USATF Road Running Technical Council
Road Race and Finish Line Management
SCORING RACES BY COMPUTER
Most races, even small ones of 100 runners, can use a computer to process the results. The advantages are many:
The names can be entered ahead of time
Errors on race day can be quickly corrected and new results generated
The database created can be used to mail results or entry forms for next year's race
It makes the scoring of race series much easier
The results can be moved to the Web quickly
The finish line is set up as described other places in this document. That is, there will be a team recording times and select times at the finish line and another team recording bib numbers as runners emerge from the chute(s). Besides the computer, you will need a printing timer that can record times and select times.
It is best to have the computer in a secure location such as a building or a trailer. It helps if the computer is close enough to the finish line so that connections can be made directly from the finish line to the computer. However, this is often not possible. In this case, the times are recorded in a printing timer and the timer carried to the computer near the end of the race. If you only have one timer, the last times can be recorded by hand.
If you are recording the order of finish with bar codes, you will collect the bar code tags as the runners exit the chute and place them on a stringer. The stringer is taken to the computer for entering the order of finish. Do not plan to record live at the exit of the chute. If something goes wrong, the chute will back up. Do the recording where the computer is so you can resolve problems without interference.
For a large race, you should consider networking your computers so that you can be entering registrations at several computers at the same time and so that you can enter results on several computers.
If you are using a chip system, you do not need to record select times except as a check. However, if you have a disaster with the chip system, the select times will not allow you to recover the race. When using a chip system, you have to think like the sky diver who absolutely trusts his equipment.
The following instructions are for single chute or multiple chute operation.
Recording Times and Select Times
It is extremely important that the team recording the times and select times either be experienced or be well trained. The training dialog should be something like this:
To the timer: Take this push button. Push it ONCE when the race starts and then push it EVERY time a runner crosses the finish line. For example, if five people cross at the same time, it is your job to press the button five times. Also, don't pay any attention to what your partner on the keyboard is doing.
To the select timer: You will handle the keyboard. Don't pay any attention to what your partner on the push button is doing. It is important to understand that you don't have to record EVERY runner who crosses the finish line. Just get as many as you can. For example, if you see a pack of 7 runners approaching the finish line and the lead runner has bib number 123, then you type in 123 but don't hit the Enter key until number 123 crosses the finish line. Don't worry about the 6 runners behind number 123. And, please, don't record runners AFTER they cross the line. That will only make matters worse. This is not a case of more being better. What IS important is to be very accurate so that when we process the results, we KNOW that number 123 crossed at the time recorded by your pressing the Enter key.
To the team recording bib numbers: As the runners emerge from the chute, record each bib number on this paper. It is important that no runner leave the chute without being recorded. You may have to block the exit and let each runner exit as the number is recorded. If you are recording by tearing off the tag at the bottom of the number, it is important that the tags be placed on the stringer face down. This makes it much easier for those who process the tags since the numbers will be in order and the tags do not have to be turned over to read. This applies whether the tags contain bar codes or not. Also, if recording the finish by tear-off tags, you should record the order of finish manually. This can be a useful backup in case of disaster such as someone dropping the tags and having them spill from the stringer.
Processing Results with the Computer
Order of finish
If you will be entering the bib numbers by hand, it is best to hire someone who can touch-type on the numeric keyboard. Such a person can read the results from the finish-order sheet very rapidly -- probably faster than a bar code reader. However, for a race of more than several hundred, a bar code reader should be used. You should use the laser gun type of bar code reader. These are much faster and more accurate than the wand type that you have to pass over the number.
Times can be entered by hand but, except for the very smallest of races, they should be captured on a printing timer which has a computer interface. For a large race, one cannot expect that the number of bib numbers will exactly equal the number of times recorded. There may be extra button presses. Someone may duck out the side of the chute. The timer might miss a few runners during a high-density time. These problems are solved with the select times. The computer program should show the order of finish with the times as recorded followed by a column of select times. In a high density race, there might be a select time only about every 10 finishers. By observing the times and the select times for a given bib number, it is usually possible to decide if a time must be inserted or a time deleted. There are USATF rules that specify how to insert or delete a time. Or perhaps a runner must be inserted. The computer program should aid with this resolution of problems.
After enough bib numbers and times have been recorded, it is possible to print the first few pages of results. It is a good idea to post these immediately. There are two reasons: (1) runners love to see their results quickly and (2) the runners may help you spot errors such as a misspelled name, missing finisher, finishers out of order. As soon as you have enough results for the awards ceremony, print them out. But before announcing the awards, do a "sanity check." Have someone familiar with the runners look them over to make sure that there are no obvious errors such as an award winner with the wrong sex or age.