How Do You Want To Register For Ultras?

I received an unsolicited email today from an online registration company.  The email started off with:

I wanted to follow up with you because I can get you setup with a far better event registration format than you are currently using and can help you attract more participants to your event.

Apparently they know about the Where’s Waldo registration process and don’t approve.  Not sure why a race that fills would need to attract more participants but it got more interesting with the following statement:

Nobody likes to print, fill out, stamp and mail forms anymore.  Lower your barrier of entry with a great online solution!

Is this true?  And is lowering the barrier of entry a good thing?  Does online registration make it too easy to sign up for ultras?  Is it part of the reason so many of our races are filling up and resorting to lotteries?  Do you not care about paying the credit card or convenience fees?  Are we supporting the credit card companies (banks?) with these online solutions?  Does that matter to you?


  1. Hi Craig,

    I love the fact that most ultras *allow* a paper entry. I always choose that over an online form. Maybe I’m cheap, but it’s no more effort to fill out a form by hand and mail it in. In fact, it’s a lot more rewarding. If you’re planning to run 100 miles, you should be willing to make a little effort during the application. The only possible benefits I can see are for the RD. Does an online system make it easier for you to organize and contact the entrants? Is the online payment system more convenient or safer than accepting checks, which require a trip to the bank and could potentially bounce? If not, I’d stay with paper.


    • @Pete, we do have the occasional bounced check which is a minor inconvenience but it’s not like people do that on purpose to get away without paying like they might purposely bounce a check at Wal-mart. As for contacting the entrants, our custom database has info about runners that is persistent from year to year like address, email, etc. So, if you’ve run our race before we just enter you into the event without typing any contact info and only add year specific data like shirt size, estimated time, etc. I know the bigger races use a third-party like constant contact to communicate with runners, that is in addition to the online registration company.

  2. Don’t lower your standards. I have to fill out not a Registration Form, but an Application to be INVITED to participate in an ultra event next year. Online registration fees are getting to be big business (, and not about convenience.

  3. I am for ease of registration…I kinda find the comments against online registration amusing since these comments are being posted online..Perhaps you should make the comments to your blog be sent via snail mail then posted when you have time..:) Have a good time with Waldo…Tony

  4. Surprisingly, I agree with some of your points, Craig. I really don’t like paying credit card fees either. For high ticket items the 3% the banks charge can be quite high. However, there are very few situations where the consumer has the choice to avoid the fee by paying cash. Some gas stations give you a cash price, but most businesses have one price cash or credit. I always welcome RD’s to offer mail-in forms and allow the RD to add them into the system without charge. If the director doesn’t mind entering the data and the consumer doesn’t mind mailing in the check, great.

    However, you can’t deny the world has gone plastic and most businesses and consumers prefer it over cash. Online registration allows RD’s to manage their event with a couple clicks and saves many hours of work. If time is not an issue, handling your registration the old fashion way is one option to save some money. Most RD’s that switch will tell you that they will never go back to mail-in and many events are eliminating mail-ins. I personally like the option, but dislike all the emails I get from people whose information was entered incorrectly by the data entry person and want it corrected.

    Another point that should be made (right or wrong) is that many people depend on their credit card to pay for everything. As these events increase in price more and more people have to use their card.

    As for events selling better because of online registration, yes they are, but online registration has been around for many years and events are just recently selling out at blazing speeds.

    I have come to learn that one size doesn’t fit all and the more options, the better. You can hate the Credit Card companies or the online registration companies, but they exist to meet a demand. I started UltraSignup first to create an online database of results, but later added registration. My goal has never been to make a career out of the site, but rather create a centralized place to get entrants and results. I have yet to take any money out of UltraSignup for personal use, but have donated money to runners in need of registration fees and volunteers who help load results.

    Mark Gilligan

    • @Mark Gilligan, Yes, the world is going plastic. We actually had a couple of runners this year that had to get a bank draft from their bank which was sent separately by the bank. They didn’t have a checkbook! Are there people that don’t have or use credit cards? They probably are a dying breed.

      As for incorrect data, there are many times we’re struggling to read the hand written forms. But, I suppose mistakes can be made at any step of the way, including if the user enters the data themselves. We’ll always have to deal with mistakes but maybe there are fewer if users do it themselves.

