Blame The Timer


In my career as a race timer, I have personally timed over 500 events and our company well over 1000.  I have also talked with timers across the country who do a lot of events.  One thing that I have learned is that regardless of the equipment used or timer, there is not one out that hasn't experienced a bad race.  As a timer, we do everything that we can to make sure that everything runs smoothly.  Unfortunately, sometimes things simply go south and there are problems.  For a timer, there is nothing more frustrating than showing up to an event and having equipment fail.  You spend time setting everything up and then reach down to power up the equipment and it fails.  It's much like having a hard drive crash on your home or business computer but in this case, you have several people depending on you to do the job immediately.  You don't have the luxury of running down to the nearest electronics store and getting a replacement.  Sometimes we can use our backups and get things up and running but oftentimes that is not enough.  Some of my personal experiences have been electronics that have gotten fried because of bad weather, laptops that have crashed, screens that have gotten broken, or generators that fail to start.  It makes for a really bad day for us and you as a participant.

That having been said, what I have found is that the majority of issues that occur at a race that cause things to go badly are actually not the timer's fault.  While equipment failures and possible negligence on the part of the timer are certainly an issue, the majority of problems that I see are caused by the race director/staff or the runner's themselves.  One of the biggest complaints that I hear from a race director after an event is how it took so long to get the results out.  I'm always confused by that because I will look at our logs to see what happened and I can clearly see that we were printing during the race and immediately afterward.  So what went wrong?  Here are the some of the things that occur that can cause delays in getting results.  Nothing wrong with the timing itself.  It's the scoring and printing of the results that is problematic.

1. Race directors or staff pass out the wrong bib numbers to participants.  I have seen this particular issue numerous times.  The registration staff either ignores the registration list or the list itself is bad.  I know of one timer who provided the list of participants to the race director.  The RD then went and sorted the list in Excel but accidentally sorted the names only and not the bib as well.  Suddenly everyone has a new number.  Whoops.  I've seen the volunteers simply start giving out numbers without regard to who the number actually belong to.  I even had one volunteer tell me, "I saw the list but didn't think it mattered.". Really?

2. Timed and non-timed events and bib management.  This is an area that is particulary problematic for timers.  The race directors for reasons of cost will sometimes offer a non-timed race along with the timed event.  This is fine as long as the non-runners are not given bibs or they are given numbers in a different range from the timed participants.  I had a race recently where the volunteers gave out timing chips to the non-timed participants.  When the participants started coming across the line, we were seeing times popup for people who clearly shouldn't have been.  That took a while to straighten out.  It can also cause a problem when the bibs are intermixed.  As a timer, we are monitoring people to make sure that everything is going smoothly and that all times are being recorded.  When bib 1 reads but bib 2 does not, we have to figure out whether bib 2 had a bad chip or if they were a non-timed runner.  It can cause a lot of confusion and delays in reporting.

3. Multiple distances and runners switching.  Participants are notorious for entering a 10K and then deciding at the last minute to switch to the 5K.  This is fine as long as they let us know.  From a timing perspective, it's easy to figure out that a 21 minute 10K is not right, but is that 44 minute time a decent 10K or a slower 5K.  People can end up in the wrong results and cause delays because we have to go back and correct what could have been easily fixed if we were simply informed up front.

4. Runners providing wrong information such as gender or age can cause delays in scoring.  These are problems easily fixed but they delay the whole process.  THere is an old saying "Garbage in, Garbage out".  Your results are only as good as the data given.  This also extends to family members mixing up bibs.  You would think this could be solved by labels on the bibs, but you would be wrong.

5. Race day entries or late minute registrations.  The race directors and timers do everything possible to make sure that everyone is entered.  Unfortunately, data can be omitted either because it wasn't provided in time or got lost.  On the timing side, we know that we should have someone there but we don't have complete informatino.  This can cause a delay as it has to be fixed.

These are but a few of the examples that I see all of the time at various races.  As a timing company, we try and work with the race directors and staff to make sure that these things don't happen, but they still do.  Sometimes the race directors ignore our requests or more often, the volunteers are not given good directions.

Just remember the next time you are at an event and want to blame the timer for the issue, that there may be other factors at work.  We get blamed for other things too such as lack of water, lack of portable toilets, etc.  I guess people need to blame someone and the timer is an easy target.  We'll be happy to take the blame.

See you at the race!