We asked runners to challenge friends via social media
All About Timing was one of the first timers and organizers to adopt virtual events when the crisis hit. We talked to the founder Nikos Polias about his experienes. Read the full interview here.
Interview with Nikos Polias, All About Running
How long have you been in the running/events industry?
I’ve been in running since 1988 as a runner and since 1993 as a marathon runner. I’ve participated in all major track and field events (Olympics, World, European, Mediterranean and Balkan championships) and many city marathons around the world. So I can say that I have almost 30 years of experience.
How did you get into the industry?
In 2002, I and my partners started our cooperation with ChampionChip for the timing needs of Athens Marathon. At that time this event had no more than 2.500 runners and today we have reached almost 50.000! Running was not very popular in Greece at that time so after my participation in Athens Olympics, in 2005 I started the publication of Runner Magazine, the first running magazine in Greece. Then our website came along, and 3 years later we started organizing events like Sports Expo, road races, etc. We also provide training services to companies or individual athletes.
Can you tell us a bit more about your business?
Our company, All About Running, is providing services for runners in terms of news, training, timing and organizing. Next to that we are also an advertising company with more than 100 clients, and all the sport brands among them.
How many events got affected in your region/business?
100% of all events, not only ours, but throughout the country were affected since March 8th. A lot of them are postponed for the autumn period, but there are some as well that have been cancelled.
The government’s position is that no sport or cultural events will be allowed during the summer.
”Virtual runs were something that we have been discussing in our team the last couple of years but we never really took action to go on with it. [..] We thought “now is the time”.”
– Nikos Polias, All About Running
You created the Stop Coronavirus All About Running App, how did you set it up?
Virtual runs was something that we have been discussing in our team the last couple of years but we never really took action to go on with it as we were too busy with the real events. So when Boris (our MYLAPS account manager) came up with the news that, MYLAPS is providing this option, we thought “now is the time”.
We didn’t have much time to prepare it and we took some ideas from other virtual runs. We decided to keep it simple (no connection with some charity, no medals or race t-shirts) and free of charge, because we didn’t have time to organize all these. But I’m sure that the above could help in better promoting the event.
We promoted it through our own media and communication channels, mainly our website runnermagazine.gr and social media (FB, Instagram) and although it was during the Easter the reaction of people was very optimistic. Another idea was to use some ambassadors for the event (well known athletes, celebrities etc).
We have to take into account that at the time that we initiated this project we had restrictions in going out and run at any time and place, no ban though, but I’m sure that this situation led more people to register.
For the registration we use our own platform, myrace.gr. For the collection of results we use Crowd Signal platform. For the results presentation and race certificate we use sporthive and event cms.
↑ We added multiple different selfie overlays for people to use and share their selfie via social media after they finished their race.
What did you change about the event to encourage Virtual Running?
We tried to promote the advantages of a virtual run (free choice of where and when someone can make his effort, the option to improve his performance, and the feeling that the whole world is a course where you can compete). We asked runners to challenge their friends through social media.
We also promoted the message of “Run Responsibly”.
We have tried to point out that the run is real, the effort is real and the only virtual part is the race concept (no common start, course, conditions, etc)
How did it go? What were the results?
I think it went really well. Actually, it is still going as participants can register and submit their results till this Sunday. We have so far 1.500 registrations and more than 1.000 unique participants. Almost 250 selfies and a lot of encouraging messages, that this was something that running community needed.
”I think that it is of great importance at this time to keep the spirit of the running community high and advice people to keep on training regardless the forbiddance of races.”
– Nikos Polias, All About Running
You have a unique business with timing service, runner’s magazine and training programs for athletes. How are you utilizing all of your offerings in these times?
We’ve faces big problems with all our services. In the magazine for example, all our clients cancelled their advertising program for our April issue. Now we are going to offer them a special offer with big discounts for the following period.
