USATF Road Running Technical Council
Road Race and Finish Line Management

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Registration of runners applying to your race is where everything starts. This is the first impression your runners will receive about your race. It affects various aspects of your race from seeding the start to the awards search and final race result preparation. The efficiency of your awards search often depends on the way your registration system is designed. PLAN AHEAD!

Entry Forms

The entry form is usually comprised of a section where you tell the entrant about your race and another section where the entrant tells you about himself/herself. The latter section will be termed the "entry blank" since it is a "blank" form to be filled in. The former section will be called a "race flyer" since it is designed to "fly" to as many potential entrants as possible. All information you intend to convey to the runner should be on the entry form.

Race Flyer Information

The race flyer MUST contain certain specific pieces of information about your race. (1) Runners need to know the date and time of the race start, the precise location of the race start, and the distance of the race. (2) Runners also need to know when and where bib- numbers and race packets may be picked up for pre-entries, the deadline for mail entries, where and when late entries will be accepted, and what the registration fees are. (3) Runners often decide whether or not to run your race based on the awards to be given, the age/sex divisions in your race, special awards, and "freebies" such as T-shirts, finisher medals, certificates, etc.

The race flyer SHOULD contain information about the course and what the runners can expect in the way of amenities. Course information should include a map of the course suitable for a runner to review the course prior to the race, a discussion of terrain, i.e., hilly, flat or downhill, and a statement of race protocol, e.g., "stay to the right side of the road-way at all times." Amenities such as location of porta-johns or restroom facilities, number and location of aid stations, location of split times, placement of kilometer and mile markers or signs and expected weather conditions should be noted.

Entry Blank Information

The information to be filled in by the runner on the race entry blank is intended to help you fulfill your part of the agreement between you and the entrant. If you have awards based on age and sex, you will need to know the runner's age, sex and date of birth. If you promised to mail out race results, you will need the runner's complete address. In any event, address and phone number information is strongly recommended in the event of a medical emergency.

Some entry blanks provide little boxes to fill in. Each box is supposed to contain one letter or one number. The number of boxes provided usually corresponds to the allotted space for that piece of information in the computer file. Experience shows that writing is often confused with the box outline and may be difficult to interpret. It is recommended to use only the BOTTOM third of the box, leaving the "top" open (see example). Other entry blanks have spaces (underlined blanks) to be filled in. In both cases, entry blanks should state clearly and in large bold-faced letters, PRINT CLEARLY.

Make sure the REVERSE side of the entry blank DOES NOT contain information the runner will need. Often, the reverse side of the entry blank is where the mailing label for race flyer mail-out is placed. When the entry blank is returned, you can estimate the effectiveness of direct mailing by checking the number of entry blanks returned with mailing labels on the reverse.

Entry blanks should contain ONLY that information you need from the runner. These include but are not limited to (1) full name, (2) sex, (3) age on race day, (4) date of birth, i.e., day, month, year, (5) address, (6) telephone number, (7) emergency contact (name and phone number), and (8) waiver with signature and date. Having the entrant check a box corresponding to one of several age/sex divisions clutters the form and is NOT recommended. Age or date of birth information already provide what you need to place the runner anyway.

Redundancy helps avoid errors due sloppy handwriting or an oversight on the part of the entrant. Most races offer awards based on AGE AS OF DAY OF RACE. Runners may put down their current age without realizing they have a birthday before the race day. The longer the required pre-registration period is before the race, the more this type of error occurs. This error is COMMON but usually goes undetected unless you ask for date of birth IN ADDITION TO age on race day. If you simply ask for date of birth, some runners will enter their next birthday. If you have both AGE and DATE OF BIRTH, you can catch both of these errors. You will also be able to provide a date of birth in the event one is required to verify a national age record.

Although the "waiver" on race entry blanks does not eliminate the possibility of being sued, such waivers may be considered by the court when deciding claims. The waiver should specifically hold harmless the race organization, the sponsors, the sanctioning body, and the local authorities. A suggested waiver form is illustrated.

The entry blank should also carry a disclaimer stating, "No Refunds." This will save you a lot of headaches.

Some of the information on the entry blank is intended to make things go smoother. T-shirt size information can be used to place the proper sized T-shirt in the runner's race packet, saving time during packet pickup. If you are seeding runners, you will need an estimated or projected finish time. If you have more than one race, you may wish to know which event the runner plans on running. If you have a USATF championship event, you will need a USATF number.

If you do have two or more events, each having the same entry fee, it will simplify matters if you do NOT try to classify or assign numbers by event ahead of time. Simply register ALL runners as if they were going to run the same event. This allows runners to change their minds without needing to be "re-registered."

