|Dwayne Olson and family.|
It’s 4:30 AM on a Sunday and I inevitably ask myself the same question every race day. Why did I choose this part-time gig? The final checks are ticked off my list for essential components and I am off. Every race day I wonder how things will turn out. Will the wind blow my tent over? Will the rain affect the readability of the RFID chips? Is it going to be too cold or too damp to print the results outside? I hope there won’t be too many race day changes amongst the athletes.
Each race morning I have to rush to: speak with the race director, confirm the finish area and set up the read zone in time to refer back with the registration volunteers and update any changes that have been made. This is usually from people dropping down in distance due to illness or a late decision to change due to insufficient training. When my mats and antennas finally test operational and I finish entering the last update it’s time to start the race.
The horn has sound and the race is underway. I match my clocks to 1/100th of a second. The next thing to do is import the chip start times. If this goes well, I’ll be able to use the same computer and present the chip times minutes after the bulk of the finishers have come in. If the chip start import doesn’t go well, I’ll need import the chip starts onto the back up computer later on that afternoon, which would create a lot of questions from everyone at a rather inconvenient time.
As the first runner crosses the finish line, the chip reads and the time registers. I check that the athlete did indeed finish in the proper race as some people tend to change their distance without notifying the race organizers. I breathe my first sigh of relief that everything is in order, however, there are still over 200 racers to go. As the first pack of athletes cross the finish line I’m able to see that they have all read. This may be the last time I am able to confirm that visually as the amount of people crossing the finish line will soon turn into a steady stream making it impossible to do any visual confirmation. I now have to let go and trust everything is in order.
I can see the awards volunteer walking toward me and I start to print off the first set of results. These preliminary results are for awards only and will not include the finishers that came in after the time of printing. I have learned to accept the wave of questions that come from the athletes whose time is missing from the preliminary results sheet and it is an understandable concern from their perspective. At this point in the race I am often looking over at the awards volunteer as their face tells me exactly how their day is going.
Today it has happened again, the awards volunteer is speaking with three women and I already know the problem. The top three women are all well aware that they are they are top three women as they have identified each other early on in the race. The awards volunteer and top three women turn and look toward the timing area with uniform frowns on their faces. They are all nice people and quietly pushing down their frustration so as not to jump to conclusions, however, I know the award volunteer’s day has changed drastically and she is now trying to remain composed. As the wave of frowns approaches me, the awards volunteer asks, “These women claim to be the top three. Is it possible there is some mistake?” “Yes” I reply, there is quite possibly a mistake.” As I speak with the three women I can see that they are absolutely certain in their claim and I tell them, “ I believe you, however, I must confirm that this person is not a woman; can we page this bib number please”? The awards volunteer drops her shoulders slightly in minor disappointment as she knows it couldn’t be as simple as an instant disqualification for the phantom winner.
The awards volunteer then informs the Race Director that the awards presentation must be delayed as there is a discrepancy. The Race Director accepts this fact with the usual pessimistic reaction saying, “Of course, it can’t go completely smooth”. The awards volunteer then starts to page the bib number. After the third page, we have determined that the bib number has probably departed immediately after completing the race. It now remains for us to determine whether or not to award the top three women to the three that have approached us and are waiting with some anticipation or wait to confirm by video. It is impossible to use the video that we have recorded as there are still finishers coming in and we may need to confirm an age group standing. The awards volunteer knows that if she makes a mistake here, it will be very awkward to ask someone to give a medal back and it will be an inconvenience for everyone to arrange a time to switch medals. To my relief the Race Director and Awards Volunteer have decided to risk it and go ahead with awards ceremony. I then confirm the results by video later in the afternoon. It shows a male crossing the finish line with the bib number in question. The person who accepted the bib on short notice has no idea that they caused a major delay in race operations or that a volunteer won’t be back the next year as they don’t want to be put into stressful situation without being paid.
I have come to the conclusion that people run for the feeling. That feeling is often amplified at a running event. There is something great about the running community that we can’t get from our regular lives and I don’t know any race organizer that actually, “does this for the money”. A Race Director often decides to host an event for many of the same reasons someone would host a party. There is a great energy at every event and, just like a party, each event has its own distinct feeling. Just like a party, there are thoughtful guests and not so thoughtful guests and just like a party, the host is most concerned that everyone has a good time. Just like a party, the host may choose to deny someone’s entry out of the desire to ensure everyone has a good time.
Prairie Timing Services