We are thinking of creating a bundle which will include:
- Ads in the magazine,
- Banners in our website
- A branded virtual run of their own
- Posts in our Social media
in order to make it more attractive and effective at the same time.
Our website is still running good and as it was expected we had increasing visitor and page view numbers, but the fact that the stores are still closed put a lot of pressure on their budgets.
We’ve provided a lot of free content through our website and social media and we ran a campaign with the title “Run responsibly” encouraging runners not to stop doing their favorite sport, but go out and run following all the safety guidelines and with respect to their own health and the community.
I think that it is of great importance at this time to keep the spirit of the running community high and advice people to keep on training regardless the forbiddance of races.
↑ We asked runners to challenge their friends through social media.
How are you aligning with event organizers for the future?
The fact that this situation hasn’t a certain end is the hardest part. Some say that there will be no massive races till the Coronavirus vaccine is available. I’m not a doctor and I can’t say if this virus is so dangerous. As we saw there are different ways to approach and cope with the pandemic situation. More strict like in Spain, Italy, Germany or here in Greece and more relaxed like in Sweden and some Asian Countries. I don’t want to be a pessimist but I’m afraid that till the time we have a proved medicine to heal Covid-19 or the related vaccine it will be difficult to organize a massive event.
Some organizers try to save their events by postpone them for the end of the year. I can understand them, and we are trying, when possible to do the same, but that means that the already full events autumn calendar will have to host tens of postponed events. This will create a kind off “chaos”. I think that organizers that can survive the next 10-12 months, is better to plan their event for 2021.
Organizing a virtual run is a very good idea to keep the engagement with their participants, and to keep their communication alive.
You also organize events, what/how do you expect these to change?
There is an unofficial discussion here in Greece, about giving permission to some small events with a limited number of participants. They are talking about individual starts, where every runner will pass the starting line alone or in small groups of 5-10 people and the start will last for 20-40 minutes. This could apply to some trail races.
But there are so many safety precautions that you have to take into account that I doubt if the government will allow such a thing.
A running event is a big party, where people come together and close to have fun, compete and support each other. Maybe someone can organize a sterilized event but there will be no fun. Somebody could say that it’s better than nothing but I’m not sure if this kind of events can keep our business going.
Another thing that will definitely is going to change is the number of runners that are travelling to participate, especially from foreign countries. The air fares will be much more expensive and that will influence the racing plans of many runners.
For events you time, have you been working on a plan going forward?
It’s hard to make a forward plan when you miss so many details.
The only thing that we do is to estimate what would be the biggest number of events that we have to time in a certain period and write down what our resources should be in terms of man power and equipment in order to handle it.
↑ Some results from the virtual app.
How did you communicate to the runners/sponsors?
We made an unofficial approach to some sponsors that we have a close cooperation wirh but there was no interest in spending money at that moment. But to be honest we didn’t put a lot of effort in it because we didn’t have the time. Now that we have some experience and we know the real potential we are going to promote it much more.
How will/do you handle virtual bibs?
We just send them their number with an email. But there are some more creative ideas to send a digital Bib with pdf, or ask them to create their own and post a photo to the social media.
When do you expect things to start opening up again? How are you getting prepared for the times once events get back to work?
As I’ve already mentioned the best case scenario would be to have 1-2 small events in August and start again in September.
That means that we will need much more staff during the weekends when we will have to support 4 to 6 events not only as timers but organizers as well. We are trying to estimate the equipment that we will need, because it’s sure that our own will not be enough.
We keep updating our stuff about the situation and we talk with other organizers to see what they also intend to do. Everywhere we face a big uncertainty and a lot of question marks. A modest scenario would be to be able to make some small events during September and if we have no covid-19 cases at that time, to do more and bigger ones in October till the end of the year.
Another question is what the reaction of runners will be. I’m sure that fanatic runners will go and participate but running enthusiasts will be sceptic and especially those who have members in their families with health problems will avoid participating in a massive event.