The timing company screwed up!

by Dave Camire

Dave Camire

Dave Camire

The dreaded email usually begins with “I am so disappointed my time is not listed.” Followed by, “I don’t understand why this happened?”

The logical conclusion is to blame the timing company for giving out a defective timing chip.  However before you start flaming them on every available social media outlet or jump off a bridge over your disappointment, please take into consideration that there are factors involved that are out of their control.

Perhaps a better understanding of how things work, or don’t work, can bring this into focus. Below are five of the most common reasons for someone being missed in the finish results.

  1. Looking at the wrong results. This may seem laughable, but think about it for a minute. You finish the race and do a Google search for the results. The race comes up and you click the link without noticing it goes to last year’s results. Upset, you immediately call or email the timing company with your complaint only to feel a little foolish when it’s pointed out that you are looking at the previous year’s results.
  1. Not understanding the difference between net and gun time. This is perhaps the biggest reason people don’t find themselves in the results. Again this is a logical mistake. The gun is fired and you start your watch, stopping it when crossing the finish line. You run an excellent time, let’s say 30:00. You proceed to the results and look for yourself at 30:00, but you are not there. Next stop the timing van. What you did not take into account was the 15 seconds it took you to cross the start timing mat. These 15-seconds were deducted from your gun time so your net time was 29:45. Most timing companies sort results based on net time. If you had taken a few extra seconds and looked up a few places you could have saved yourself a trip to the timing van 
  1. An error at registration. I could fill many pages on errors that occur at registration, but in the spirit of brevity I’ll list the four most common: 

a)    Your registration never reached the timing van. By registering on race day you expose yourself to this error. Most race day registrations are handled by volunteers. Many work just one race a year. Although eager to help they are inexperienced. In the chaos of trying to register a large group in a very short period of time, race forms sometimes get misplaced. If your entry does not get put into the timing computer you will not appear in the results. It’s always a good idea to check results at the race site so these types of errors can be fixed immediately.

b)    No number assigned. If the registration personal forgets to write your assigned bib number on your entry, the timing company has no way of identifying you. Your time is linked to your personal data via your bib number.

c)    You are handed the wrong bib. If you are wearing someone else’s bib you will be listed in the results as that person; a sort of accidental identity theft. If a registration list is posted, it’s always a good idea to double check to make sure you have the correct bib.

d)    Multiple bib hiccups. This typically occurs when someone picks up more then one bib. For example, a husband gets bibs for himself and his wife. He then gives his wife his bib and he wears her bib. This happens more often then you would think. It really gets complicated when dad or mom picks up bibs for the entire family and hands them out randomly.

  1. Then there is user error. Yes, participants do the darndess things. Many of today’s timing systems have chips that attach to the back of the bib, so proper bib handling becomes critical in the timing process. Here are a few of the most common mistakes people make:

a)    Folding the bib.In pre-chip days folding a bib to cut down on wind resistance was a common practice. However, today bending or folding a timing chip will damage it and it will not work. The same goes for crinkling your bib. It is best to leave your bib and timing chip intact.

b)    Putting your bib behind those canteens you are wearing. Most timing systems are based on RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification). RF does peculiar things in water. If the chip is behind a filled camel back or filled water bottle chances are it will not read.

c)    Wearing your bib side ways. Most of today’s timing systems rely on the timing chip being orientated correctly. If your number is fastened sideways chances are it will not read.

d)    Piling layers of clothing over your bib. For each layer covering the chip the chance of it being read are reduced. Concealing your bib number also prevents you from being caught on any backup system (see “e”).

e)    Putting the bib on your back. Chances are it will still be read, however most timing companies do a manual spot check or video backup. If your number is not visible it’s impossible to capture you. The same goes for wearing it on your leg. It is best to wear your bib front and center.

  1. Finally there is a possibility you have a defective chip. Although the quality assurance for chips is very good, there is a slight chance a chip could be defective. Most timing suppliers boast a read rate of at least 99-percent or better; however it is still not 100-percent. If anyone tells you otherwise, then it’s time to switch timing companies. No system is perfect. After each chip is programmed it can be handled by any number of people. This includes the person attaching the chip to the bib and all the hands it goes through before reaching you. In the handling process chips occasionally get damaged.

If you are missed, take a deep breath, then contact the timing company and supply them with as much information as possible. This includes your finishing time. If you don’t wear a timing device, then it’s always a good idea to note your time at the finish line clock. Although you may be disappointed, most timing companies want to get it right and are happy to aid you in getting your time into the results.


Dave Camire is president of  Yankee Timing & Event Management and has been scoring races since clocks had hands. In between he made time to start the popular website Coolrunning.com, the BayState Marathon, the Good Times Series, the Wild Rover Series and the Mill Cities Relay among others.