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Finish Line Management

Once pre-race planning is complete and race day has arrived, safety of the event participants and volunteers should be your first priority. Second priority is finish line management. A timely awards ceremony results in more participants being on hand to receive their awards and cheer others as they receive theirs. Runners also expect timely, accurate results. Good finish line management will go a long way towards that end.

There are two methods to managing a finish line: 1) do it yourself; and 2) hire a timing company to produce results with electronic chip timing.

Do it yourself method

Use race bibs with tear-off strips that are stripped and placed on a stringer as the participants cross the finish line. Prior to race day place a label on the bib strip to include the participant's name, sex and age, and any special category the runner may be competing in. You can also include shirt size, which will eliminate the need to check a participant list for shirt orders during packet pickup. For race day registrants, instruct the registrars to write this information on the strip, and record the bib number on the registraiton form.

Prior to race day, have finish cards printed (see sample template). A volunteer is needed to hand one of these consecutively numbered cards to each participant after he/she crosses the line and his/her bib strip has been placed on the stringer. The participant will complete the card and turn it in at the finish card table. Your finish cards should include a place for any special awards that are not based on age, e.g., "student" or "teacher."

Include in your GWTC equipment rental request the use of a Chronomix, a timing device that is started when the race begins. A volunteer is needed to click a button on the device every time a finisher comes through the chute. Click the device whether or not the finisher is wearing a race bib. The device will produce a printed tape that includes placement and finish time. Every 10 finishers or so, as time permits, write the finisher’s race bib number next to their time on the tape – this will give you some select times and will aid in reconciling race results. 

Two volunteers are needed to strip and string the bib strips as the finisher enters the chute. Place the bib strips on the stringer in finish order, and have "bandit strips" on hand for any finisher crossing the line without a race bib. The bandit strip serves as a placeholder, and can often be matched up with a finish card to provide runner information for the results.

Include in your GWTC equipment rental request the use of finish card boxes, which are small boxes labeled with age groups. Use one set of boxes for males, and another for females. In advance of the race, print an awards sheet (or one sheet for male and another for female) with a slot for each award. As the cards are turned in, start pulling out any special awards (overall, master, grandmaster, etc.), and begin completing the awards sheets. Once the majority of the cards are turned in, a few volunteers are needed to verify the cards are in the correct boxes and to place the cards in order within each box. Another volunteer is needed to record the winners on the awards sheet.

Another method of determining race awards by finish cards is to use one box for all finish cards. Have a couple of volunteers on hand to put the cards in consecutive order as they are turned in. Another volunteer can begin completing the awards sheet up to the point where a card is missing, then check the bib strips for information on missing cards. This method takes a lot of coordination but ensures that award winners are not overlooked because their card was not turned in.

Results can be compiled using the Chronomix tape and finish cards, supplemented with bib strips. In a perfect world, the number of finishers on the tape will agree with the number of finish cards. Enter the results on an Excel spreadsheet, and include columns for place, first name, last name, sex, age and time. If there are discrepancies between the number of finishers and the number of cards, do your best to determine where a time is to be thrown out or another added in. Consider using a high definition camera at the finish line and be sure to get the finish clock in the viewfinder. This is a great backup and can speed up the reconciliation process. After all, humans are working the finish line -- cards can be given out of order, clicks can be missed on the Chronomix, and bibs can be placed on the stringer in the wrong order. The camera can help solve mysteries!

If you are a first time race director and do not have finish line management experience, the best thing you can do is volunteer at a few finish lines well in advance of your race. You will see first hand how much coordination is involved, how many volunteers are needed and how smoothly it can go when managed properly. When not managed properly, things can get out of control in a hurry, and awards/results compilation can be very difficult. Preparation and having enough volunteers to cover the various tasks are the keys to success!

Hiring a Timing Company

Chip timing has become popular. It enables almost instantaneous results as the race is in progress, and considerably speeds up the time involved in compiling awards and results. Participants are assigned a race bib that includes an attached electronic chip. The chip is "read" by the system as the finisher crosses a mat at the start/finish line, and is matched to registration data with timing software that automatically produces race results and assigns awards.

Chip timing systems are very costly to purchase, and there is an additional cost to purchase chips for each race. Add to that the need to purchase and learn a race timing system that integrates with the chip timing system, and one soon realizes that is not feasible for every organization that puts on races to own such a system. Many race directors have begun increasing race registration fees (or asking a sponsor to underwrite the cost) to cover the cost of hiring a timing company to manage the finish line and produce awards sheets and results.

When hiring a chip timing company, be sure to get a written agreement that specifies what services are to be provided, what is included, and what the costs are. Are bibs/chips included? Safety pins? Does the company provide its own generator, or do you need to provide a power source on race day? Will start mats be used so you can have gun time and net time results? Who is responsible for data entry, both for pre-registrations and race day entrants? Are awards to be based on gun time or net time? Some companies charge a flat fee while others charge a set fee per registrant, and may add travel costs and other add-ons. Secure the contract far in advance of your race, as timing companies have become very popular and get booked well in advance.

There are many timing companies in Florida. We have listed here only those companies that GWTC has had experience with or that have been recommended by other area race directors based on their experience with the company. If you are an area race director and would like to add to this list, send us an email.

RaceSmith, Palatka, FL, http://www.racesmith.com/. Jacob and Krisha Smith have timed the Palace Saloon 5K, Shamrock Scurry, Red Hills Triathlon and Tri the Rez, and have assisted GWTC with timing the Tallahassee Marathon and Half Marathon.

Results Events Timing LLC, Ft. Walton Beach, FL, http://www.eventtiming.com/. Steven Keith has timed the Springtime 10K/5K/1 Mile and Turkey Trot 15K/10K/5K/1 Mile for the past several years.

Gulf Winds Track Club has acquired a chip timing system that it uses for GWTC and other area races on an "as available" basis. First priority is to GWTC races, and second priority is given to non-GWTC races that are on the GWTC Grand Prix schedule. Provided there are no conflicts, the system is then made available on a rental basis to other area races provided a trained GWTC volunteer is available to operate the system. For information on availability and costs, contact Peg Griffin.