Pre-Race Registration

The immediate goal of your registration system is to provide each runner with a bib- number. You should have a registration roster which lets you know which runner has which number. If you computerize your registration, you should prepare two rosters, one in bib-number order and the other in alphabetical order. If you do not use a computer, one convenient method is to write the bib-number on the completed entry blank at the time of registration and then keep the entry blanks in bib-number order.

Your registration system will have a number of other goals. One goal is to provide rapid identification of award winners at the conclusion of the race. Another is to provide some form of race results. Bib-numbers and entry rosters provide quick identification in case of medical emergencies. This information is also used to build up mailing lists for race flyers and other direct mailings. Registration systems for large races are often designed to facilitate the award search.

Registration for a Manual Recording Finish System

If your system for determining the place/bib-number sequence is a manual recording system, your award search will be conducted using a list of bib-numbers in finish order. If you had to check your registration roster for EACH number to find that runner's age and sex, your award search would take a VERY long time.

Number Blocking

One method for speeding the award search is to "number block" or to assign bib- numbers according to age group. For larger races, you may wish to "color block" by sex, e.g., men receive black bib-numbers, women receive red bib-numbers. You should only color-block by sex when you employ SEPARATE finish lines for men and women. Otherwise select timing and manual recording become more complicated.

In order to number block, you need to know roughly how many entrants are to be expected in each age/sex division. Your BEST reference is simply your race results from last year. If you do not have past results, you may refer to the following table based on a large sample of 10 kilometer race results.

TABLE I. Representative Break-Down of Runners by Age and Sex for 10 Kilometer Races


of men

of women

1 .10%
Before using this table, you need to determine how many men and how many women entrants to expect from a field of a given size. The ratio of men to women varies with geographical location and with race distance. The male/female ratio is lowest in the western United States at 2.4 to 1 for 10km races and highest in the southeast at 4.1 to 1. The ratio for the mid-west, mid-Atlantic and northeast is close to 3 to 1. The male/female ratio is highest (fewest women) for longer distances and lowest (most women) for shorter distances. For the marathon, a ratio of 6 to 1 may be used. For races at other distances, you may estimate an intermediate value.

Suppose you have a 3000 person 10 km race in the mid-west (male/female ratio of 3:1). You may expect 750 women and 2250 men. Suppose you have age groups for 15 and under, 16-19, 20-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-59, and 60+. Please note these choices are for purposes of illustration and are NOT a recommendation. Depending on the emphasis of your race, you may wish to expand the younger and/or older age group award divisions. Note that you do NOT need to give the same NUMBER of awards in each group but may wish to make awards in rough PROPORTION to the expected number of entrants, e.g., 10 awards in the M30-34 but only one award for M70+.

For this example, bib-numbers can be blocked as shown in Table II. Note that each age/sex group is allotted extra space (about 50%) to allow for deviations from the expected age/sex distributions and for registration above your expected number of entrants. If you start filling up number blocks and have to "jump" to unused number blocks for one age group, you lose some of the advantages of number blocking. This method is not efficient at using bib-numbers and may be expected to "waste" 30% or more of the numbers you buy. At 17 cents per bib-number, wasting 1000 bib-numbers costs $170.

TABLE II. Example of the Use of Number Blocking for a 3000 Person Race



M< 15
Ml 6-19

Fl 6-19
% in



# in




# 1- 99

# 100- 399
# 400- 599

When number blocking is used, the awards search is done by scanning the first two digits of the bib-numbers for the desired number block.

Letter Coding

An alternate method for manual recording systems is to use a water-proof marker to write a letter code in front of or following the bib-number. This means you can assign bib- numbers in the order you register runners, a more efficient use of bib-numbers. Once the bib-number IS assigned, the proper letter code needs to be written on the bib. ONLY the recording team at the end of the chute needs to copy this letter code. All other uses of the bib-number do not require the letter code.

In theory, 26 age/sex divisions can be coded using single letters. However, in practice you are advised NOT to use letters that are similar in appearance or letters that sound like or look like numbers. The letters 'D', 'O', and sometimes 'Q' tend to "look alike." You may also wish to avoid 'U' and 'V' and also 'M' and 'N'. You may use ONE of each but not both. The letter 'A' sounds like the number '8.' The letter 'L' looks like the number '1' and the letter 'Z' looks like the number '2.'

Using double letter codes for women, corresponding to the single letter code for men is another option. For example, the M40-44 division may be coded as 'F' and the F40-44 division as 'FF.'

