It’s always fun to talk about how to time a race to someone who has never timed a race. Like many things, timing a race is like peeling an onion: on the surface, one may think it’s an extremely easy endeavor. But rarely are they thinking about everything; there’s always another layer underneath.
The other day such a conversation arose regarding a small (< 125 participants) race. It started with, “Last year we just yelled out the finish times to the runners as they crossed the finish line.” Incidentally, this conversation happened a mere three days after Good Times proved itself with two races totaling about 8,000 finishers. Fortunately I was able to come off my high, and step things down a notch to explain how Good Times could be used to help with such a small race. Here is a rundown of how I explained things:
- Yes, what you did last year (yelling the times) was very inexpensive, but also very inaccurate. It also didn’t give your participants the level of service they see in other races. At the very least, you could do something like this:
- Grab a stack of thick card-stock paper, and number them 1 – 150 with big black magic marker. Have each participant wear one during the race. Have a few people at the finish line (that, over the length of about 20 yards, narrows to a single file) shuffle people together into a single file line in the order they finished, and rip those things off and stack the in sequential order. At the same time, have someone with manual timing devices recording a list of finish times as runners cross the line. That way the list of sequential finish times can be “married” with the sequential list of numbered bibs. But an easier way would be to do this:
- Have someone running Good Times Software hit the <enter> key every time a finisher crosses the finish line, then send the “Tic Sheet” to the database. Since the Tic Sheet report has all of the finish times listed sequentially, someone can then write in the bib numbers from the sequential stack collected by the finish line volunteers. But a better way would be to do this:
- Order some real bibs… simple ones, with a “pull tag” on the bottom. Give all of your participants a bib, and record their information in Good Times Software before the race. Since this is a short race, have a timer enter the bib number and press <enter> for as many participants as possible as they cross the finish line. If the runner density is too great to enter each bib number, simply hit <enter>. At the end of the race, you’ll have a Tic Sheet with only a few blanks to fill in. For runners that didn’t have their bib recorded as they crossed the finish line, return the Tic Sheet to the timer so he/she can update Good Times Software. Then you’ll have all of the many Results Reports available through Good Times Software. And finally, you could always do this:
- Hire one of the Chip Timing companies using Good Times to issue RFID chip tags to each of your runners, capturing their registration information before the race. On race day, simply watch their accurate results come in automatically to Good Times Software. Generate the reports, and go home a hero.
- Carefully analyze options 2 through 5, and pick one!
Well, that’s how the conversation went, albeit with more explanation to really make sure he understood the options. Manual timing with computerized input, select timing, chip timing, Good Times Software can handle it. It’s been used in races with less than 30 participants, and in races of up to 8,000 finishers.
If you haven’t checked us out on YouTube, please do so. Our YouTube Channel has many how to videos.
This past Saturday was a terrific opportunity to test Good Times Software with a very large race. Two events, with a total of nearly 8,000 finishers! We had about 9,000 registered participants, but it was a “cause” race that attracts many extra registrants who want to help the cause but never intend on running. But that’s quite alright, it’s for a cause after all!
I’m thrilled to announce that Good Times Software was up to the job. In some ways, timing a large chip-timed race isn’t too different from timing a small one. Many of the things a timer must do remains the same, regardless of the quantity of participants. Yet some things are different. For example:
- Adequate backup RFID mats. With a huge volume of runners crossing an RFID mat at any given time, it’s always a good idea to have more backup mats than you may have for a small chip-timed event.
- Software that can handle large volumes of data efficiently. This seems like a no-brainer, but until you’ve exercised timing software with large volumes of data, you simply can’t predict how it will react.
- More time for data cleansing in advance of the race. It never fails, some people may not provide their date-of-birth (required for age bracketing) or accidentally type in nasty characters into another field, like street address. For a small race, these can be fixed quickly, but for a large race it takes some time (see my previous post regarding CLEAN data.)
Though Good Times produced accurate results and overall gave a stellar performance at these large events, a couple necessary improvements have already been made and are currently in testing. These improvements include how the software manages large sets of data it displays on its screens. In a couple instances, for the larger of the two races, data simply took longer than what I had hoped to display. So that has been addressed. We also added logic to not attempt to re-process chip records which had been processed before. That may seem like a no-brainer to you, but for smaller races the extra effort of doing this step wasn’t worth it.
Good Times has come a long way from being a computerized system for manual timing of small events. Wow… what a great thing to see. If you’d like more information, visit our website at GoodTimesSoftware.com, or our Facebook page, or even our YouTube Channel.
I’ve been in the data business for quite some time at least in one way or another, and have seen my fair share of bad data. Call it bad, ugly, dirty, messy—whatever you want, it’s out there in the wild stalking you and waiting to bite!
When it comes to how to time a race, one can easily forget about the value of good, clean data. Let’s take a simple example: many online registration sites fail to check the validity of data being entered by race registrants. I’ve seen it all: invalid phone numbers, strange characters in the middle of an address field, a comma or quote in the middle of something that makes no sense, and much more.
Good Times has been designed to work with clean data. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Sure, it may mean a little more “data cleansing” before you upload if you’ve gotten data from one of these registration sites that do not validate anything. But the value of having clean data means that reports are accurate (try sorting on City or Name fields that have special characters…go ahead, I dare you!), they look nice, and things like Age Range reporting actually functions properly.
So, yes, event directors, you’ve been warned! Strive for good data, clean data, validated and properly formatted data. You’ll be glad you did.
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It’s quite funny how Event Directors, race participants, or essentially anyone actually involved with a race never question why Good Times is a software application on Windows, instead of a Web-based application on the Internet. But other software developers do ask that question. Well I’ll answer it today!
But first, the easier question of why Windows instead of a Mac? And for that answer, we must simply consider that Windows-based laptops still dominate the market. Not nearly as much as they used to, however. In fact, support Good Times on a Mac is probably a likelihood at some point in the future. But for now, we have to target the most widely available platform out there.
But let me get back to why Good Times is an actual software product instead of a website. And that question is pretty simple, too. It just as easily (well almost just as easily) could be either. Sure, we could make a whiz-bang registration and timing website complete with all the whistles and bells. But what about these things:
- Make sure that a good and dependable Internet connection is available from the middle of a cornfield 150 miles away from civilization? (Because we do time races out in the middle of nowhere sometimes)
- Ensure that if we did have an Internet connection, that the website would actually be up and functional? (After all, someone else is responsible for making sure the website is up, and let’s hope it’s up on race day!)
- Provide accurate times (Have you ever noticed that little inconsistent and frustrating delay when you click a link on a website before the page shows up? I’m pretty sure that would monkey with elapsed times which need something called precision!)
- Figure out how to integrate a website on a server somewhere across the country with the chip timing devices sitting on the side of our race course. (Now that would be difficult, and expensive!)
So it’s a pretty cut-and-dry answer: when trying to consider your options for how to time a race, stay away from websites! Good Times is a software product. It runs on your Windows PC or laptop, provides a shared database so multiple computers running Good Times can connect to it, all in a self-enclosed network that can be setup in the middle of the most distant cornfield of your choosing!
If you haven’t checked out our YouTube videos, you can go there now by clicking here. And visit us on Facebook, too. And we’ve recently released another upgrade that builds on our Chip Timing capabilities. Grab the trial version of Good Times on our downloads page.