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FAQ # 16 (2013): Chip Time vs. Gun Time

by leandre on May 16, 2013 · 5 comments

in Uncategorized

Welcome to Marathon May! Every day from now through the Marathon (and perhaps even a few days beyond) we’ll share a new race-related FAQ here on the blog, our Facebook page and via Twitter feed. Got a question you think we should cover? Post it here, on FB or on Twitter and we’ll get right back to you.

Q: Are your awards based on chip time or gun time?

The KeyBank Vermont City Marathon publishes our finish order and awards all prizes based on gun time as opposed to chip time. Gun time is the time from when the start horn sounds to when you cross the finish line. Chip time is the time from when you cross the start line to when you cross the finish line.

We are frequently asked why awards are given based on gun time instead of chip time. The answer lies in “what is a race”. To us, if Runner A and Runner B are sprinting to the finish line in the heat of competition, and Runner A reaches the finish line first, Runner A has won that particular race. It’s straight-forward, and it’s the elemental definition of “racing”. Bringing chip times into this mix sets up a situation with the same two runners where if Runner A crossed the start line only 2 seconds ahead of Runner B and then nipped Runner B at the finish line, scoring by chip time would place Runner B ahead of Runner A. We don’t feel that’s right.

Rule 245 of the USATF rulebook addresses their view on Finish Line Recording and Timing for Long Distance Running and Road Events: “The order in which the athletes cross the finish line shall be the official position.”

Sometimes we get complaints that giving prizes based on gun time isn’t the right way to do things because it encourages runners to line up too far forward at the start. While lining up near the front will get you across the start line faster, it also makes it very likely that you’ll start too quickly leading to slower running later in the race. We believe that finding the pace sign that most closely matches the pace you are trained to run is the best strategy to run the best marathon you are capable of. You will certainly lose more time late in a marathon due to slowing down because of going out too hard then you will lose by running the first part more conservatively and having a lot of energy left for the last 6-10 miles.

To state the obvious, a marathon is a long race! It takes about 4 minutes for all our starters to cross the start line. For the person who crosses our start line LAST (Runner Y) to catch the person who crossed the start line FIRST (Runner X) Runner Y would need to run about 9 seconds/mile faster than Runner X. In most cases our top age group competitors will start in the first half of the start corrals, which means an even smaller potential time discrepancy. When you look at it as 2, 3, 4 minutes it seems like a lot, but when you break it down by a per mile pace it is very small.

As to the question, is my time chip time or is it gun time – the answer is, it’s both! As noted above, your place will be determined by your gun time and the exact order of finish. Most runners will be more interested in their chip time, the time it actually took to run from the start line to the finish line. That is one of the wonderful inventions related to this sport over the past 15 years-now runners know exactly how long it really took them to run a race if that race uses chip timing.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dorie pusyka September 25, 2013 at 11:01 pm

I recently ran my forth 5kthis sept . i am 55yrs old. My chip time was27:36.9, gun time 28:43 & pace 8:52. Which time do i go by, chip or gun. Thank you. Mrs. dorie Pusyka

Joe Connelly 2 joe September 26, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Hi Dorie-

“Which time do I go by, chip or gun”…I am going to assume you are talking about for your own personal records. If that is the case I would go by your chip time. If it’s only a few seconds different I’ll usually use gun time, but for 1:07 differential I’d say it makes more sense to use your chip time.

Races list results either way, neither is right or wrong, it all comes down to whatever the philosophy of the particular race is. But whatever their philosophy is it’s ok for you to use either time for your personal purposes.

All RunVermont races list results by gun time. Our philosophy is that because we have a single start for all runners that the head to head race to the finish line should be the prime determining factor in how places are shown.

3 Ricky March 30, 2014 at 1:43 pm

I would understand your purist philosophy as the first on to cross the finish line wins if you added one thing to your race: have a start line wide enough for each runner to line up at the start line. If you don’t allow each and every runner to have the opportunity to line up at the very front then it will never be equal and you will always have this argument. (look at all your track and field events, either everyone lines up side by side or there is a staggered start to compensate. This chip IS your staggered compensation.) If the first one crosses wins no matter what then why have chips at all? If it is as you say that the chip is “only” for personal reasons then that is not a good argument at all. Almost every runner has a watch or phone that can be started when they cross the start line so let them rely on that. It seems like it is an expensive waste of money to have chips and not use them for race outcome purposes.

4 mark mcghan May 30, 2014 at 10:27 pm

the age group 3rd place medal winner in our local marathon was almost a minute slower by chip time then the 4th place(non-medal winner). who “won” between those two? the “racing your competitor to the finish line” never happens in a marathon except up front. the overall winner should be by gun time…everyone else chip time.

Joe Connelly 5 Joe Connelly June 3, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Ricky and Mark, thanks very much for writing. We will have to agree to disagree. There are good arguments to be made on either side for why gun time or chip time should be used to give out awards. The races that you produce, you may set your own policy. The races we produce we will use gun time.

The argument that the only way to stage a fair competition if you’re using gun time is to have a start line wide enough to accommodate all starters, you and I both know that’s not how road races work. Not now, not 25 years ago, not ever. A road race isn’t a track meet. A road race (and many XC races as well) is a unique thing. It’s not a time trial. There isn’t a racer alive, other than the top runners, who sign up for a race and expect that they’re going to be able to start right on the start line.

The argument that Racer A who starts a minute back of Racer B and ends up with a faster chip time, that certainly makes sense for awarding Racer A the prize. But what you can also say is that if that’s the scenario then either Racer A or Racer B seeded themselves very improperly at the start. If both of those racers ended up with about he same time over 26.2 miles, then they should have started in nearly the same place. It’s not like we’re talking about a 2:30 marathoners and a 5:30 marathoner, we are talking about 2 runners who finished in pretty much the same time. In that scenario, Racer A could be gaming the system by starting so far back, that way Racer A is able to keep tabs on the competition. We’re not going to play the game that way – if Racer B beats Racer A to the finish line then Racer B wins. Simple!!

To me, the bigger issue of using chip time for awards is the scenario where 2 racers start close together, not far apart. Lets say Racer C crosses the start line 3 seconds ahead of Racer D. Let’s say these two racers know each other and are of similar abilities. It would not be unreasonable for Racer D to catch up to Racer C early in the race. If I’m getting going and see one of my buddies just ahead I’m going to run up to run with him. And that isn’t going to take a ton of energy to make up 3 seconds, it’s part of the natural flow of races. So let’s say we’re a mile in and Racer C and Racer D are now running with each other. They both have a good race and it comes down to the final stretch. Being competitive they kick it in to see who’s going to win and Racer C edges out Racer D by 1 second. It would be difficult to argue that Racer C shouldn’t be listed ahead of Racer D in the results based on the actual race that took place. But if you go by chip time Racer D is going to show up as 2 seconds faster than Racer C, and ahead of Racer C in the results. To me, that isn’t right. It’s fine if you feel differently.

Why do we have chips? A few reasons…1) Ease of finish line operations, 2) Makes verifying that racers did the entire course easier and more confident, 3) The racer marketplace demands them, 4) Boston accepts chip times for qualifying. Try to hire a company to time a marathon with 2500+/- finishers plus 2000 relay teams, tell them you don’t want chips, good luck finding a contractor!

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