10 Special Treatments For Your Participants That Are Worth The Effort

Going that extra mile for your participants is not just a nice-to-have, it is essential to the long-term viability of your event’s existence! What are the things that will make your event an instant classic, keeping participants coming back year on year and turning them into active promoters of your event! 

But why is any of this stuff important? According to the US Global Runner Survey, the ‘special treatments’ are less important than say the distance, location and date of the event when influencing participants’ behaviour to actually sign-up. That is to say practical factors come first and foremost. 

Having said that, standing out from a crowded market is imperative. And the little things are actually vital for your brand identity and overall customer experience on the day. For the organizers of the Giants Head races, the event weekend has to be ‘more than just about running’, uniqueness and local engagement is the name of the game. Creating both memorable and fun experiences for your participants can be relatively cheap but does require some effort and planning. 

Here are the top ten special and practical treatments you can look at to turbocharge your event experience for participants. 

1. Quirky medals 

99.9% of events will have some sort of medal or memento for finishers, but generally speaking, these are done extremely badly. The most common option you see at races is something cheap, tacky and lacking any sort of personalisation. Think kids sports day. The best medals are thoughtful and unique, if a participant will talk about your medal to a friend or family then you have nailed it. Over the years some of the most memorable medals we have seen include: a traditional horse brass medal, a fully biodegradable medal and a giant with a distinctive appendage! Unique medals are winners and worth spending extra time and effort on getting this bit right. 

The Giants Head team have really nailed it with their medals: ‘the design isn’t just to make people giggle (though it definitely does), it is a representation of the Cerne Abbas Giant, a 55-metre chalk figure on a hill in Dorset, UK – which you do get a glimpse of on some of the routes, including the Marathon. It’s such an important part of the local culture and Dorset folklore, and thought to be associated with fertility.  It is a talking point for every participant forever more!’.

© Dorsetbays Photography.

2. Rethink registration 

Rethink how you set up your registration table from the traditional ‘behind the desk’ approach that the vast majority take. We need to learn a lesson here from Trader Joes, which is a large US-based grocery store and constantly ranks well for high levels of customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. Workers at Trader Joe’s replenish the shelves at the store’s busiest hours, sparking interactions between customers and staff. 

In practical terms and at your race, a registration desk is a barrier between you, the race official and the customer. Unwittingly has created an ‘us’ and ‘them scenario’. The simple act of moving your staff team to the participant side of the desk will foster a completely different feeling and experience at the event. It is very much a collective feeling of sharing the experience. Try it at your next event! 

3. Make toilets fun 

One of the most functional areas of an event are toilets. While there is much to be said for wanting participants to use the toilets as quickly as possible, a small touch is to put up motivational signs or jokes in your loos. While in isolation, this is a relatively small gesture – it gives your race a personal touch and will only add to the overall athlete experience that they are at a friendly event and you might even see a toilet cubicle shake with laughter which is a good thing for all involved. 

4. Music on the course 

While some sort of music is quite normal at the finish line, live music out on the course is a massive hit on all sorts of races from local events through to large-scale mass participation events. There are normally ways to make this cost-effective by having local bands, choirs or musicians play. One consideration is placing your live music where it will have maximum impact both for spectators and for runners. Music will give your event a festive atmosphere and relaxed vibes.  

5. Marshalls wearing outrageous costumes / hats 

Participants really value friendly and supportive marshalls, it is something which is often mentioned in athlete feedback. A sure fire way to energise even the grumpiest of marshalls is to arm them with fancy dress or a hat. It means your race is a happy and enjoyable place to be. Marshalls form a key part of the event safety, keeping athletes going the right way and managing members of the general public. But they are also the face of your event and key to the overall experience. 

6. Focus on the finish line 

Your participants have worked hard to get around the course, hearing their name over the PA system is a nice touch to sign-off your event in style which encourages a final spurt of energy and a smile as they cross the finish line. It is also great for any friends and family who are supporting to alert them to the fact that you are alive and have finished the race. Psychologists have a theory called ‘recency bias’, that is to say you generally remember the newest information first. As an example, a participant might hate the majority of your race but love the finish line experience giving them a positive memory of the event. So focusing on an excellent finish line experience is key. 

7. Activities for children 

Often an afterthought for race organisers, almost half of your participants are likely to have children. Thinking about ‘fun runs’ and other ways to engage kids is key. Making this a family friendly day out changes the nature of the event completely and will help organisers access a new customer base. Look no further than the global phenomenon of Junior Parkrun for inspiration, a 2km times course for children between the ages of 4 – 14. Almost all race organizers will be able to add on a junior race which aside from being good for families also does your bit for encouraging the next generation of participants. 

8. Charity partner and raising money for a good cause 

It is just outside of the top 10 reasons why participants choose events (according to the US Global Runner Survey) but still important. While many races’ profits all go towards supporting a good cause, commercial races should still have some sort of charity partnership and/or donations to help support local groups. This will actually also help with negotiations with venues and stakeholders if you are supporting a charitable group, the more local, the better. 

9. Edible free stuff

Everyone loves a freebie. The important thing here is to take a ‘less is more’ approach. A bag full of sponsor leaflets never goes down well. Edible freebies are your best bet, from cans of beer to sweet treats– which allows people to take them away if they don’t want to eat or drink stuff there and then. While it might not be possible for mass participation races, if you run a smaller event, nothing goes down better than a selection of homemade cakes and treats. 

10. Iconic moments on the course 

We have left the most important element to last. Course design is something which will come first when putting on a race yet but why are iconic moments important? To clarify this is something so unique to your course that it is a talking point for participants long after the race. In the haze of distance marker signs, and 6 or even 12 months after the event remembering what the course is like will be a bit of a blur. That’s why distinct moments on the course are vital, they anchor a memory for your participants. As a few examples: EX Swimrun (Sweden) have a terrifying  6 metre high jump from land into water, the Cliveden Classic (UK) has a fabled towering stairway that participants must run up twice and the Paris Marathon (France) starts and finishes on the famous Champs-Élysée under the shadows of the Arc de Triomphe. 


In summary, your ’special treatments’ are well worth the effort. They provide uniqueness and indeed reasons to get your participants talking about and coming back to your events. Course design is key and thinking about those real ‘wow’ moments that people will remember. Medals or mementos should be personalised and a tribute to your brand or values, don’t be afraid of injecting something humorous or indeed quirky. 

Thinking about ways to make some of the most functional parts of your race fun and engaging such as signs in the toilets or marshalls wearing silly costumes or hats. Participants themselves love feeling special and nothing quite beats having your name roared out as you cross the finish line. Things that you offer in the entry price such as food and along with music on the course enhances the overall experience and atmosphere at the event. Finally, think about some sort of charity partnership or legacy beyond just providing a great event for your participants and you will be on for a winner.

For more inspiration, here are 7 Secrets To Creating A Legendary Race