As professional road race timers, we have seen a lot of things at road races. Some are inspiring; some hilarious; and some simply defy logic. We’ve been timing races since 2000 and over that time have been involved with several thousand events. Timing races is a whole lot harder than most people think. We struggle to find quality people to time events because it not only takes someone willing to get up a 5am on a weekend and work through all kinds of conditions, but also have a combination of technical skills, good customer rapport, and the ability to remain calm under fire. Timing is made much harder though because of many things that the race directors and participants do themselves. One of our goals is to help educate race director and participants on how to avoid some of these issues.
Most participants don’t think of it this way, but there are actually 2 parts to timing a race. One is the timing itself. This is simply the capturing of the participant start and finish time to get an elapsed race time. Other than hardware failure, there is not much that can go wrong in that process. The real process though is in what we call scoring. Once we have a time, we score the event based on the criteria that the race director sets out. These are the criteria such as overall awards, age groups, gender awards, etc. Mistakes that are made are usually a result of incorrect scoring. While it is certainly true that a missed time or invalid setup can cause the scoring to be incorrect, 99% of the issues that we run into are a direct result of things that are caused by the participants. Here is a list of things that will help ensure a successfully scored race.
1. Wear the bib correctly. Nothing screams newbie road racer more than wearing the bib on their back. There are certain types of races where it is appropriate, but not in road racing. Not only does the timer need to see the bib, but the photographer and race officials as well. With more use of chips on a bib, this becomes an even bigger issue as the reader antennas read from the front. A bib on the back of a body may get missed as the human body absorbs the radio waves and will prevent a successful read.
2. Run the correct race. One challenge that timers deal with is trying to figure out when people drop from one race to another. Runners do this all of the time by entering a 10K for example and then running the 5K. A timer looking at the results can tell that a 10K time of 25 minutes is not possible. What’s tougher though is a 10K runner who drops to the 5K and then runs in 42 minutes. That 42 minute 10K would probably place and push the rightful winner out. The timer can easily make the change if people will just let us know.
3. Write legibly on race forms. Race day registrations are always problematic as we have to decipher often difficult writing to enter into the software. Also make sure that all information is provided. A common mistake is to leave the gender and age off of the form. These mistakes also occur with online registration. I can’t tell you how many times we get an email after the race complaining how we have certain information wrong only to find out that the participant entered it that way when registering. Check your registration to make sure it is right.
4. Verify your results. Just because you know that you finished 4th overall, don’t assume that the timers will have it correct. We have to deal with people wearing the wrong bib, having the wrong gender, wrong age, etc., and those mistakes can cause you to miss out on an award. Please check the results.
Our goal is to get results out as fast as possible but having to make multiple changes really slows things down. Following these simple rules will help everyone.