While we live in an increasingly active world, America still has its share of couch potatoes. Most people know they need to get out and exercise but rarely make the change to do it. Race directors like you can encourage these timid people to use your next event as the catalyst they need to make the change.
So where should you begin?
Make the race attractive to non-athletes.
One of the biggest barriers to couch potatoes is the fear of looking stupid at an event. If they know there will be other non-professionals there, they’ll be more likely to feel comfortable joining. Shorter route options are one way to do this, as are non-race socializing events, like entertainment. Themes and costumes can also take the “serious” feeling out of the event and open up your registration to first-timers. You can include all of this in your advertising materials to make sure less serious race participants know they’ll be welcome. You might even try tailoring the event specifically for them if you think you have a big enough audience in your area.
Provide Plenty of Support Tools.
One thing couch potatoes need is support. It can be overwhelming to a non-runner to consider training for a 5K, especially if they’re considering going alone. The best way to get them over this hump is to front-load your support options for them.
Partner with a local running group and leverage their existing meet-up times to provide a social way for lone couch potatoes to get into the groove. Include recommended smartphone apps in your sign-up materials and advertising so that you can set these participants up for success out of the gate.
ACTIVE provides numerous training videos for free and even a Couch to 5K app that are easy to send to your race participants who might need help. If you can partner with a running shop to hold helpful events like “Finding the Right Shoe for Your Stride,” you can also help these participants feel confident going into the event.
Get the Word Out.
Couch potatoes probably won’t be reading running magazines or visiting athletic shops with the same frequency that your more seasoned race participants do. If you’re going to reach this new demographic, you’re going to need to think outside the box.
Digital and social advertising are ideal for this sort of situation, where you can match your advertising to the search history of people who are looking for a new way to lose weight, get outside, or generally be more healthy. You might be able to partner with a local hospital or doctor’s office who will let you hang a flyer or encourage their patients to sign up.
As long as your marketing materials remind the less athletic that this event is going to be a safe place for them to start their running careers, you can almost advertise anywhere to attract your new audience.
Keep Them Coming Back
If you make the process as enjoyable as possible for new runners, you can rest assured they’ll be willing to sign up for your next event. Plus, they’ll be more than willing to bring their friends with them.
Make sure they’re informed of ways they can “level-up” once they’ve moved past their first event, and that there are ways to participate in more difficult races without having to be a full-time athlete. Remember that once you’ve converted a couch potato into a runner, you’ll probably have a full-time race evangelist on your hands.
Beware of Possible Injured Participants
One word of caution about increasing your numbers of couch potatoes: Dave McGillivray warns while the trend is encouraging, individuals who are new to the sport may be more prone to injury than runners with more experience. This can be a liability issue for your event, but it should not by any means stop you from trying to tap into this barely motivated set of participants.
The best way to address the issue is to get in front of it:
- Consider including prominent warnings on your advertising flyers about the dangers of running without training
- Include a “what to watch out for” segment in some of your emails.
- Always encourage your participants to see a physician before participating in new physical activity, including a longer-than-usual distance.
- Be prepared medically