Chip vs. gun time for awards & result reporting
We just completed our annual 5K/10K race with about 1900 participants. Last year I announced that we would use chip time for the awards and talked with our timing company about it ahead of time. On race day, results were delayed because the company was using a new computer system. When they handed the results to me, it was sorted by gun time. Since we were already late getting the awards ceremony underway, we went ahead and handed out the awards based on gun time and it was a mess with 10 or so people affected by the difference and understandably upset at us for handling it differently than what we'd announced.
This year, we took the advice of the timing company and announced that awards would be based on gun time. Since the race, we've had several people vociferously complain. Mind you, these are not people who would have won an award under any circumstances. With about a thousand people running the 5K, the longest time for runners to get to the starting line was about 45 seconds. Personally, I don't see what the big deal is. Both chip and gun times are reported on the results, but of course they are ranked by gun time.
It seems like, with two sets of numbers being reported, we can't win. Next year, the RD wants to go back to handing out awards by chip time (and then the overall results will have to be ranked by chip time as well). How do other RD's handle this question?
Can You Go By USATF Rules?
Rule 245 (3) of 2009USATFRules.pdf:
The official time shall be the time elapsed between the start of the watches or timing devices resulting from an appropriate start signal and when the athlete reaching the finish line. The actual time elapsed between when an athlete reaching the starting line and finish line can be made known to the athlete, but will not be considered as official time.
In races where it takes less than a minute for the runners to cross the starting line, it's never seemed fair to me to be considered beaten by people that got to the finish line after I did. Let's keep running simple whenever possible.
This issue has come up on a few occasions. As elfscore pointed out the USATF requires gun times, so if you attribute awards according to chip times an athlete could file a protest with USATF. Then, your race director will have some real headaches, especially if USATF decides not to sanction the race next year (this would entail a loss of liability insurance).
My suggestion is to stick with gun times, not just because this is required by governing body(ies), but because it keeps the racing aspect of a race (otherwise it's a glorified time trial). To mitigate any controversy, I would start the race in waves (enough so that the most it takes for every runner in wave to cross the starting line is 30 seconds) and announce that if people want to be in contention for any awards (open or age group) they should begin with the first wave.
Another example of how the USATF rules are hopelessly outdated when compared to the modern sport of running. It's a fine rule for a seeded elite runner in pen A, but a piss poor rule for the orderly and safe conduct of a large running event.
This rule leads to age group runners trying their hardest to start to near the front of the race, to close to the start for the pace they will run. This causes unnecessary shoving, pushing and crowding on the start lines. The rules should put safety first.
I agree it is nice to run shoulder to shoulder with your competition and when you out sprint them at the finish you feel you won, and feel you should be the winner. The rule is fine for small fields of runners with similar abilities, like the olympic trials, it is inaproprate for large events with very mixed abilities.
How can we expect runners to follow the example of the top runners when all the top runners are setting a bad example of sportsman like behaviour by scrambling for a space on the starting line?
Having had to step out and grab people who went down on the start line because of shoving, and had to help people in tears becuase their start line injuries prevented them from competing, I think we need to rethink this rule for large events where we have people of very diffrent age groups and abilities.
I am just amazed that so far no one has been trampled to death on a start line, but it will happen one day.
If it's of any help, at our event we determine our overall awards (top 3 overall fastest) using official gun time, but determine any age-category awards using net/chip times.
Information on our website, in pre-race mass emails and in the participants' race handbook explains the difference between gun and net/chip time (as many of our participants aren't familiar with the nuances) and, citing the international standards as per USATF, goes on to explain why official gun time is used for the overall fastest awards.
Invariably, we get one or two inquiries from participants about it (those who I can only assume haven't read the website, their pre-race emails or their race handbook), but a quick reiteration of the information seems to satisfy their need to understand.
Last edited by Doug R; 09-20-2009 at 03:51 AM.
I fully agree with JamesM. In the majority of races, USATF rules would enter the controversy only if a runner were to achieve a time which would place them in record standing, and that would be solved by making sure that elite runners are toeing the line at the gun.
I understand and appreciate the desire of age group competitors to know that the runner they are shoulder-to-shoulder with started at the same time so that finishing kick actually means something. But that's the only downside I see to using chip timing for awards.
The only other minor caveat is the consideration to be given to a very late starter. If someone shows up late to a race (like fifteen minutes), I would feel entirely justified in barring them from AG awards. I think RD's need to look at their races as their races, run for the satisfaction of their participants and not to follow the letter of USATF rules. I view USATF rules as applying to track meets and to races that are overseen by USATF officials or situations where elite runners are vying for records.
The problem is that many RDs, timing companies will NOT bar such runners from AG awards. In fact, when a late runner starts, RDs & other people at the start/finish are too busy doing other things to keep an eye out for this. As a result, age group contenders already out on the course have no idea that someone who can challenge them is out there and cannot plan to race against them. This ends up penalizing those who got out of bed and got down to the race on time at the expense of those who slept late.
Originally Posted by Cannon
Having worked starts and seen the late runners who shamble on after the main race has left, I an assure you that it is extremely improbable that any of them are going to be in the awards.
No serious or competitive runner wants to start behind the walkie-talkies and have to wend there way through the disorganized chaos at the back end of the race. A late starting runner faces all sorts of obsticals, including water-stops that have run out or that cant pour fast enough, a sea of slippery cups and discarded gue packs, the annoying habbit of large dense packs of runners to just suddenly stop and walk, because they are a run-walk group and their beeping watches told them to form an instant road block.
If you are seriously worried about runners sandbagging it then I could see a rule that you had to start within five minutes of the rest of the runners who received award in your age group.
The problem with using gun time for everyone is this: If people in the 50 year age group should realistically be starting back in starting pen D, based on their expected finish times, do you disqualify the runner who starts two minutes ahead of the rest of his peers by slipping in at the back of pen B? If not why not?
As things stand, any cheating a runner can do by sneaking in near the front of the race to gain an advantage on his peers, who go to their correct pens, is just considered part of the sport. The rules and rewards in a sport should not encourage cheating or gaming the system.
Where I live, there are a couple of good runners who are notorious for showing up late for races. For 5 years I directed a small half marathon out in the country. At least twice at that race one of these runners ran through the start line between 5 and 10 minutes after the last starters. (I could see the start line from the mile marker where I was calling splits).
As long as I direct races I will argue that head to head competition is a fundamental element of our sport. I can see very specific instances where this concept should be superceded by another scoring method but they're few and far between and mostly a result of a wave start situation (triathlons and the Boston Marathon come to mind, maybe the Carlsbad 5000m?). I hear what some of you are saying about start line safety, but to me that's something you need to deal with if you choose to have your road race start as a mass start rather than by age group waves.
Have you ever thought of corralling your starters by "Age Group", not by pace, after the first elite group? This makes it so that the runners will be running against their peers. Remember that races are competitions, not time trials. That is why official results are supposed to be by Gun Time.