Friday, October 16 was a big day for our team. It marked our return to putting on live, in-person events. What was only an idea 90 days ago became a real thing. By 7pm that Friday, the inaugural 5x5K FOR GOOD Denver was all built and ready to welcome participants.

The three months of planning the 5x5K FOR GOOD taught us so much. We had to re-imagine what live events looked like. We disposed of old ideas and outdated best practices and had to conjure up many new plans to ensure that we could produce a safe and fun event for this new era we find ourselves living in. Even the event concept itself had to be reimagined to contribute to the event’s safety.

The three primary variables that we considered while building out the 5x5K concept were: time, space, and volume.

  • Time: Rather than using the typical two or even four-hour period for a 5K event, we thought, “What if we made it 24 hours long?” This allowed participants flexibility around when they participated and meant we could spread out the crowd.
  • Space: We could have one site and route, like a traditional 5K. Or we could have five. Having five 5K routes not only made this a unique challenge, it again provided another opportunity to disperse participants, in this case geographically.
  • Volume: Finally, we reimagined participant density. All of the jurisdictions we worked with during planning had their own capacity limits for different areas of the event. While we were confident the event model would help us manage most of that, we of course had to have a plan to address those restrictions directly.

Working through these variables brought us to our final event concept. On the 5x5K, participants have 24 hours to complete five 5K courses in different locations around Denver. This format not only exceeds the new minimum safety requirements, it also provides participants a fun, flexible, and challenging experience.

So we put together our best plans, pitched it to local authorities, and started on our path to event day. Along the way we learned numerous lessons, but here are a few of our favorites.

  • It can be done. There is a safe way to do live events. It may not look like what you’re accustomed to, but it is possible. Remember giving high-fives and hugs as you checked in your participants and fumbled around with paper reports? No longer. We’re still working out the hugging protocols, but digital contactless check-in is slick and if you’re not trying it yet you’re missing out.
  • People are hungry for an experience. Maybe not everyone feels comfortable venturing out yet, but there are many who are eagerly awaiting an invitation. If you clearly communicate your guidelines for participants ahead of time, folks will follow your safety rules. Nobody wants to be the bad apple.
  • You will need some new tools. This event gave us an opportunity to experiment with a few new systems and technologies and we have to say that we love them. Having app-guided route cues delivered to the participant’s smartphone was hugely critical. We can’t say we’re completely axing traditional route marking yet, but I can imagine that day isn’t far away.
  • Get creative so you don’t sacrifice the participant experience. Maybe you can’t have a coffee truck at the site, but you can provide a free coffee voucher electronically. There may not be a live band, but you can provide a playlist. You may not have a cheering audience along your route, but you can have a lot of fun with audio cues in the route app.

Yes, things look different. But we are confident that many of these innovations are going to stick. The need to innovate is making us better as event producers. It is making events better. And it is making events safer. You can jump on board and be an early adopter, or you can get left behind. We know where we want to be, and we want you with us FOR GOOD.

Slade has been with Event 360 for more than 14 years and has played a role in planning and executing more than 100 events ranging from a 5K for a few hundred people to multi-day events for thousands of participants.

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