By Janelle Benuska

In today’s busy landscape of time commitments and to-dos, many of our partners have questioned whether their race should offer, or continue to offer, a packet pick-up or early check-in event(s) for participants. As with most things related to what participants want, need and expect, the answer to this question can vary and be dependent on a few key factors.

In the case for or against packet pick-up, it is important to consider the following: 1. size of the event, 2.  participant check-in process, 3. incentive to attend, and 4. staff and volunteer support.

First, consider the size of your event. If your race has an estimated attendance of 1,000 participants or less, it may not be necessary to organize a pre-event packet pick-up. Most run/walk events of this size can easily accommodate and check in all participants on the day of the event, especially with a solid plan, set-up process, and volunteers in place to assist.

Second, think through your participant check-in operations. We recommend our clients consider doing dynamic bib assignments, which can dramatically decrease the time it takes to assign bibs to participants on event day. By utilizing a program such as Chronotrack, it is estimated that you can process one participant in less than a minute. Participants registering day-of can also experience faster processing by using self-registration kiosks overseen by volunteers. One additional recommendation to assist with expediting and queue management is to separate t-shirts and other rewards from the Registration/Check-In tent, and offering a Solutions Desk to triage any donation or registration issues.

Third, it is important to ensure that your participants have a compelling reason to attend a pre-event activity in addition to the big day. Many large half- and full-marathons produce a running expo in conjunction with their packet pick-up, which provides engagement opportunities for attendees, such as visiting vendor booths, receiving tips and tricks for a more comfortable race experience, and learning more about event sponsors. Smaller 5K and 10K race events often have their packet pick-up events hosted at a local running store to offer similar opportunities on a smaller scale. Events with fundraising minimums and/or fundraising rewards could benefit from allowing participants the chance to turn in offline donations at this pre-event check-in. These opportunities add value―beyond picking up a bib and some swag―and are a great way to motivate participant attendance.

Last, consider the operational support needed from your staff and volunteers. How many hands will be needed to set up and run the early check-in or packet pick-up? How many day(s) and hour(s) will be dedicated to preparing and executing pre-event activities, and how will this impact event preparation and final fundraising pushes? A solid operational plan that ensures your team has the capacity for pre-event activities, in addition to event prep and day-of responsibilities, is imperative to getting everyone through to race day.

Whether packet pick-up is a good fit for your event truly becomes a matter of weighing the investment of time and resources against the benefit to your participants. And if the scale tips in favor of planning a pre-event activity, here are some additional considerations to think through:

  • Choose a location(s) that will be convenient for participants. Ease of parking, accessible via public transportation, etc.
  • Select time(s) that will accommodate both day and evening schedules.
  • Promote pre-event activities in your event emails, on the event website, and through your social media channels.
  • Offer on-site registration and use the opportunity to drive additional registrations.
  • Track participant attendance and assess your results.

By thinking through the size of your event, your current participant check-in process, what incentive you can offer participants to attend, and your staff and volunteer support, you will be able to make the right decision as to whether your event will include a packet pick-up or early check-in. And if you do, be sure to apply the tips listed above to make it a smooth experience for participants and fruitful experience for your organization!


Janelle brings passion for client satisfaction to the Account Management team with a keen attention to project timelines and dedication to ensuring successful events. She currently works on the Florida AIDS Walk & Music Festival for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the Ride for AIDS Chicago for TPAN, as well as the Disabled American Veteran’s 5K Race series.

Share Button