Registration for a Pull-Tag Finish System

The methods described in this section apply to both the pull- tag/spindle system AND the place card/pull-tag system. Pull-tags should ALWAYS carry the bib-number even though they also carry the runner's name, age and sex. This will facilitate the use of select times to insure accuracy of the assigned times.

The pull-tag methods may use letter-coding or color-coding or combinations of both. Color-coding alone may cause problems since color discrimination varies from person to person. Color- coding doesn't help a color blind awards searcher. Identifying ONLY the youngest and oldest age groups with color codes makes it easier to extract these awards. Most of the other awards will be in the first quarter of the field and may be quickly located without color coding.

Pull-tags for pre-registered runners can be printed using a suitable computer OR they may be filled out by hand using a ball-point pen (indelible ink). Pull-tags should contain (1) the runner's bib- number, (2) the runner's name, and (3) the runner's age and sex. Other information such as the runner's hometown or club/team may also be given. A variety of pin-feed pull-tags, with and without color coding are available.

Peelable Pull-Tags

Pull-tags for a place card/pull-tag system must be peelable so that the runner may affix the pull-tag to the place card after finishing. The standard three-across, "small" peelable labels ($0.005 each) with pin-feed for computer printing are the most commonly used. Pull-tags should not be much larger than 10cmx2.5 cm (2.5"x1") or they will obscure your place cards.

Peelable pull-tags need to be cut apart with their backing paper intact. They should be stapled to the competitor number with two staples, one at each END of the pull-tag, so that it can be torn from the number without destroying the pull-tag. Pull-tags should be stapled so that the "flat" side is on the BACK of the bib-numberwith the two "ends" of the staple on the front side. This reduces chaffing and makes it easier to pull the tag free of the bib-number in the processing chutes.

The pull-tag should be stapled so that it does not obscure any part of the bib-number since this is needed for select timing. If the pull-tag is computer printed, CHECK to make sure the pull-tag is being affixed to the SAME bib-number as listed on the pull-tag.

Another method for peelable pull-tags is to use "piggy-back" labels. These are more expensive ($0.01 5 each) but have the advantage that they may be stuck to the bib- number and then peeled from the bib-number (leaving the second backing paper on the bib- number) and affixed to the place card. This eliminates the need to staple the pull-tag to the bib-number BUT will slow the processing rate.

FIGURE 5-2. Example of Bib-Number with a Detachable Pull-Tag.
Note that the pull-tag has the bib-number, runner's name/age/sex information and a place for color-coding. I

Pull-Tags for the Spindle System

The pull-tag/spindle system does not require peelable pull-tags. A non-peelable pull-tag may be attached to the bib-number in the same fashion as the peelable pull-tag OR it may be "part" of the bib-number itself (see example). In addition, the pull-tag may be attached to the runner rather than to the bib-number. If you use this latter option, you STILL NEED bib-numbers if you expect your results to be accurate since the SELECT TIMING depends on readable bib-numbers. A pull-tag dangling from a runner's shirt is not readable from any reasonable distance.

Pull-tags MUST be readily removable or detachable. This is accomplished either by stapling as described above OR by means of perforations separating two sections of the pull-tag. Runners must be instructed NOT to pin the part of the pull-tag that later will be detached and collected in the processing chute. You should use a chute worker to check each finisher before they reach the pull-tag collection point, to make sure the pull-tag is not pinned and to catch other problems such as interlopers or registered runners with missing pull-tags.

If you make your own pull-tags for a pull-tag/spindle system, make sure you PRE-PUNCH a hole for the spindle or stringer. The hole should be 1 cm (3/8") or larger in diameter to facilitate spindling. Perforated pull-tags are convenient since they can be stapled to the bib-number using the non-removable section.


At this point you may wish to add color-coding to the pull-tag. One simple way is to use water-proof markers with several distinctively different colors. The "open" men's division or the 20-29 and 30-34 age groups do not need color codes since they are usually the first finishers anyway. You can double the number of available groups by marking an 'X' in the age group color for men and an '0' in the SAME age group color for women.

Color-coding may also be added using stickers of various colors. Stickers should be on the order of 2cm (3/4") in diameter and roughly circular or square, i.e., not long and thin but short and fat. Most office supply stores can provide colored "dots" which are used for bulk mailing at $0.004 each.

Pre-colored peelable pull-tags are also available (at $0.05 each). These need to be filled in by hand (ball-point pen) but avoid the need to affix color dots or color marking. It is not clear the additional price is worth the savings since color dots are much cheaper and just as fast as selecting the proper color peelable tag would be. Make sure the bib-number is entered on the pull-tag, especially if the pull-tag comes with a "number" of its own which may confuse things.

