Honolulu Marathon Suffers Chip Slip

Posted by Filed Under: Marathons, News and Opinion

Ah, the joys of technology.

It was only a few years ago that most road races still used manual timing for individual runners. The preferred method was to tear off a perforated part of your bib number and hand it to a volunteer as you went through the finish chute, where your time was recorded.

The advent of electronic chip timing was revolutionary, ensuring that each runner received a time coinciding to the exact race distance, so that those in the middle and the back of the pack had race times as accurate as elite runners.

But the chips are not ideal, particularly for race organizers. They are expensive, and they have to be collected from each runner at the end of the race. In a major marathon with 20,000+ runners, chips are a major expense and a headache to retrieve.

Along came SAI Timing & Tracking with a truly inspired idea: a disposable timing tag. The tags were reportedly used with great success in this year’s Philadelphia and Las Vegas marathons.

Alas, there were a few complications in Honolulu. As many as 3,500 runners went missing in the timing system, leaving them with no recorded finishing time.

There were a number of causes for the mess, and everyone involved stepped forward to accept blame. “We didn’t have our equipment weatherproofed as well as we should have,” said SAI’s David Simms. Heavy rain caused generator outages and system rebooting for the chips did not work correctly in all cases. “It was a big mistake, and it was my decision to move to newer technology,” said Dr. Jim Barahal, president of the Honolulu Marathon Association.


The organizers claim a portion of the blame lies with the runners themselves, some of whom failed to remove the tag from their bib and attach it properly to their shoe.

Marathon officials are now going through the tedious process of checking finish-line photos to generate a time for each missing runner. Of course, the result will be a gun time, which may differ from chip time by as much as 20 minutes.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. This was a perfect storm of things going wrong,” Simms told the Associated Press.

Barahal was blunt. “At the end of the day, this company, in my opinion, had no business offering this product for use and I’m extraordinarily disappointed,” he said.

About Mike Antonucci

I ran 6-minute miles when I was in the military, then tapered for 20 years. Two-time marathoner (3:43 PR), my next goal is to stay healthy enough to run another. There are literally thousands of people handing out running advice and serious tips. I prefer to focus on the humorous or odd facets of our shared obsession. Let's face it, running is funny.

  1. bex on December 18th at 1:00 am

    I ran the Honolulu Marathon, and while my 10K time was off, the rest of my splits were right on the money. SAI Timing caught a really bad break with the heavy rains and the improper use of the timing strips by runners. I think the finger-pointing and hysterics by the race director should cease. I’m not going to run the Honolulu Marathon again – but it has nothing to do with timing. It has to do with a number of other reasons: lack of food after the race, boring course, inability of race organizers to keep runners in their correct corrals, etc.

  2. Timing Tag Problems Get Bigger » Complete Running Network on December 21st at 9:48 am

    […] on Honolulu Marathon Suffers Chip Slip: I ran the Honolulu Marathon, and while my 10K time was off, the rest of my splits were right on […]