the title, the event is the same, a race on Thanksgiving morning!

I had the privilege of working with the organizers of the Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot located in Clearwater, Florida. As Turkey Trots go, this is one of the largest, with a participant field of close to 20,000 people. This was our first year powering their online registration and my job was to assist at the three early shirts & bib pick up events throughout Clearwater the week of Thanksgiving.

Everything went smoothly, the tell-tale signs of an experienced Race Committee (and online registration provider). The final event was the Kick-Off Party located in the football stadium of Clearwater High School on Thanksgiving eve. Over 5,000 folks attended to not only check in, but also enjoy the free food, drinks, music and festivities around the Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot. For me, this was the pinnacle of the experience, even though I would never see race day (I would be back home at 3:00 am race morning).

Turkey Trot

Now, it may seem odd that I can say this, the “pinnacle of my experience” without even setting step on course race day for the Turkey Trot. But it is the truth, and here is why.

Throughout the week, and in particular at the Kick-Off Party, I marveled at the numbers of people picking up race bibs and shirts, not just for themselves, but for others. While I felt bad for the poor soul in charge of compiling all the confirmations and gathering all the shirts and bibs for family and friends, I also chuckled that it was readily apparent this was a normal “errand” to most of these people. This was routine, an act akin to the giant grocery shop, getting the turkey, picking up family at the airport and other odds and ends in preparation for Thanksgiving Day. They came in all types; Dad picking up for the kids, Mom picking up for kids and relatives, Grandparents picking up for their children and grandchildren, couples showing up, friends picking up for friends, etc. Everyone had a laugh, a joyous excitement for not only reuniting with family and friends, but also for the anticipation of the big event the next day – the Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot.

Thus, witnessing this, it became clear to me. The Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot is special. Because it is not a race (albeit there were some competitive runners returning), it was a true gathering of family and friends, for a couple of hours on one of the most traditional holidays; Thanksgiving. Rather than a race, it was in the true meaning of a Trot with loved ones. The Turkey Trot was the start to a wonderful day and weekend surrounded by loved ones giving thanks in their lives. The race was not timed except for the very top finishers, yet everyone was excited to get out and walk or run, with family, spouses, children and friends.

So in conclusion, perhaps this is the reason for the huge popularity of Thanksgiving Day races that take place in the thousands across the country. The Turkey Trot is not just an excuse to splurge on a wonderful meal later in the day; rather it was a true gathering of family and friends as witness by what I experienced not at the race, but at all the activity prior to the race.

It was a marvelous experience for me and a hearty thanks goes out to the West Florida Y’ Runners Club and the City of Clearwater Parks & Recreation Department. We at SignMeUp hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and wish you all happiness and health this Holiday season!

$68 v. $43: What’s the Difference?

November 15, 2012 § 3 Comments

Note:  Thank you to Parker Kanan, Executive Director of the IRRA, for the following article.


If you organize a running event, it’s likely that you have a relationship with an independently owned specialty running store.  Local running stores provide sponsorship, promotion and technical advice to countless events across the country.  With Black Friday coming and Small Business Saturday the following day, you have a terrific opportunity to support your running store partner – and your community – by shopping locally.

…for every $100 in consumer spending with a local business, $68 remained in the local economy.  On the flip side, for every $100 in consumer spending with a chain firm, only $43 remained in the local economy.

Specialty running shops are about much more than running shoes and gear.  Most have clinics and classes designed to train aspiring and established runners on how to eat, train, and prepare for their upcoming race or event.  The goal of a local shop owner is for all their customers to achieve theirs.  The rising popularity of running has grabbed the attention of national sporting goods chains and online retailers.  The growth of running products in these channels has eclipsed the growth at specialty retail three years running.  These larger retailers offer similar products as specialty retailers at competitive prices but may not invest in the education and service found at specialty.  As a result, customers shopping outside specialty miss out on the expertise and customization needed to ensure the proper fit that leads to a great run and lasting fitness.  “What makes specialty special is the level of passion of each person working at the store,” says David Sobolik, owner of Fit Right, a local running store based in Portland, OR.  “We are all about the customer and getting it right, but we also want to motivate and inspire them as they walk out the door.”


