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The Basics

Chip and tag timing is the use of RFID (radio frequency identification) technology to determine when a tag is identified within a certain area. There are a number of ways for the athlete to carry a tag. But, as of this writing the most common way is the use of the bib tag. The bib tag attaches to the rear of the bib and is logistically the easiest for everyone to manage

Chip Timing History

Chip timing got its name from the nickname for integrated circuits (ICs) that people simply called ‘chips’. In the early days, the RFID chip was imbedded with some other electronics inside a glass capsule. That glass capsule is encased in a plastic mold designed to be durable and easily attach to the shoe lace using a thin zip-tie. These chips are expensive at about four or five dollars a piece. Adding to the difficulty, they required retrieval from the athletes after every event.

As technology evolved, UHF RFID tags became popular due to its much lower cost, making it virtually disposable. The early tags were looped around the shoelaces until the bib tag technology evolved. Bib tags are now the standard timing device, and have been for over a decade.

The Technology

UHF RFID technology makes it possible to accurately determine when and where an athlete is for an event. And it requires a smaller amount of equipment and manpower than ever before. With just equipment, a single person can conceivably time thousands of runners single-handedly. Prior to RFID technology, the timing task would’ve required dozens of people and resulted in more errors. Timing results are produced much more quickly. And the logistics for the entire timing aspect of race management is significantly easier for race directors.

Why is Chip Timing Important For Your Race?

Chip timing means that you accurately measure a runner’s time from the start line, not the gun time. This means that every person’s time is accurate for the course distance. Previously, large runner populations meant people starting away from the start line received times too high.

For any race wanting credibility, having accurate times raises it. Using RFID timing means that every time is accurate, not just the winning times. Although some runners don’t mind supporting the cause and running a fun run, many really do want accurate times. Eventually, all runs for a good cause do need to become real, credible events in order to draw the runners back. That’s because there are many worthy organizations creating new events all the time.

What’s the drawback to using chip timing? There’s only one: Depending on the size of your event and your sponsorship amounts, it can be relatively expensive. Chip timing can cost $800-$1500 per event to start. As with any venture, you should consider your first 1 or 2 years as investment years. It takes strong marketing.But once your race gets going, registration proceeds will easily cover the costs of chip timing.

What are the advantages of using chip timing? Here’s a short list:

  • Runners know it’s an actual race, not a fun run
  • Your awards presentation is accurate
  • It instantly increases the user experience
  • Compared with manually timed races, results are fast
  • You need less volunteers and manpower
  • Your event length is shorter and not drawn out

Do It Yourself?

If you are a race director, it would be easy to consider purchasing your own equipment. And if you plan to host multiple events every year, that would be understandable. But as anyone who’s ever timed an event knows, timing is much more than just the equipment. You need special software, technical know-how, a high tolerance of pressure, and a lot of patience. There aren’t many people comfortable with the job. And certainly no volunteer can do this. Because of these requirements, few production companies time in-house. They contract it out.

The Verdict

If you are planning to start your first event, there are few things that will bring instant credibility to it. Have it chip timed, and your runners will know this isn’t just a one-off. You are planning to do this for year after year. And runners really do appreciate that!


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