Pull-Tags with Bar Codes

If your pull-tag is an integral part (separated only by perforations) of your competitor number, you can employ colored dots or colored marking to distinguish age/sex divisions. The entrant information in such cases needs to be filled in by hand. Some competitor numbers provide a bar-code on the pull-tag to be used with bar code systems. The bar code reflects the bib-number but should not be considered a substitute for a human- compatible bib-number on the pull-tag portion.

Another recent development is the computer-driven printer which "creates" its own bib- number and bar code. If you use a personal computer for registration, once the entrant information is entered, you can print out a bib-number on specially provided forms made of tear resistant material. The form provides for a detachable pull-tag on which the bar code and entrant name/age/sex/hometown information for manual processing is entered.

Packet Pickup

You can avoid packet pickup completely by mailing out race packets. However, escalating postage costs mean that mailing the bare minimums (bib-number plus a couple information sheets in a 9x12 envelope) runs $0.57 per entrant.

Many large races have "packet stuffing parties (no beer)" the night before packet pickup where all the components such as bib- numbers, pull-tags, envelopes, flyers, information sheets, pins, "freebies" and sometimes T-shirts are gathered. Set up an assembly line such that pull-tags or code letters are attached to the correct bib-number and then placed in an envelope into which flyers, pins, etc. have been stuffed.

Using Computers to Facilitate Packet Pickup

If you computerize your registration, have the computer print out a set of peelable pull- tags in bib-numberorder. These can be affixed to the OUTSIDE of the registration packet for easy identification. This is especially convenient if you are already using a computer to print out peelable pull-tags for a place card/pull-tag system.

Another convenience using a computerized system is to assign the bulk of your bib-numbers (those not given to the top or seeded runners), in the SAME order as you plan to organize packet pickup. Most packet pickups are arranged alphabetically by last name. If you assign bib-numbers alphabetically and print pull-tags alphabetically, when you have finished your packet stuffing, your registration packets will ALSO be arranged alphabetically. If you employ number blocking, packet pickup is logically organized by age group rather than by name although you can alphabetize within each age group.

Another method to speed packet pickup is to post rosters in alphabetical order by last name. This roster should give the runner's name and bib-number as a minimum. This is crucial if you do not assign bib-numbers in alphabetical order BUT organize packet pick- up by bib-number.

Organizing Packet and T-Shirt Pickup

The number of packet pickup stations depends on how many packets need to be picked up and how many hours runners may pick up their packets. Use LARGE signs to identify "packet pickup" and the location for each group, e.g., A-F, G-L, etc., or #1-999, #1000- 1999, etc.

MOST runners will wait to the last minute. Close the doors at the last minute but figure on taking another half hour to complete packet pickup. If 10% of your entrants wait to the last minute to pick up their packets, figure roughly 30 seconds per pickup and 30 minutes to finish the last minute rush which means each station can handle 60 last minute people. If your packet pickup period is more than five hours total, each station can handle 600 packets. If your pickup period is less than five hours, the number of packets per station should be reduced accordingly.

Packets may already contain the size T-shirt indicated by the entrant on the entry blank. This certainly speeds handing out packets but does make bulky packets. Another alternative is to ask each entrant as they pick up their packet, what size T-shirt they want. It usually takes 3 or more seconds to elicit a response and 5 or more seconds to find the right size T-shirt. If stocks are running low, you may have to go back and try to get another choice (lots of luck!). This option is even worse!

For larger races, the preferred method is to include a T-shirt card in the race packet. Once the runner receives the race packet, he/she takes the T-shirt card to a "T-shirt" station where the sole function is to distribute T-shirts. Instead of cards, runners' bib numbers can be checked with indelible marker to indicate they have picked up their shirt. You should display one T-shirt of each size to help runners decide what size they want.

One way to reduce surplus T-shirts is to give T-shirts ONLY to entrants who register by a particular date, roughly two weeks in advance of the race. The entry form should indicate size preference which may be entered into the computer registration file.

When pre-registration is "closed," the computer can tell you how many small, medium, large, and extra-large T-shirts to order. Obviously, the T-shirt firm needs to have everything else ready to go. This option does make it easier to provide extras like children's sizes and even different styles. Another option is to mail T-shirts to late entrants at some time AFTER the race, but this can cost close to $2 per shirt.

Avoiding Packet and Bib-Number Switching

Two types of errors occur with packet pickup and preregistration. One runner may pick up a packet for another runner as well as his/her own packet. Now, there is a chance that the packets will be inadvertently switched. The situation is worst when husband and wife, parent and child, or a similar combination of tough vs. weak age group competition is switched. If a husband and wife switch bib-numbers, the husband could run a 10km race in the 33 minute range and be well out of the awards. If he is wearing his wife's bib-number, SHE is credited at the finish line with HIS time, which for a woman is a national- ranking time.