Founded in 2006, the Independent Running Retailer Association (IRRA) represents the interests of these specialty running retailers within the United States.  The IRRA provides a voice for independent specialty shops as they compete to maintain running as a lifestyle within their cities and towns.  Through advocacy, education and member programs such as those provided by the IRRA/SignMeUp partnership, the IRRA strives to provide an even playing field for the ‘little guy’.  Local running shops are the heart and soul of running fitness in this country.  Other retailers can do it bigger but no one can do it better than specialty running shops.  Running is hard.  People quit every day.  Local retailers connect, and people need that connection to keep at it and stay motivated.

In 2013 the IRRA launches its nationwide Lace Up Local campaign. Through national advertising, social media, and in-store events, Lace Up Local strives to build awareness around the customer and economic benefits of shopping local.   The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics highlighted that for every $100 in consumer spending with a local business, $68 remained in the local economy.  On the flip side, for every $100 in consumer spending with a chain firm, only $43 remained in the local economy.  The local benefit of online purchases are far less than even chain stores since nearly all the money leaves the local economy and goes to the home territory of the online retailer.  Circulating money through the local business strengthens economies.  Shop owners patronize the same grocery stores, support the same PTAs, and contribute to the same local organizations as their customers.  Lace up Local illustrates that customer decisions matter, and their choice on where to purchase can have a far reaching benefit.

Do you make a point of shopping locally?  Why or why not?

A Perilous Course – Racing in Afghanistan

November 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

“I want to thank SignMeUp for your great service.  The ease and operation of the registration directly contributed to the single largest race event in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom began.” – Mike Thayer, Run for a Warrior Event Director.

We get more than our share of thanks, but this one was particularly meaningful.  Looking at the event’s online registration form, I saw that the five-mile race benefitted Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that develops programs to assist injured service members.  It was held on September 8 at Bagram and Kandahar military bases, and coincided with the WWP’s 8K Run in Jacksonville, Florida, which, coincidentally, was organized by 1st Place Sports, another SignMeUp customer.

Mike Thayer

Event organizer Mike Thayer (right)

After I blinked back my tears, I started wondering about the event itself:  what are the challenges of organizing a race on not just one, but two Afghan military bases?  How did this particular event become so successful?  Mike agreed to Skype with me from his base in Afghanistan the following week.

A 22-year Army veteran, Mike currently works for Mission Essential Personnel, a military contractor that provides linguistic services to the military.  Having participated in many running races in both the U.S. and Afghanistan, he decided to organize one to benefit WWP, an organization he has always admired.  Ironically, Mike didn’t need to deal with some of the most significant difficulties that face stateside organizers.  His employer generously agreed to underwrite most of the cost, and Army and Air Force Exchange Services provided gift cards, prizes, and marketing and advertising support.  There is only one main road on each of the bases, so course planning was a no-brainer (2.5 miles out, 2.5 miles back!).  He had to coordinate with just one base commander at each site rather than myriad local agencies.  And, he had a captive audience.  “It was easy to get the word out,” Mike said.  “I just posted three banners along each base’s main road.”

medical team

Medical teams carrying litters

At the same time, Mike clearly had other considerations that are foreign to domestic event organizers.  He told me that although during his event the bases were quiet, they are often targeted by bombs and rockets.  Since the soldiers participate in just regular running gear, “guardian angels” that carry weapons are stationed at various points along the course.   If necessary, participants and spectators would take shelter in the base’s built in bunkers.

In all, 1,375 military personnel participated in the event.  “Many soldiers ran in support of a wounded comrade, or with two bibs in memory of a lost soldier.”  Medical teams carried full size dummies in litters to represent those injured service members unable to participate.

When all was said and done, Mike gained “a new respect for event organizers.” However, it was well worth the effort:  the event raised over $26,000 to support WWP.  View event photos and read more about the race here.

Veteran’s Day is November 11 – enter your message of support to Mike and the troops in Afghanistan in the comment box below and we will pass it along.

Are You Prepared?

November 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

After checking on my New Jersey family and friends, one of my first thoughts upon seeing the devastation wrought by hurricane Sandy was “what is the New York Marathon going to do?”  As of this writing, the marathon is still scheduled to “go on as normal” this Sunday.  However, seeing photos of the debris in the streets makes a “normal” marathon hard to imagine.