      I think giving the option of credit card or check might be the way to go.

      Thanks for all your work with UltraSignup, Mark.

  5. I prefer the old fashioned way. I don’t mind filling out the form, putting it in the envelope, putting a stamp on it, and taking it to the post office. The 0.44 cent stamp is a lot less than the registration fee. Also, when forms are filled out by hand, you avoid the problems that may arise by “clicking” the incorrect information.

    I think Rob and John can tell you about the on-line registration glitch this year for SOB. It really wasn’t a glitch, but a lot of people “claimed” to have clicked the button that requested a shirt (shirts are optional) but in reality didn’t. Susan had her hands full at registration that morning with people swearing up and down they’d ordered shirts. But, when they checked their on-line confirmations after they’d gotten home, they found they hadn’t. So, as it turned out, a lot of people who actually wanted shirts and thought they’d ordered them, didn’t get one. In this situation, if they had used a paper form, I don’t believe this would have been a problem because they would have added the amount to the registration fee when they wrote their checks.

    Just one person’s opinion. But, thanks for asking!!

      • @Craig, Hold on a minute. There wasn’t a “problem” with the shirts. People that didn’t order them didn’t get them. People that ordered them got them. People that thought they ordered them but didn’t, didn’t get them. We had enough shirts to offer people that were in the later category.– Buy one today, and if you did order it we’ll gladly refund the money. Some of the runners took us up on the offer, and to their surprise, got home and found they didn’t order it. In other words, none of the runners that wanted one, didn’t have the chance to purchase one. Note, that none of the runners who thought they ordered one actually did.
        The only mistake that was made was we didn’t post what people ordered before the race. That would have avoided most of the confusion. As you rightfully point out Craig, the “issue” would have surfaced regardless of type of payment.
        Back to the subject, I’m amazed at the lack of concern, or perhaps awareness as to the size of the fees charged. People seem to simply take them in stride and not get too upset. My Ticketmaster fee of $14 on a $32 general admission concert ticket seemed like highway robbery to me.

        • @Rob, What I meant to say, but clearly didn’t, is that a lot of people THOUGHT they had ordered shirts but didn’t click the button, and those people didn’t get them. I didn’t mean for it to sound like people who actually ordered and wanted shirts didn’t get them.

  6. I prefer the old fashion way, bottom line it was a cheaper way to race. Yes it is nice to click and go and have years of results and stats. But before some races went to, etc I was paying less for a race. I also noticed a few years back that as more offering web this and online that with races went into being so did race fee’s, and not just $2-4 bucks.

    Whenever something is added to an event there is a cost, I get that. A lot of people like this stuff and I get that. I don’t really have a use for it and don’t mind writing things by hand. So I would like to save on it. I’m involved with business outside my regular job, I understand cost for service rendered. I just wonder if we are progressing to far for what it is we really need to do a race.

    It would be interesting to test the results of different options now that this form of reg. has been around for a while. The choice would be between say a $100 race with no online reg, no stats no bling. And then a $110 race for online reg and everything that goes with it. Then see what the majority would go with. Or even better what it would cost for a race that doesn’t go to another entity for online reg and website design and upkeep and does it themselves, what is the difference in cost to the runner?

    Regardless of my opinion to the question posed I like Mark G and Ultrasignup, he gives a great service and has done some great things to bring Ultras into the mainstream.

    I guess I’m just cheap. Hell, I don’t Facebook/Twitter or have a smartphone. I also wish there was a non t-shirt option at races sometimes just to make racing cheaper, I don’t need another shirt.

    As always Craig, you get the juices going, great discussion.

    BTW was in Michgan Bluff running Saturday. I met the nice lady who speaks highly of you with the shower for runners (Sadly I forgot her name).


    • @Anthony, I look at the number of runners in our ultras and question what we really need also. 100-300 runners compared to events with 10,000+ Fatasses with online registration? Really? Ultras are tiny events. I hesitate to say this, but are RDs just being lazy?

      And someone other than my mom speaks highly of me? Wow. Seriously, that would be Carol Hewitt in Michigan Bluff.

