Chip timed races are becoming increasingly more popular, but apparently not everyone knows how to use this technology best. Or, perhaps I just have different ideas about how to best utilize it.
It used to be that only the larger races used timing chips, but I recently ran a local 5K with 167 other participants that was chip timed. I assume that the cost of providing a chip timed event has decreased significantly over the last few years. Combine that with our society’s demand for quicker and more accurate information and you can see why chip timed races are making the finishing chute/tearing the barcode on your bib a thing of the past.
Like many new technologies, with the possible exception of Windows Vista, timing chips have made our lives easier. Unfortunately, as with many new technologies, they only make things easier if the technology is used correctly. The point of chip timing races is to provide an accurate time to all participants. This is particularly helpful to those of us middle-of-the-pack runners who sometimes take 40–50 seconds, or longer, to get through the starting gate. No one wants to give up 40–50 seconds because, let’s face it, those seconds are important. We work hard for those seconds, and a 40 second reduction in your 5K PR is usually the product of a lot of hard work. It could be argued that this technology also benefits the elite runners because without it I know I’m a lot more tempted to line up at the front and then bust out of the gate at a much slower pace than everyone behind me.
My wife recently ran a 5K that claimed to be chip timed and I was there to provide encouragement. Unfortunately, my wife was a little late in arriving at the starting area and ended up near the back of the pack. It took her a little over a minute after the gun fired to get across the starting line. Now you might be thinking, “well that sucks, but at least she still got a chip time,” but you’d be wrong. It just sucks. At this particular event, the race organizers had placed a timing mat at the finish only. It was therefore assumed, just like it was back in the olden days of the Nike Waffle, that the runners had all started when the gun went off. The lone timing mat was placed at the finish line where it was used to capture everyone’s gun time. For the ease of calculations, let’s assume that my wife took 62 seconds to cross the starting line. In a 5K, that represents a pace miscalculation of 20 seconds. It means that you could run a 5K at a 9:48 pace and end up with an official time that gives you a 10:08 pace.
In a sport where we work tirelessly to shave seconds, not only were the runners at this event cheated out of a valuable minute, but they also ran a longer race. Consider how far behind the starting line they were when the gun sounded, 50 meters, 100 meters? It may not seem like much, and truth be told they might not have been running during that span, but those people were timed over a further distance in their 5K than the elite runners who were toeing the line.
Initially, I didn’t think this was a big deal. But the more I think about it, the more it irks me. Making matters worse, it doesn’t appear to be a once off thing. I mentioned it on my blog thinking it was something that only happened once in a blue moon, but I received numerous responses indicating that many others had also encountered this. I want to bring this to the attention of the readers of CRN to find out if this has ever happened to any of you, and to get your thoughts on this practice. As a middle of the pack runner myself, it’s a practice I’d rather see go the way of the Nike Waffle, and I don’t mean that I hope it starts making a comeback 30 years down the road.
Editor’s Note: We’ve created a poll to go along with Ian’s post. Click here to participate.