Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Rachel Lenzi email@example.com
When it comes to explaining the technological focal point of road racing, Pete Bottomley provides a fitting analogy for the timing chip.
This year, runners from the elite field on back will have timing chips embedded in their race bibs. Mats at the start and finish line record when each runner passes each line, capturing an accurate time.
2010 Press Herald file
THE BIG RACE
WHAT: The 14th Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race
WHEN: 8 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: Cape Elizabeth
START: Route 77 near Crescent Beach
FINISH: Fort Williams
Five technological advances through the course of the history of the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10 K Road Race:
• Runners using GPS devices to track their mileage or wearing iPods to listen to music while running
• The World Wide Web, which has brought about online registration, as well as e-mailing event information and an event website, www.beach2beacon.org
• Cameras at the finish line for photographic evidence of runners crossing the finish line
• A bigger selection of footwear for runners, including some custom-designed shoes that can potentially help runners minimize injury and maximize their gait cycle
• Wicking fabrics designed to pull sweat away from the skin and disperse it throughout an article of clothing
"It's much like an E-ZPass," said Bottomley, a Cape Elizabeth resident and a Masters runner who will participate in his 12th TD Bank Beach to Beacon.
"It's a magnetic strip that's been programmed to activate at the starting line, and it registers your time when you've finished."
The timing chip is an essential part of road racing and a vital part of the Beach To Beacon, the annual 10-kilometer race through Cape Elizabeth.
Since the race's inception in 1998, a timing device no bigger than a quarter has been used to record each runner's time from the starting line on Route 77 to the finish line in Fort Williams Park.
But Bob Teschek remembers the days when timing a road race meant handing out popsicle sticks to each runner to designate the order of finish and corralling them into finishing chutes.
"What most races did in the 1980s, is that you would gather runners, hand them a popsicle stick with a number on it and put them in chutes, where we could manually note their finish time," said Teschek, the owner of the New Hampshire-based Granite State Race Services. "Times were kept aggressively."
At this year's Beach to Beacon, two ultra-high frequency timing chips will be embedded into each side of each runner's bib.
The key to the function of the timing chip is crossing a mat at the race's start line.
With more than 5,600 runners expected to participate in this year's Beach to Beacon, there's no room at the start line for all of them.
But when a chip is present in the electronic field of the mat, a runner's start time is picked up, then picked up again when the runner crosses the finish line, and each runner's net time is registered and calculated.
"It allows the back-of-the-packer, or anyone who's even a few feet off the line, to get their actual time from the start to finish," Bottomley said.
"If you were 100 people back, you wouldn't cross the starting line for at least 20 seconds, and this technology allows you to cross the starting line and not worry about calculating your time."
Teschek's company provides the timing – and the timing chips – for the Beach To Beacon, and he explained that as road racing has evolved, so has its timing methods.
In years past at the Beach to Beacon, runners have threaded a shoelace through their timing chip, securing it to their shoe when they've tied their shoes. This year, chips are embedded in each runner's bib.
"The first race I remember, you tied the chip through your shoelaces," said Falmouth resident Mike Payson, who will run in his 12th Beach to Beacon.
"It's confusing because you're given a set of instructions on how to do it, and runners tend to be very superstitious and careful about their rituals. It was something that made you think, and you have to put (the chip) on the right shoe and do it the right way. Runners are also a bit paranoid, so there was the fear of it falling off."
And technology is not foolproof.
"Every once in a while, there could be an error of some sort, and you have to trace it back," said Dave McGillivray, the Beach to Beacon race director.
"It could be operator error or equipment error. It's probably less than half a percent. It's minimal. And sometimes that can be the runner's fault, too, if a bib number is bent or a chip is broken, or they didn't run across the mat that catches the time itself. You never know what causes the error."
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