Do It Yourself Race Timing
Or… how the NVRC used to time races, before we used a computer
by Dave Eggler
1. WHAT YOU NEED
a. A timing device. It’s best to borrow a unit that lets you time and print out each runner as he or she crosses the finish line. Most high school cross-country coaches have such a unit, usually a Seiko, but other brands are around. If that’s not possible, a stopwatch will do.
b. Bibs with tear-off tags. These bibs are numbered, and the tear-off tag at the bottom is essential. Obtain enough for your anticipated turnout. Where? Sometimes you can get them free at stores that cater to runners. You can buy them for about $0.12 from Runners World (runnersworld.com), although you then have to give Runners World a list of your runners, who may or may not be grateful for receiving mailings and emails from Runners World for the rest of their lives. You can buy them from a company online (e.g. RainbowRacing.com). Or you can buy them, at our cost, from the NVRC. Look on our Race Timing webpage. You may get by without bibs: see below.
c. A board to put race tags on. A useful board is made of foamcore, 32 in X 40 in, which in State College can be purchased at the Penn State bookstore. Ordinary cardboard is a less satisfactory alternative.
d. Double-sticky tape. Buy some Scotch tape that is sticky on both sides.
2. BEFORE THE RACE
a. Pre-registered. As runners register, make up their bibs to be put in their pick-up packets. Write all the information on the tear-off tag: name, town, state, gender, and age. Not the age-group, the actual age. If you want to put on a code or a special stick-on for age groups, that’s a plus.
b. Day of race. Do the same thing.
c. Prepare your board. Before the race, take a pencil or Sharpie, and divide your board into rows and columns. Make the space for each row/column entry a bit larger than your tear-off tag. Then, in the upper left-hand corner of each space, number the spaces. Start in the upper left and go down the first column, then do the second column, etc. Then… run two strips of double-sticky tape down each column, offset a little from each side of the column.
2. TIMING THE RACE
a. Start. With your timing device, start it when the runners take off.
b. Finish. When the first runner crosses the finish line, click your Seiko or other device. The time will, hopefully, print out. If you only have a stopwatch, read out the time in minutes and seconds (e.g. 17:18) and have someone beside you record the time. As often as possible (it’s not possible to do everyone), read out the bib number and have your recorder write that down. That’s a check on your final results. If you are using a printout unit, periodically write a bib # beside the time you just recorded. That’s important to maintain integrity of your results.
Meanwhile, there should be at least two people in your chute. One keeps runners in order. Very important: The order in which runners cross the finish line must be the order in which their tags are received. In other words, don’t let A pass B in the chute. The other person collects the tear-off tags (they will have a hole) on a device. Some people like to use a string with some sort of stop at the end. The NVRC likes a coat hanger fashioned into a giant diaper pin that can be closed off so the tags don’t get out of order. Put the tags on the pin UPSIDE DOWN so that when you read them after the race, they are right side up.
c. Get the tags on the board. After the race, take the tags and CAREFULLY place them on the board in the correct order, placing them over the double-sticky tape (MAKE SURE THEY STICK). You can also do this periodically during the race if you have some breaks. In case they come off the board, write the place number on the tag once it’s on the board with a Sharpie.
d. Write the times. From your printout or hand-written tally, write the time for #1, #2, etc on the assembled tags with a Sharpie. Don’t use tenths or hundredths of seconds; just ignore those. As you do that, look at the bib numbers that have been recorded, and make sure that #32 on your record is actually #32 on the board. If not, you will need to make an adjustment. (That is where race timing becomes interesting.)
e. Figure out your results. If your race just has overall winners, then your job is simple. Just go down the board and write down the winners. If you have age group winners, you’ll have to go down the board and figure those out. If you coded the tags for age groups, that’ll make the process simpler. For a small race, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. For a larger race, you will. That’s why the NVRC only times races now with a computer and commercial software.
3. PUBLISHING THE RESULTS
4. ADDENDUM: TIMING WITHOUT BIBS
a. For a very small race, you can get by without bibs. This is the “popsicle stick” method that many high school cross-country teams still use. As runners finish, they are handed a popsicle stick (or card) with a number on it. The sticks or cards are numbered consecutively from 1, so finisher 1 gets 1, 2 gets 2, etc.
b. When runners are registered, a sticky label is prepared with their name, age, town, state. After the race, runners bring up their stick or card, identify themselves, and their label is placed on the board in the proper place (e.g. the label of finisher 27 is placed in slot 27). Once that is assembled, times are written on the board, and results are figured out in the same way as talked about above.
c. I don’t like this method, because a few people just leave without turning in their stick or card, and the results are incomplete. (And they will probably complain afterwards.)