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How to Cross a Finish Line

From the Timing Crew's Point of View


By Linda and Mike Walsh

As the new Island Race Series Timers for 2004, we're hoping for a great Series and a smoothly run finish line at every race. In our past experience as race timers, we've noticed that runners' actions at the finish area can sometimes be rather strange and unpredictable (blame it on the lack of oxygen). This article is intended to explain the timing process and provide a list of finish line do's and don'ts for runners, that should help make life easier for finish line workers and runners alike.

The computer system we use is called RUNSCORE. It's a pretty comprehensive race scoring system. We use it to maintain a database of runners, to time the races and compile the results. Prior to each race, we set up the specific chute characteristics (e.g. 1 or 2 chutes) and reports for that race, and enter all of the pre-race entries. Most of the entries received are people who already have a record on the database. So all we need to do is assign the race number on their record, and make sure all of the information is the same e.g. club, phone number, date of birth (yes, believe it or not, some peoples' dates of birth do change).

On the day of the race, we arrive early to set up and start entering day-of-race entries. Once we have all of the entries in, we run a function to update the ages of the runners and to assign categories based on their gender and date of birth. Then we attend the start of the race and start our watches. Back at the van we start the Chronomix timer, by entering the time from the watch, and it continues from there. The Chronomix has several 'clickers' wired in. A person standing at the finish line will click once for each runner crossing the line. This is how we get your time as you finish. These times are fed directly to the computer, into the Runscore system. After crossing the finish line, the runners are directed to stay in the order in which they crossed the line, and keep moving down the chute. They tear off their own tear-off tag and hand it to the person at the end of the chute, who then places it on a spindle. When there are enough tags on the spindle, the spindle holder closes the spindle, sends it to the timing van and starts a new one. In the van, we enter the numbers from the tags in order next to the times, thereby matching a number to a time purely on the order of placement on the spindle.

As you may guess, there are many ways in which a number may get matched up with the wrong time. If the person clicking the times has missed someone or clicked one too many times, we will have a mismatch. If the runners have changed their order in the chute after being timed and before handing in their tags, we will have a mismatch. If the chute workers are batching the numbers (i.e. Holding several in their hand before putting them onto the spindle) it is very easy to flip the batch so that the last runner to arrive goes onto the spindle first. This causes a more serious mismatch, and one that is difficult to correct. We sometimes even have people who finish in one chute and cross over to another or duck out altogether, after being timed and before handing in a tag. Either way, we have a time without a number or a number without a time. If someone crosses the line they are timed and we have to have a tag for them. Therefore if the runner has no number, the chute workers will place a blank tag, what we call a ' Turkey tag', on the spindle to mark their place. That way we can match up their time and then delete it from the results, or, if they really were entered, we can try and find out what their number is. In order to check for mismatches, we have someone taking check times. They write down as many numbers, matched with times as they can, throughout the race. At the end of the race, we may or may not have equal numbers of times and numbers in Runscore. Even if we balance, i.e. the same number of times as numbers, we still go through the check times. We make sure that our results correspond to what the check timer wrote down. We also re-count all of the numbers on the spindles to make sure we haven't missed any. Once we are satisfied that the results are all matched and correct, to the best of our knowledge, we print the category awards and the results. We also supply the random listing for the draw prizes, using a random number function within Runscore.

And now, here are some runners' rules and etiquette for races.

1) The entry form:

Rule #1: Write clearly. This is very important. Each person who enters a race has a record on our database. So once you're in the database we use the same record again and again. It is important for the series scoring that we always use your existing record. Whether or not you're entering a series race for the first time we really need to be able to read your name, so that we can either find your record, or enter the correct name on the computer system. One year we had one individual who's hand writing was so bad, that each time he entered a race, we couldn't find his record, thought he was a new person, and added a new record for him, with a slight variation in the name. So by the end of the series, each one of this person's different alias's had only run one or two races, and therefore he didn't finish the series according to our results. At the last race, he eventually questioned us as to why we didn't have any record of his earlier races'

Rule #2: Scoring points for your club. Always enter your club. Remember that the club you write on your first race entry of the series, will remain your club throughout the series. You cannot change clubs mid-series. You can change from an unattached runner to a club runner, but we will not allocate your points to your club retroactively.

Rule #3: Know your date of birth. Or at least the year of birth. If we don't know your date of birth, we will put you in the most competitive category.

Rule #4: Know your gender. Again, if you're not on our database, we don't want to guess. Unless there's no doubt, we will enter you as a male, again because those are the more competitive categories.

And that concludes the entry form rules. Not too grueling eh?

2) Entering:

Prior to race day would be nice, especially those that know damn well they're going to run the race. If you're a day of race person, then please give us a bit more than 30 minutes before the start of the race. I know most people are good about that, but we see a lot of names (I won't mention any) whose entries regularly arrive at the van minutes before the start.

3) Starting:

Not much to say about the start, except, please try to start your watch as close to the start gun as possible if you want to verify the time you receive on the results.

4) Finishing:

This one warrants another list of rules.

Rule #1: Stay in order. After you have crossed the line, you have been timed but we haven't yet taken your tag to mark the order in which you finished. Stay in order between the runner that finished ahead of you and the runner that finished behind, until you have handed in your tag.

Rule #2: Keep moving, keep pushing the person in front so they keep moving, keep moving'

Rule #3: Do not duck out of the chute before handing in your tag, and do not duck into the other chute (if there are two) because it's moving along faster or whatever. You have been timed in the chute you're in so stay there until you hand in your tag. If you don't have a number the chute workers will mark your place with a blank ' Turkey tag'. If you really are entered but have lost your number, they will write your name on the tag and you will still get a result.

Rule #4: Tear off your own tag and hand it to the spindle holder (they are usually at the end of the chute). It makes their job so much quicker and easier.

Rule #5: Get outta there. Go get some water and food.

After the race, we have to get the series standings and the club points updated. That is done using a combination of Runscore and other software. We take the points (which have been calculated by Runscore) and update your series standing, and we assign points to each of the clubs based on their runners finishing places within their category. The points that we use for the series standings are calculated according to a formula developed by Peter Riegel, chairman of the TAC/USA Road Running Technical Committee. World best performances give about 1000 points.

One last thing that I'd like to add, is that the more people that understand the finish line timing, the better. One of the major aspects of finish line timing is simply understanding how results are put together. It can be done manually or electronically. So if you're interested in finding out more about it, get in touch with us, or a VIRA rep, or someone at a finish line at a race.

And that's all there is to it, really. See you at the next race.