Do You Need Chip Timing?

In recent years and with the evolution of technology, chip timing has become the ‘go-to’ for a race that wants to appear professional and attract more participants, and to an extent this is true. For larger races, races trying to present award money (or serious award prizes), or shorter, faster races, some sort of computerized timing is a given.   But for your neighborhood 5K that attracts 50-100 participants, is it necessary?  Because of the substantial investment that goes into purchasing a timing system, insurance, vehicles, etc. – the cost of chip timing can be more than is feasible for a small race, especially one that is struggling to get off the ground and may not have sponsorship investment yet.

chip timing vs rwl.fw

In this post we want to discuss a few key points that should go into your decision to get chip timing, and a few other options (including RaceWire Lite, our own solution for small races).   Feel free to contact us with any more questions about what service may be right for you!

  1. How big is your race?

When your race is 50-100 people, provided it is not shorter than 2 miles you can most likely “get away” with hand-timing.   The flow of participants across the finish line is rarely more than two or at most three at a time, and with a simple stopwatch and notepads, spreadsheet, or a timing software like RaceWire Lite, you can easily handle what is for all intents and purposes is adequate race timing, provided you are not overly concerned with any of the below points.

  1. How long is your race? Is it road or trail?

Regardless of size, when you have a longer race (i.e. half marathon or marathon), it is almost assumed you will have chip timing; the greater the cost and distance, the more likely people will want their PR to be accurate, to remove the likelihood of mistakes.  However again be aware that for 50-100 people and with a good crew, chip timing itself is not necessarily preferable as chip reads may degrade in wet weather or especially when saturated with sweat over a long period of time.   This decision is entirely up to you and your level of comfort.

If you are putting on a trail race, there is often a much different cultural expectation and especially the more likely the course is to be inaccurate, hilly, or technical, the less people care about accurate times so generally these rules go out the window.

  1. Are there multiple races happening at the same time? Will participants be expecting awards for one race while another is happening?

Think about your level of attention during the race;  will you be needing to tabulate and print results, take corrections, and do awards while another race is going on?  This may be prohibitive or at least may drive you crazy, and unless your event is doing something to keep participants entertained until all races are done, you may want to avoid doing the timing yourself.  See our last post for ideas on retaining and entertaining your participants after a race!!

  1. How ‘serious’ is your race and what are your awards / how many?

If you are giving out money, gift cards, or scholarships, you will almost certainly want to have chip timing for the purpose of ensuring the “serious” participants that their times will be accurate.

  1. What do races around you, the same size use? If they use a hand-timing organization, what do they cost and would you be willing / able to do it yourself?

This one is tricky.  In some areas of the country (for example Buffalo NY and Eastern Pennsylvania), there are established organizations that have been hand timing for decades and have their system down pat.   Please be clear, hand timing is NOT exclusive from automatic scoring, i.e. if you are hand timing you can still use tools that will automatically score your results and quickly produce if not upload results to the internet:  ask your hand timing organization if they are able to do this.

  1. If you do not have a hand-timing organization available or they are still too expensive, are you confident in having 2-3 volunteers to assist at the finish line? If so RaceWire Lite may be a good option for you. 

RaceWire Lite is our integrated timing solution that we recommend for 5k’s up to 200 participants (ask us about different distances or multiple races!)  If you are able to have computers/tablets and reliable internet at the finish line, and can operate with 2-3 volunteers who are good at communicating, fast at the computer, and/or have keen eyesight,  it may be as simple as ensuring participants keep their bibs visible, and hitting ‘enter’! Contact us for more.