  7. Craig – I think that Mark enjoys “supporting banks”… as for me I enjoyed the fact I didn’t have to enter all the data from folks that struggle with penmanship. Now, that said I agree that making ultras easy to get into will just attract more people…. this is a differnt subject right?

    • @Brad Putnam, We can talk about the barrier to entry. The spammer said we need to lower it. Do we need to raise it? Perhaps we could start implementing volunteer requirements for all ultras not just 100s. And, of course, those need to be submitted on paper forms. How come those aren’t electronic? Mark?????

  8. Craig, did you just state you’re in favor of a volunteer requirement!!??

    Out of curiosity, with a race like Waldo (popular) that has a registration cap is it a hassle for you when you get entires exceeding that cap? Seems like online reg can put a stop to that by disallowing entry at a set cap.

    I’ve done about 5 ultras this year and 4 have had mail-in reg…not really a hassle to me either way. I like the choice.

    Have fun with Waldo. Hope to get up there some year for the race, regardless of how I have to enter.


  9. I like the paper forms, but either way is fine. I also like rewarding people who are on the ball with a first come, first served entry system, or at least a one day window.

    How can we solve the problem of people entering every race for the year, taking all the openings, and then backing out later when their schedule is worked out, or just not showing up? Can there be a required confirmation process one month prior to race day?

    • @Ayren Spinner, I think as long as RDs have a good idea of what their DNS rate is from year to year then they can just overbook the appropriate amount. Not perfect, but maybe better than wait lists if people don’t or can’t tell the RDs they aren’t running until right before the race.

  10. I always enjoy finding a way to save a buck and therefore always use the paper/mail option when offered rather than pay the fee to enter online. Likewise I can avoid paying “the man” at the credit card company who will deduct 5% from you for allowing me a convenience on this end.

    At a race like McKenzie River, the sole mail option was more of a problem. This race was usually filled on day one but the time it took for the mail to get to the RDs was not in the entrants’ control. I doubt people from, say, Maine ever had much chance of gaining entry unless they paid the extra over-night delivery fee to he USPS.

    And I hate airline baggage fees. And the extra postage fee usually tacked on when I order merchandise online – why can’t they just list a price that includes all portions of the transaction required to get me the item/service I’m buying? But I digress…

    • @Kate Merrill, I got shut out of Way Too Cool years ago because of slow delivery of snail-mail. But I think McKenzie started using postmark date which should have evened the field for the east coasters.

      I hear you on the advertised price including everything. Maybe we Oregonians are more sensitive to this because we don’t have sales tax. When we see a price in the store we know exactly what it will cost. While others are used to the tacked on fees?

  11. I have to say, I like doing it online. Its quick and allows me to procrastinate for a longer period of time. 😉
    If it is just a couple bucks, the online fee doesn’t bother me much. If it was more than $5.00, I’d be a bit annoyed. But, when factoring cost to get to an event, have the right equipment, taking time off to train, etc. That fee doesn’t seem too obstructive to me.
    Not a huge deal either way but having it done nice and quickly and not worrying if something got lost in the mail, etc, is kinda nice.
    Rod B.

  12. I disagree with Rod Bien, I believe online entry doesn’t allow you to procrastinate longer — It does just the opposite, anything that makes the process easier lowers the barrier to entry, races fill up faster. So tell me how long do you get to procrastinate with online entry for Way Too Cool? Was that 5 seconds or 6 seconds? Do you feel lucky punk?…..WELL DO YA?!!!

    Besides LB, how could you forget the year I put my Waldo entry in a box, within a box, within a box within a jewlery box folded up rubber bands around it? I didn’t mail my entry in, I shipped it in like a MAN!!! How many times as a race entry taken up your entire doorstep?


  13. I strongly dislike mail-in entry forms. Especially if a race is going to fill, meaning that you really need to mail it in on the day or week it is available. I find myself out of the country on a semi-frequent basis, and mailing in applications from other countries is like throwing an application into an abyss. Yes, I can have friends mail it in for me, but I’d rather not have to. You can get online anywhere, for the most part. You can’t always have access to an operational mail system anywhere. Plus, it’s a waste of paper.

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