What Happened to Race Goody Bags?

Tim Reed
Photo courtesy @nicsfithealthylife

It seems like fewer and fewer races I attend now offer "goodie bags" to the participants. Is this actually the case? If so, why?

There was a time when I believed that runners equated a race's value and the justification for the entry fee with how much stuff they got in their goodie bags (that is, their race packets). I would picture runners sitting down with their goodie bags and a calculator, adding up the value of each item, without factoring in the quality of the race itself!

Typically, races that offer goodie bags include some combination of these items:

  • Flyers or discount coupons from sponsors or other companies
  • Race applications from other races
  • The official race program
  • Small gift items such as toiletries
  • Food items like energy bars or gels
  • Last minute instructions from the race
  • Something valuable and useful, like a pair of gloves, or a cap or visor

It was also once a common practice for sponsors to pay the race a fee for the right to place something in runners' goodie bags, which could become an attractive revenue stream for the event.

More: Race Day Swag That's Outside the Ordinary

Years ago, it seemed like there were a number of attractive items included in most goodie bags, but now, it seems like that has all morphed into paper—flyers and coupons. I speculate that this is due mainly to the increase in the sheer numbers of races and race participants and thus the required increase in the number of each item being requested from contributors. If there are 10,000 entrants in a race and a company donated a $2.00 item, that is $20,000 worth of product—ouch!—which could be cost-prohibitive for many companies. Even providing the bags themselves can be an added expense to a race.

As such, many races are now going with the concept of a virtual goodie bag, in which electronic versions of flyers and coupons are emailed to participants. This eliminates the paper waste and the labor required to stuff hundreds or thousands of goodie bags. In addition, a lot of organizers are touting this change as another way to "go green."

In the past few years, I have actually eliminated goodie bags from many of my races and very few participants seem to have noticed. Eliminating the bags entirely is becoming the norm. However, if organizers really want to set an event apart, an attractive, gift-filled goodie bag will certainly earn them a few brownie points.

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Dave McGillivray, president of DMSE, Inc., has been Race Director of the Boston Marathon since 2001.

More: An Obsession with Race Medals

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Runner's World

Runner's World is the world's leading running magazine. Covering topics such as shoes and gear, race training, nutrition and health, Runner's World appeases to the novice runner and veteran alike.
Runner's World is the world's leading running magazine. Covering topics such as shoes and gear, race training, nutrition and health, Runner's World appeases to the novice runner and veteran alike.

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