Hurricane Sandy dramatically highlights the importance of thorough contingency planning when putting together an event.  Stuff happens, be it dangerous weather, unannounced construction or occupy movements.  Although thinking about  altering or cancelling the event you’ve put so much hard work into is difficult, SignMeUp Regional Sales Manager and former National Marathon race director Keith Dowling believes it’s necessary to come up with “the list of conditions that would shut down” your event.  Before each race Keith’s team would hold a “what if” meeting where they ran through various scenarios.  They developed a plan for what they would do with event participants if they needed to shut down after the race had already started.  Tough to think about!

NYC lower east side

Lower East Side, October 30 2012

Keith’s crew segmented certain weather related conditions so they had a plan for each just in case: rain, lightning, black ice, deep snow, heat advisory and cold advisory.  They also had a divergence plan that they almost needed to use one year when, being in Washington DC, the Secretary of State drove through the course with a motorcade after the race had started!

Vision Event Management‘s Chad Antcliff told me that “fortunately, or unfortunately, we’ve had plenty of experience dealing with some of the likely scenarios and are able to have a baseline for planning and tweak our plans as we encounter new obstacles.”  He cited another real world example of when his planning paid off.  This past September for the Brewers Mini-Marathon, there was “a thunderstorm with lightning 30 minutes before the start within 30 miles of the race site.  We had to enact our evacuation plan to get everyone safely out of the conditions.  Our staff utilized our megaphones, PA system and social media to alert participants about the delay and directed them where to seek shelter.  After we had 15 minutes with no lightning strikes within 15 miles of the race site and got the go ahead from public safety personnel, we directed participants back to the start line.  The race started at 7:25, 25 minutes past our scheduled time, but ended up going off without a hitch.”

“Contingency planning messes with your head,” said Keith, “but you never want to be caught not knowing what to do in an emergency.”  Hopefully you will never need to execute a contingency plan, but you’ll be glad it’s there if you do.

How do you develop contingency plans for your event?  What have you done when something unexpected happened?

SignMeUp for Halloween!

October 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Super? Scary?  Super scary, or just plain silly?  This weekend thousands of runners will head out to a local race but answering the question “what to wear?” requires more than a quick check of the weather.  It’s costume time folks and we’ve taken a look back at some of SignMeUp’s online registration client’s Halloween themed events to bring you a few of the best.  These aren’t just costumes, they’re costumes made to run!
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the super heroes!
These guys had the right idea when they picked out something to wear.  Not only can these costumes move, apparently they’ve got super powers that guarantee a strong finish.
Cereal!  Not serial (as in killer).
Snap, Crackle and Pop ran the Pumpkins in the Park 5K in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.  Even though this is an afternoon event, these costumes look like just the thing after rolling out of bed for a 5K.  As an added bonus, these runners could snack on their breakfast fave throughout the run.  The Pumpkins in the Park 5K is put on by the folks at Fleet Feet Sports – Chicago.  The sold out 13th annual takes place this Saturday (10/27/12) and will feature a kids race, costume contest and a post-race movie in the park!

Pick a Pumpkin
Maryalicia Verdecchia picked a winning costume to wear at the inaugural Runaway Pumpkin Half Marathon in Lebanon, Oregon.  She ran as the runaway pumpkin herself and won the costume contest!  This year’s event, the second annual, takes place on Saturday (10/27/12) and benefits ABC House – Child Abuse Assessment Center.
Earn your stripes
Where’s Waldo!?  No Halloween run would be complete without someone in these famous red stripes.  This kid looks comfortable in his costume and seems to be keeping pace at the Mooseheart Monster Mash 5K in Mooseheart, Illinois.  This year’s event took place last Saturday (10/20/12).
The Galloping Gourmet
He’s got the toque, he’s got the jacket, it’s a recipe for a magnificent run at the Ghosts & Goblins 5K/2K & Wellness Fair in Carmel, Indiana.  The fourth annual event, managed by long-time  SignMeUp online registration clients, Vision Event Management takes place this Saturday (10/27/12).
Waddle this Way
Black and white never goes out of style, especially at the Ghost Run 5K hosted by Fleet Feet Sports – Menlo Park in California.  This year’s event takes place on Saturday morning (10/27/12) and features a costume contest and a ghost chase.
Super Fan
You can’t go wrong supporting your team while you’re on the run.  This guy hits his stride at the FraidyCat 5K and Meow Mile in Oswego, Illinois.  This year’s second annual event takes place on Sunday (10/28/12).

