CARS HOMES JOBS

Microchip timing will speed up result process

Friday, November 7, 2008
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— Times should be faster at the Gazette Stockade-athon this year.

Not necessarily the runners’ times, but the results tabulators’ times.

For the first time, the Stockade-athon will use microchip timing to record the runners’ results.

Along with the conventional bib pinned to jerseys and shorts, the runners will also wear a small plastic tag about half the size of a credit card on the laces of one of their shoes.

Once a runner crosses a special mat at the finish, the computer chip will “wake up” and send a signal specific to that runner’s registered identity to a computer manned by Josh Merlis of the Albany Running Exchange club. Moments later, Merlis will be able to print sheets of results for everyone who has finished.

“If everything goes well, we hope it’ll be quicker,” race director Vince Juliano said. “We’re one of the last big races to not go to chip timing. We’re not on the front of this, we’re on the back. Most big races have had chip timing for five, six, seven years.

“I was reluctant, because I’m so appreciative of the past people and the competency of the past that I’d be completely confident that things would go well. It’s just that at some point you’ve got to go to new technology and move forward. I think this was the right year, with the regional championship and our growing numbers that we’ve had.”

This year, Stockade-athon has been designated as the USA Track and Field East Region 15k championship.

The race has drawn over 1,100 finishers in each of the last three years and missed breaking the record for participation, set in 1984, by 27 runners last year.

Race organizers expect to break the record this year. A prize purse of $3,000 for the open division should draw more top-level amateur athletes to the race, and the appeal of chip timing could help increase the size of the field.

“The advantage is the results come out almost immediately,” Juliano said. “As the runners are finishing, the chip timing is recording the results and Josh displays it on his screen.”

Merlis and Albany Running Exchange have been increasing their presence at races in New York and neighboring states.

Runners who finish the Stockade-athon will pass through a widening chute where 30-40 chairs will be set up so volunteers can help remove the chips.

The results printouts will be quickly post ed on sandwich boards.

“The idea is every chip manufactured by the company has a unique code,” Merlis said. “Inside our computer program, every chip corresponds to a particular bib number. The beauty is when you cross the mat the only thing that’s sent is the code, and at the same time, it gets a time stamp.”

Merlis, 26, is an avid runner and computer programming teacher at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School.

He’s run the Stockade-athon three times in the last five years, posting a 51:06 each time. As much as he can appreciate the improbability of that trend, he knows that no system is perfect, so the chip timing has some backup plans and is tested thoroughly at every race he uses it.

“Hey, it’s a machine,” Merlis said. “From a mechanical standpoint, the system is perfect; from our end, we’ve learned nothing is perfect, but we haven’t seen anything catastrophic yet. We’re always testing things.”

ARE videos the finish, too, so that if the chip timing falters, they can always go back and do it the hard way, by matching times with bib numbers off the video.

Another advantage of the system is that it isn’t affected by clumps of runners finishing at the same time, bandit runners who can throw off the timer sequence and runners who switch places in the chute before their bib tags are removed.

Once your chip hits the mat, your time is up.

 
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