Garbage In Garbage Out


A few weeks ago I was at a race preparing to time a Jingle Bell run.  I was working with one of the volunteers to enter their race day information.  I'm not quite sure what was going on at the registration table but there were missing ages, gender changes and lots of bib reassignments.  It was creating quite a mess with their registration sheet.  As we were trying to decipher the information she made the comment that it was no wonder that timing was often messed up.  I had to smile and simply said that it was all in a day's work.  Ask any timer and they will tell you the same thing.  Especially with the raceday information, we get lots of bad data.  People forget to write their ages or their gender down.  Some of the time time we can't read the handwriting so we have to make an educated guess.  We do the best that we can, but lots of times it's simply not possible to figure it out.

There's the old saying of "Garbage In, Garbage Out".  What that means is that the final results are only as good as the data input.  It seems intuitive, but people wonder why results sometimes are wrong for certain individuals.  We will have people in the wrong age group or even gender category.  If it's a multiple event such as a 5K and 10K, then people are listed in the wrong category.  Everyone wants to blame the timer for the mistakes, but it's rarely the case.  We just work with the data we're given.  If the data was wrong to begin with, then there's no way for us to magically correct it.

In the timing world, we actually separate timing from scoring.  Timing is the process of collecting times from participants as they cross the finish line.  That process while sometims complicated is actually rather straight-forward.  A person crosses the line and we capture their time in a variety of ways.  The time is matched to a bib number and we now have the ability to score the event.  Except for situations of faulty equipment or bad timing chips, the timing is the easier part.

When results are produced, most of the issues that occur are a result of improper or missing data.  Sometimes it can be because the race director failed to supply all of the information while other times it's because the registration data was either incomplete or wrong.  We've also had situations where the race director changed age groups in their awards at the last minute without informing us.  We also have to be able to decipher people who didn't actually run the event but were in the chute.  We have to look at the final results and assess the validity based on our knowledge, experience, backups, etc.  Most of the scoring issues are easy to fix, but what happens is that sometime people rather than calmly informing us of an issue, immediately get upset and make it a big deal.  Get a group of event directors and timers together and you will be there all day listening to the stories.

Athlete Guild has its own set of online tools to help manage the chaos leading up to an event.  In fact, we're the only company that has its own tools for managing registration data as most depend on a third-party registration and a spreadsheet.  We work with lots of different registration platforms, but we have the ability to take data from anywhere and work with it to ensure it is complete and valid.  It is one of the reasons why race directors love working with us as we take a lot of that pain away.  If you're looking to host an event yourself, then contact us and we can help you too.

See you at the race!