One of the perks of producing a Halloween run is seeing the creativity that goes into the costumes and the start line packed with a little of everything.  The bottom line is fun.  As Lynn Youngs from the Runaway Pumpkin Half Marathon said “at ABC House we work with children and we do children’s abuse assessment.  When we came up with the idea for the run, we were looking to create something inspired by kids, something that would be fun.”

What is the best costume you’ve ever seen on the run?  Share your best Halloween event photos on our Facebook page!

Online Registration Competitive Advantage Revisted

October 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel at the Portland Marathon Race Director College with seven of my peers, one of whom had just entered the online event registration field.   During the discussion I thought about a blog article I wrote about customer service being a competitive advantage.  In that post I mentioned that companies are popping up every week claiming to be the ‘leader’ in online registration.  Registration technology has definitely gotten easier to build.  PayPal has made it less painful to process payments and Amazon has made it less costly to keep web based software running.

customer service

Each panelist was given the opportunity to speak for a few minutes on the merits of his or her organization.  There was a lot of talk about cool new ‘widgets’ but not one of the other companies mentioned customer service in its pitch.  There is no such thing as error free software.  What separates great companies from the rest is what they do when something does go awry.

If I were in the market for an online registration provider I would definitely spend more time getting a better understanding on how each company handles its customer and registrant support and less time interrogating them on if the system does or does not have certain functionality.  As I mentioned in my prior article, we are an extension of our clients’ events and registration is often the first touch point between our clients and their consumers.  Our goal is to be able to use 100% of our clients as references for the next one.  When that happens everything else takes care of itself.

Gurus Get Social

October 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Although the word “social” is somewhat overused of late, I had to pay attention when five running legends discussed the transformation of running from a solo sport to a social activity.  The panel included Bill Rodgers, Amby Burfoot and Jeff Galloway, NW Runner Magazine editor Heather Romano, and Marathon and Beyond editor Rich Benyo.  They were discussing current industry trends at the Portland Marathon Event Directors’ College, which I attended recently.  The panelists urged event directors to capitalize on the social nature of the sport.  How?  Here are some of their ideas:

  • Partner with a local running store to establish a training program for your event, no matter the distance or the level.  “People need a gathering place,” said Heather, and the local running retailer is a natural fit.  This partnership is a win/win, as the store will welcome additional store traffic and potential new customers.
  • Encourage social sharing on both your event Facebook page and on participants’ favorite social platforms.  This isn’t a new idea, but the panelists reiterated how social media can be one of the most powerful tools you can use to generate excitement and a community around your event.  “Everyone I know wants to run races with friends of theirs, or if you’re a father like me, with the (grown) kids and other family members.” Amby said in an email.  “This used to be hard to coordinate.  Now social media makes it easy.  We communicate about interesting races, we sign up together, we travel to the races, we run and hang out.  It’s a perfect combination.  And it all starts with the social media.”
Jeff Galloway

Jeff Galloway

  • Consider establishing a “non-traditional” event, or at least marketing to non-traditional event participants.  There was quite a bit of talk around the growing popularity of mud runs and the like, and how these events are drawing in a whole new population.  “I also see all the new types of races as strong sign of interest,” Bill wrote in an email.  “People want to work out and become fit.”  And they want to do it with their friends.
  • Include a team competition in your event.  You don’t necessarily need to reward the fastest time; you can reward the team with the most members, or the one that raised the most funds for your beneficiary, or even the one with the most creative name.

Amby summed it up:  “I was struggling through a long run, looking at my watch and thinking ‘darn it!  I’m not as fast as I should be!’ when a group of women passed me running in the opposite direction.  They were checking their times too, but they were also chatting and having fun.”


  • Bill Rodgers is a former marathon record holder and winner of both the Boston and New York City Marathons.
  • Amby Burfoot won the Boston Marathon in 1968 while still a student at Wesleyan University and is currently blogger and editor of Runner’s World.
  • Jeff Galloway was a member of the 1972 US Olympic team in the 10K and is currently CEO of Galloway Productions and monthly Runner’s World columnist.
  • Heather Romano is editor of NW Runner Magazine.
  • Rich Benyo is former Executive Editor of Runner’s World, and currently Editor of Marathon and Beyond and director of Napa Valley Marathon.