Some of these errors can be caught by using separate finish lines for men and women. It is better to stop such errors BEFORE they occur. When handing out TWO packets to one runner, use a magic marker to mark "HIS" and "HERS" on the outside of each packet or something similar.

Another error is frequent when late registration is not permitted. Suppose a registered runner is injured and can't run or simply decides not to run. A friend wants to run the race but didn't register in time (or doesn't want to pay the late registration fee). He picks up his friend's packet and runs with that bib-number. Not only is this is violation of USATF Rule 72.6 which can get the offending runners (both of them) barred from USATF sanctioned competition, but it can really mess up your awards. Suppose you have nice age group awards that are worth something. Further suppose the "bandit" is an average 25 year old runner, capable of 38 minutes for 10K. Suppose the entrant is a 60 year old man. You see the problem! THIS HAPPENS!

Two ways to guard against this are to (1) require identification before handing out registration packets and/or (2) require runners to sign for their packet. In the latter case, a clip board with forms listing bib-numbers in sequence and space to sign are needed. Nothing eliminates cheating, but you can make it much harder to cheat.

Late Registration

The best way to reduce late registration to manageable levels is simply charge a substantial late registration fee. Late registration fees as high as $30 (above the regular fee) have been charged (and received!). Some races do not permit late registration. Most races can use the extra income.

The first step is to provide tables with pencils (cheaper than pens since most will disappear) and entry blanks. Again, use BIG signs to indicate these as late registration tables. On each late registration table, affix a sign (on the table surface), telling the entrant what to do and where to take the completed entry blank. These entry blanks MUST have a place for the registrar to write in the assigned bib-number. This usually takes the form of a 3 cm x 1.5 cm (1"x1/2") box in the upper right hand corner of the entry blank (see example). It is a good idea to have special race-day blanks with oversized information boxes to encourage runners to write big, if not neatly.

Number Blocking and Color-Coding

If you are color-coding by pre-colored pull-tags or number blocking for age/sex group identification, late registration stations should be clearly identified by the age/sex groups they are handling. DO NOT allow more than one registrar to handle the SAME age/sex division in such cases or you will get frustration and confusion. One registrar may handle several age/sex divisions AS LONG AS the each age/sex division is handled by only ONE registrar.

In these cases, each registrar is responsible for a particular set of bib-numbers or a particular set of pre-colored pull-tags. If the late registrant is in the WRONG line, tell them to go to the BACK of the correct line (they learn after a few times). Don't borrow registration material from another registrar and don't interrupt another registrar.

If you are NOT using color-coding or number blocking OR you are using a color dot system or a water-proof marker for color-coding pull-tags OR if you are letter-coding for manual recording, you DO NOT need to have separate late registration stations for different age groups. If you have several late registration stations, each station should have a supply of bib-numbers AND a supply of colored markers or color dots. Each station should have a KEY to the coding system, taped to the table top so time won't be wasted trying to find it.

Handling Entry Fees

You may wish to separate the cashier and registrar functions. In this case, the entrant is directed to the cashier first where the entry fee is paid and the entry blank stamped "paid." Otherwise, the entry fee is collected by the registrar when the entrant is registered.

When a registrar is handed a late entry blank, he/she should first check to see that all the blanks are completed. If NOT, send the entrant BACK to the table with the pencils and entry blanks and instruct them to return to the BACK of the line (no special privileges for incompetency). Then, check that the entrant is at the correct station. If NOT, send him/herto the BACK of the correct line.

If the entry blank is acceptable, the registration fee is accepted and the entry blank marked "paid" (unless this function is handled by a cashier). Then, select the next bib- number (in the proper sequence if number blocking). WRITE this number in the box provided on the entry blank BEFORE doing anything else!

If you are number blocking, hand the entrant his/her bib-number and file the entry blank in a box provided.

If you are letter-coding for manual recording, check your coding key for the proper letter code for this entrant's age/sex division. Mark this code on the bib-number with a water- proof marker. Hand the entrant his/her bib-number and file the entry blank in a box provided.

If you are using pull-tags, enter (1) the bib-number, (2) the runner's last name and first name, and (3) the runner's age/sex (on the proper pull-tag if using pre-colored pull-tags). If you are using pre-colored pull-tags, hand the entrant his/her bib-number and file the entry blank in a box provided.

If you are using plain pull-tags with manual color-coding or lettercoding, check the coding key for the proper color or letter for that runner's age/sex division. Mark the pull-tag accordingly and hand the entrant his/her bib-number and file the entry blank in a box provided.

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