Insider Tips to Make Packet Pick Up a Breeze

With lines of ansty racers packet pick ups can be tough on the event staff but tackling it with a strategic game plan your team will be able to keep pace with the crowd.

Hosting a timed physical event like a bike race or a mud run involves a packet pickup to distribute the t-shirt, race bib and swag bag. How do you know you need to host pre-race packet pickup? If you can’t hand out all of the packets in 1 to 2 hours, then you will need to host one.

I reached out to RedPodium race directors who do this on a regular basis so together we could pull out the top tips of packet pick up. If you are hosting your first event or you are a seasoned veteran there is something for everyone here.

Packet Pick Up Set Up

Let’s be real, as humans it’s easy to underestimate how long something will take. When it comes to assembling all of the pieces together start early.

Two weeks prior to the race is when Robert Nichols from Encinitas Events assembles his swag bags. He doesn’t want to rush his team during the pickup with trying to assemble them on the spot.

Kurt Gross from Phoenix Frontrunners says to assemble your crew a week prior to the packet pick up to relieve stress. His advice is to go over the packet pick up process with everyone before hand. To think through situations like day of registrations, registration changes and allowing friends to pick up each others bags. He said,

“You need to set your policy around [picking up for friends/family] remembering that you really have control over the race and the timing.”

Encinitas Events pre-assigns bib numbers based on expected finish times. When people want to pick up multiple bibs they need to come prepared with names and bib numbers.

“We usually have a volunteer or two set aside for people who show up wanting to pick up multiple bibs,” said Nichols “that way we don’t slow the other participants.”

Once you have the policies in place the next important step is to make sure you communicate that to your participants. It’s a good idea to send out a mass email a week before detailing key information for packet pickup. Having a few ways to verify people either through name, email, address or phone number will be key. Besides being vigilant on making sure it’s ok with the person who paid, you are also making sure the person’s timed bib is associated to their correct name.

The Day Of Packet Pick Up

The time has come to hand each person their t-shirt, bib and swag bag. But how can you do this like a well oiled machine? As with any thing a bit of forward thinking and you have this in the bag.

If your bags are pre-stuffed it’s recommended to have a multi-station pick-up process. Almost all of the race directors I talked with and most of the events I have attended use this method. It’s simple and makes sense.

  • Have the first person check ID’s to verify and to get their bib.
  • The next station hands them their swag bag
  • The next station hands them their t-shirt. This station is recommended to have the different sizes stacked up separately for quick access.

Race Director Pro Tips

  1. Most runners will expect to be able to make changes at the pre-race packet pick-up. Make sure to have policies in place so these can be made quickly.
  2. Purchasing race bibs with shirt size printed on them can save on how many people need to be at the pick-up. This also speeds things up for day-of race pick up.
  3. Safety pins clipped together in groups of 4 for quick grabbing.
  4. Have a printed list of name, bib #’s, age and any other important information.
  5. Expect waves of rushes at packet pick up.
  6. Have bibs set in small piles in order such as 1-100, 101-200. The best trick I saw from California Warrior Experience was having them lines up in shoe boxes.

If you have the capability offer incentives for people to pick up their packet before race day. This will make your team’s race day experience better and allow your participants to not be rushed on race day.

Tips to Incentivize Pre-Race Packet pickup.

  1. Offer a free raffle ticket for items from your sponsors only for pre-race pick up.
  2. Include extra samples from your sponsors.
  3. If hosting at a store offer special discounts on energy bars or other important race day items.
  4. Busy parents would appreciate a drive through pick up option. No need to get the kids out of the car to stand in line.
  5. Host pick up at a local restaurant and include a coupon for that place. Many people will be picking them up after work.
  6. Host a beer garden.
  7. Have a exclusive item for the first 50 people who pick up their packet.
  8. Have entertainment like a live band between busy period like 5pm – 7pm. Make standing in line an experience vs a chore.
  9. Pool the talent of your volunteer group and social networks. If you can entertain kids life will be great for the parents. Have balloon artists, face painters, jugglers, magicians, ice sculpture and more.

Day Of Packet Pick-Up

All race directors say for the most part the day of race should look similar to the pre-race day pick-up. With your policies in place and team having already gone through the gauntlet before at least once it should be smooth.

Encinitas Events closes down day of race pick up 30-minutes prior to the start of the race. Nichols said you don’t want people showing up last minute and not being ready for the start of the race.

If you are allowing day of registration be sure to plan how to add those bib numbers and names to a list the timing company can access.

Keep This In Mind

Your team is going to be under stress during packet pick-up and your customers will want to interact with happy, smiling people. But stress and happiness rarely go together. Take care of your team regardless is they are paid or not. Buy them meals, go on coffee runs and check in with them throughout the day to see how they are doing. If you take care of your team, you can count on your team taking care of your customers.

Understand before you start that you will not please everyone. Some will want the pick up location close to their work or house, others will expect it to be near the race location. Some will not like the pick up days or time frame. Knowing this you want to organize so it makes sense to the race and/or the organization who is hosting the race. As a race director you will want to do everything you can to have a smooth race, so pleasing a small group of people is not worth derailing a smooth race.