News - 15th February 2017

What does it take to host a record-breaking parkrun?

VTM last run volunteers

On Saturday 28th January, parkrun said farewell to Voortrekker Monument with a world record attendance of 2,092 finishers.  So how did we manage to handle the numbers without major hiccups?  Equipment, planning and teamwork!




Equipment was, in the end, the least of our worries – thanks to the generosity of Head Office and our neighbouring Laudium parkrun, we were able to make use of 8 scanners and 8 stopwatches on the day.  These comfortably handled the numbers, with even a little redundancy in the stopwatches.  We also printed out additional finish tokens up to position 2,600.


VTM last run start




Planning started well before Christmas.  We knew we would have to cater for larger than usual numbers, but as the date grew closer we began to realize the magnitude of the interest and of the task ahead of us.  Our original plans were little more than a scaled up version of our normal set-up, with a much longer finish funnel, and bigger gaps from finish line to token hand-out and from tokens to scanning.


At the second-last run, we realized that we had pretty much reached the limit of what could be achieved with a traditional finish area.  Given sufficient equipment, the bottleneck is not the scanning, but the token hand-out.  No matter how slick your operation, or how experienced your token team, there is a limit to how many tokens can be handed out –  more than that and the queue starts to back up, no matter how many scanners or stopwatches you have – and we were fairly sure we would exceed that limit for long periods at the last run.


Once we accepted that, we had to accept that the only way to prevent queue build up would be to have two token hand-out teams handing out tokens simultaneously, but how could we do that without confusing the results processing?  We (very briefly) considered splitting the tokens into odd and even and sending runners alternately left and right, but realized that was never going to work.  Then we thought about a system like the road races, with alternating batches of 25 – better, but there were still difficulties (families being split up, extreme likelihood of miscounts).


In the end we decided that the only way that it could work smoothly, without too much stress for runners or funnel managers, was to have two completely separate finish lanes, each with their own timekeepers and token teams, and to merge the results from the two lanes afterwards.  In order to simplify the merge, one lane issued tokens starting from 1, the other tokens starting at 1,200 (which also meant that once they had tokens, the runners could go to any scanner).


Once that decision was made, our set-up team started planning the revised finish layout and sourcing the extra poles and stands needed, and the results processing team started writing a little program to automate the merging of the results – the times from the two lanes needed to be sorted in order, and then the positions re-assigned to match.




Once we had our plan, we still had to make it work.  We were lucky to have a large team of dedicated, experienced and above all, enthusiastic volunteers.  The top-hatted announcer, the tutu-wearing tail-runners, the many photographers and marshals, the scanners, timekeepers and token teams, the funnel managers, the run directors, the set-up team and the results processors were all essential to making it a smooth-running, enjoyable occasion. We salute them all, and thank them for helping to make it a day to remember.

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