I love running and I love being around other runners. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to work on the timing side of some races this summer and fall. Before working with the timers, I never really gave much thought to what was involved in timing a running race.
As a runner, you pick up your packet, attach your bib to your shirt, put the chip on your shoe, show up 30 minutes before the start, hit the porta-potty and you’re good to go! Run the race, give a “thumbs up” as you cross under the inflatable arch (just in case someone is taking pictures), pause, have finisher’s medal placed over head & chip removed from shoe, and head for the finisher’s area. As a runner, you grab some water (or alternative beverage), something to munch on and rehash the run with other like-minded individuals. Pretty cool way to spend a morning. :-)
But what you have to remember is at some point “all systems fail”. One way or another, in some weird way, when it is least anticipated, they fail.
You see, in theory, to time a race all you need is one mat for everyone to cross. This mat would record all the chip numbers as they cross through the space directly above it.
Only – not all runners cross the line in single or double file. Sometimes large groups cross simultaneously. To compensate for this, two mats are placed, end to end, to allow for several to cross at once.
Oh yeah, not all runners have the same stride length either. Some people really lunge as they cross the timing mats. So they put down another row of mats. Just behind the first row. Just in case. Gotta love redundant systems.
These four mats are hooked into an electronic recorder. Because sometimes something happens to this setup, the exact same arrangement of mats and recorders are set up about 15 feet beyond the first set of mats. So please, be sure to cross both sets of mats. We don’t put them down just because we like heaving heavy mats around and couldn’t figure out where else to put them. I understand you just ran at least 3 miles. Run 15 more feet…just in case.
So now we have backup systems backing up other backup systems. But remember the phrase ‘o the day, all systems fail…
In case something happens to all of the electronic readers, there are usually two people (volunteers) manually entering race numbers as you cross the finish line.
On a side note, this is really hard to do when your bib is under your sweatshirt, folded over, or in some other way NOT VISIBLE. Even if we had some of those x-ray glasses they used to advertise in the back of comic books. Put your bib where people can see it, for these volunteers are trying really hard to make sure they enter your bib number as you cross the line. They are trying to help you in case something happened to your chip, or the reader. Help them help you.
As runners finish, overall and age group times are posted “somewhere”. Your job as a runner is to find them. Just kidding — they are usually easy to spot. But be sure to check them to make sure they are correct. Sometimes names get misspelled, dates of birth get entered wrong. Sometimes it is the runner’s fault, sometimes it is the race director’s fault, and sometimes it is the timer’s fault.
Bottom line, let’s not worry about who’s fault it is and let’s just fix the problem. Most data entry problems are fairly easily fixed at the race. And then everyone gets to go home happy. “Happy is good”.
On another side note (I like side notes), if you did not register online and manually filled out your form – please PRINT CLEARLY. We are not trying to find out all your personal information to stalk you, but if we can’t spell your name and you didn’t think we needed to know your age, well, it’ll be hard to win your age group.
Everyone has probably been a part of races where there are issues with the results. But nobody, and I mean nobody, is as worried about correct results as the race timers. Redundant systems, checking and double-checking everything…and yet, somehow it seems sometimes, all systems fail.
So next time you have an issue with the results, just come see the timers (and try to smile). We’ll fix it if we can (we’ll try to smile, too).
See you at the finish line.
Share this post: