Got No Time

When is a race trip not fun?  When you get to the airport and check your race results online and they don’t show you finishing the race.  This happened to me in May when I went to Iowa to run the Des Moines Women’s Half Marathon.  I had a few nerve-racking hours before I was able to get the issue resolved.  My experience is a good lesson about how race timing devices work and what a runner can do to minimize the possibility of a timing issue.

“Nomade” by Jaume Plensa in the sculpture park

Before I tell you more about my timing issue, let me say a few words about the race.  The race started and finished at a little winery.  All the runners were given Shape activewear 1/2 zip tops and an engraved stemless wine glass (to enjoy a post-race glass of wine).  I was surprised by how flat the course was – one of the flattest I have ever run.  Many of the runners were doing their first half marathon.  It always makes me happy to see people toeing the start line for the first time.  This was a great race for first timers.

Now let’s talk race timing.  Since I started running in 2007, I have seen a variety of methods used for timing runners in road races.  Simply put, timing a race involves capturing a runner’s identity (via bib number) and the time they crossed the finish.  In very small races they use manual methods, involving someone manually hitting a button on a handheld machine or pulling off a number on the bottom of my bib.  Manual methods don’t work for races with a large number of participants.  

3 sample bibs with B-tags, a plastic transponder from the London Marathon and a yellow ChampionChip

Enter technology, specifically a passive RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) transponder (also known as a chip) that a runner wears.  When they run over a mat on the course, the transponder communicates with the timing device to capture their identity (i.e., bib number).  An audible beep sounds whenever a runner passes over a timing mat.  Timing mats are positioned at the start and finish lines, and, in longer races, along the course to ensure the runner has completed the full course.  There are many different kinds of chips: reusable plastic disks (a.k.a. ChampionChips), or plastic or cardboard squares that attach to the runner’s shoes; single use transponder tags that are attached to the runner’s shoes (D-tags); or single use transponders attached to the back of the runner’s bib (B-tags).  Looking at the bibs from my races, there appear to be several vendors providing bibs with B-tags.  Some look like a little strip of plastic while others have foam over an aluminum looking strip. 

The Des Moines race used a B-tag transponder with a little strip of foam, which was attached to the back of the runner’s bib number.   Although the race directions state the runner should wear the bib on their chest, many runners attach them other places – on their thigh, on their back, or to the bottom of a race belt or hydration belt.  I have a Fitletic hydration belt with toggles to attach my bib.  That was how I wore my bib at the Des Moines race.

The race results showed me starting the race and passing over the first of three mid-course mats.  After that, I had no time.  I recalled running over a mat near the half way point in the race and not hearing any beeps.  I thought it was strange since it was the exchange point for the relay team.  I also didn’t hear any beeps at the next mat nor was there anyone monitoring it to ensure the equipment was working, another thing I thought was strange.

As I sat in the Des Moines airport, I synched my Garmin to the Garmin Connect app on my iPhone.  I took screen shots of the data from my race including my time, distance, and map of the course I ran.  I emailed the race director, explaining my problem and included the screen shots as evidence I completed the course.  Using these, he was able to confirm I did complete the race.  The official results were updated to show me as a finisher.  

Until I received his email, I was very stressed.  I couldn’t imagine running a race and not having the timing mats capture me.  It made me wonder how often this happens; what the USATF (USA Track and Field) rules are for timing distance races; and whether there is anything a runner can do to ensure their run is appropriately captured. 

When I got home, I did some research. I was surprised to learn that there aren’t any standards defined by the USATF for the timing equipment in distance races, just recommended best practices.  I found a few races where there were large numbers of runners whose times were not captured.  These could have been instances where the timing equipment was not functioning (e.g., the mats weren’t capturing transponders due to lack of a power source) or there was a large-scale issue with the transponder quality.  One USATF suggested best practice is to film the finish line.  The film can be used to identify runners whose time might not have been captured and validate them as finishers.  For this reason it is important for a runner to wear their race bib on their front and have it clearly visible.  The 2018 Boston Marathon is a good example of this.  Because of the miserable cold, rainy weather, many runners experienced timing issues.  The humidity could have also interfered with the timing devices.  Runners were bundled up in jackets to fight off hypothermia and in doing so, covered up their race bibs.   The process of identifying them as finishers became more difficult and video of the finish line was used to confirm they finished.

As runners, we have to do our part to ensure our times are correctly captured.  While we can’t control the quality of the bib tag and the timing equipment, we can make certain we don’t bend or fold the bib tag.  Doing so will damage the transponder.  We should wear the bib on our chests.  This instruction might be difficult for some to follow if they don’t want to put pin holes in their race shirts.  Fortunately, there are reusable bib clips and bib magnets that can be used to attach your bib without putting holes in your shirt.  For some B-tag technology, close proximity to other runners can cause the timing device to not capture a runner.  That was something I was surprised to learn.

The expression “empty suit” comes to mind; another sculpture from the park by Judith Shea titled “Post Balzac”

Looking back at what happened during this race, I believe my bib may have gotten folded up under my Fitletic hydration belt, damaging the B-tag transponder.  However, I also did not hear the beeps when I ran over a timing mat nor did I see someone monitoring all the mats.  Those two things make me wonder if the timing equipment was working,  Regardless, I am very happy my timing issue was quickly resolved.  My Garmin was very helpful in providing evidence I completed the race.  Without that data, it would have been difficult for me to prove.  There weren’t any photos of me at the finish line and I don’t have access to any video tape that may have been taken at the finish.  From now on I plan to do my part by wearing my bib on my chest.  I just hope the timing equipment is working properly.  

Renaissance Woman

I made a pledge to myself this year to achieve more balance in my life, to focus on things other than running.  I had realized the funatical runner was morphing into the fanatical runner.  Just change one vowel and the whole thing goes from one extreme to the other.  I want to be more than just a runner.  I look around me at people I admire, people who are not one-dimensional as I feel I have become.  One of the people in my life who inspires me is my friend, Kris.  She is someone I would love to be – a Renaissance woman.

Kris came into my life through our mutual interest in dogs.  Since 1994 I have owned dogs who compete in agility (dog obstacle course), obedience, and Rally.  Kris owns several dogs who compete in breed, obedience, Rally, and dog sled racing.  After retiring from a professional white-collar career, Kris became a dog massage therapist and canine conditioning coach.  She is as important to keeping my dogs ready for competition as my massage therapist, Jennifer, is to making sure I am ready for my next race.  

Over the years I have gotten to know Kris as she massaged my dogs.  If she came to our house, it was usually when ‘Jeopardy’ was on the television.  We would watch the show as she worked.  Kris always seemed to know the answers, regardless of what the category was.  If she competed on the show, she would be the next big winner.  

If we weren’t watching ‘Jeopardy’, we would just chat.  Through these conversations, I learned she plays in a symphony orchestra and bakes her own bread.  At one time Kris owned sports cars including a Lotus and my favorite, an MGB.  Her knowledge of engines and car mechanics was impressive.  When I ran a half marathon on a private race track, Kris knew all about the place.  She had worked as a course volunteer during races there.  Kris gave me wonderful suggestions when I traveled to Colorado for a race – seeing a concert at Red Rocks, visiting the Wild Animal Sanctuary, and fun restaurants to enjoy.  Visiting her home once I was in awe of her gardens.  She has ponds with frogs, koi fish, and water plants.   Kris knows so much about many different subjects.  The one thing Kris is not is one-dimensional.  

From the time we are little, people always ask us what we want to be when we grow up.  Answers typically include doctor, nurse, lawyer, football player.  I wish I had said I wanted to be a Renaissance woman, that I wanted to be able to do many things and know about as many subjects as I could.  Problem is I don’t think there is a college curriculum geared for future Renaissance women.  Perhaps the key to being a Renaissance woman is to just be curious and open to learning new things.  

We Still Need Good Samaritans

Facebook has a Memories feature where posts from years past will pop up.  Most of the time they are reminders of some place you visited, a funny thing that happened, or a photo from a wonderful day.  Since Memories can’t distinguish good ones from unpleasant ones, you can be reminded of something not so happy.  Such was the case the other day when Facebook reminded me of the day a training run ended in disaster for me.

The post I wrote about that day is still very relevant because I wrote about the help I received from some very good Samaritans.   The world seems less caring for others these days.  Perhaps the post can be a reminder we still need good Samaritans.

Good Samaritansfirst published September 11, 2014

This week’s post is a public service announcement.

The beautiful trail that only a few hours later tried to eat me.

I was out running my 20 mile training run for the Berlin marathon this past weekend when the unthinkable happened. I had just finished my first 12 miles and was heading back out for my last eight when I tripped over a root on the trail and fell. I went down hard. I knew as soon as I tried to standup that I had broken a bone in my arm. I was running by myself which was my first mistake. I was able to call my friend and ask her to come get me as I struggled back to my car in the parking lot 0.2 miles from where I fell.

As I walked back, everything was spinning and turning black. I was going into shock. What amazed me was the number of people who saw me and did not stop to ask if I needed help.  Maybe it was like that scene from “Moscow on the Hudson” where they tell Robin Williams, the immigrant, to look like a crazy man so no one would mess with him. I probably looked pretty crazy at that moment too. There was one woman who I had passed a couple of times when I was running earlier who saw me. She commented to me about what a nice day was to run. I responded that yes it was. I realized then I needed to ask for help, which is not something I normally would do. I turned to her and asked her to please help me because I had fallen. I will never forget what she said.” Today is your lucky day. I am a physician assistant.”  Her name was Rebecca and she immediately went into first aid mode and got me settled. She moved my car closer so that I could sit in the back while I waited for my friend to arrive. She got my Hammer Recoverite drink ready. I had been going into shock and having that drink made me feel much better.

I was still surprised at the number of people who had passed me and not stopped to ask if I needed assistance. I asked Rebecca if I looked bad, like I needed help. She said yeah I looked very bad. I commented to her about the number of people who did not ask if I needed help. In fact one man asked me if there was a path down to the river. Couldn’t he see that I was in agony?

It made me think about what I would do if I came across someone who was in obvious distress. As runners we are out there a lot of times by ourselves and can get into trouble. We are relying on the kindness of others to keep an eye out for us. I hope that I would be a good Samaritan like Rebecca and help another runner out. I am not sure how much I could do because I am pretty squeamish when it comes to medical issues but I certainly could make phone calls and do other things to help out.

It also made me realize that I am not as tough as nails like I would like to believe. Sometimes I need to ask for help too. It is not in my character to ask for help. I am pretty independent.  I am grateful that I had one moment of clarity where my brain realized that I needed someone to help me.  It is important to be able to be open to accepting help from others as well as giving help to others.

Sadly the Berlin Marathon got left in the dust on the trail on Sunday. I won’t be running for about three months. I’m hoping that some of my other races in 2015 will still be possible. Time will tell.