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A Guide to Race Day

 

This is part 5 of 5 in our Mastering Race Timing Series.

Find more information on Race Timing in the following guides:

 

A Guide to Building Your Own Race Timing System (Part 1)

Selecting the Right Equipment (Part 2)

Choosing the Right RFID Tags (Part 3)

How to Properly Tag Racers (Part 4)

 

PLANNING FOR MY RACE

Whether you are planning your first race or your hundredth, this guide gives you the ins and outs of preparing for a race – from many weeks beforehand and all the way till race day. Every event starts with the planning process but, before you begin, be sure to collect all the details surrounding the race – the who, what, when, where, and why. 

Every race is different, so gather as much information as you can before you begin planning such as: 

  • What information does the race director require?
  • How many checkpoints will your race have?
  • Number of participants?
  • Location of the race?

How many checkpoints will my race have?

WILL YOU HAVE:

  • One start line and one finish line (Figure 1.1)
  • One start line, one finish line, 1/4 split, 1/2split, and 3/4 split (Figure 1.2)

Understand how many splits and read zones your race will need before determining the required equipment.

LOCATION OF THE RACE

The location and route of the race is important to know ahead of time so you can plan your equipment setup accordingly. If you know the race is on a remote hiking trail, you can plan the read zones according to the trail width as well as power outlets available. When you scope out the location, be sure to ask the race director if he or she will be providing a power outlet or power source for your equipment. Once you know the answer, you can come prepared with a generator, power strip, or extensions cables ready to go on race day.

Some races may be overseas or across state lines making it important to plan how to transport your equipment to the location on race day. Flying or driving your equipment to the location before the race might save you time and hassle on race day.

WHAT INFORMATION DOES THE RACE DIRECTOR REQUIRE?

When you start the planning process, learn what information the race director wants to see from the results. For example, you may need to include split times, MPH per racer, winning time per group, racer information, etc.

NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS

To begin planning for your race, one of the first steps is knowing the approximate number of participants. Not all participants sign up before race day, but setting a maximum number of participants allows you to plan your RFID equipment setup confidently. If you haven’t reached that maximum number by race day, bring extra bibs and tags so that newcomers can sign up at the race.

HOW TO SELECT RFID EQUIPMENT

RFID readers, antennas, tags, bibs, cables, software and accessories are some of the things you will need to get started.There are multiple options for your RFID system, so selecting your equipment might not be black and white. The equipment you’ll use depends on the factors above like checkpoints, number of participants, race director information, length of the race, and more.

One way to determine the equipment is to look specifically at the number of participants and the length of the race. If it is a short race, with 500+ participants, the finish line may be extremely crowded. Crowded read points are something to avoid because participants could run into equipment, and there is a greater chance of missing a participant’s RFID tag. Waiting time and missed reads will produce unhappy racers. If you do have a short race with many of participants, try to widen the race trail, and/or let the racers know ahead of time. Longer races have a higher chance for the participants to scatter out, and they usually run through the finish line in a line or small groups making the tags easier to read and the amount of RFID equipment needed per read zone generally less. 

In order to select your equipment, here are four general levels that we recommend for race timing:

For more information regarding which equipment is right for your race, please refer to our first three guides in our Mastering Race Timing Series:


COMPLETING THE PLANNING STAGE MEANS:

  • I know the number of maximum participants (i.e. how many bibs and tags to have.)
  • I have scoped out the location and have an outline of my race day setup.
  • I know exactly what the race director needs from me as the race timer.
  • I have purchased RFID equipment, accessories, and bibs.
  • I know the number of read zones required.
  • I have selected RFID equipment.

PRE - RACE

When you have completed the planning stages, you are ready to move on to Pre-Race information and setup. In the Pre-Race section, we will cover the following information:

  • How do I register participants for my race?
  • How do I affix the tag on the participant?
  • How do I setup my equipment?
  • When do I need to test?

HOW DO I REGISTER PARTICIPANTS FOR MY RACE?

There are a few different options you and your race director can provide participants for registration purposes. Mail-in registration, an internet site or landing page, a local store willing to hand out and receive registration forms, and a booth setup on race day are some common ways to handle registration. Some race timers prefer one channel of registration, while others experiment with many to entice more participants. When you start producing registration forms remember that there are some key pieces of information you need to obtain.

The chart below is a standard example of information that race timers and race directors need from each participant.

HOW DO I MOUNT MY EQUIPMENT?

Panel antennas will need to be mounted in order to obtain the best read range. There are several mounting options from which to choose, truss mounting (Figure 2.1) tripod mounting (Figure 2.2), or even designing your own mounting option (Figure 2.3). Remember that your mounting decision should be based upon which tag you’ve chosen as well as where the tag is located on the participant.

As an example, if you decide to tag your participants with a shoe tag, you would not get good reads from a truss mounting system since the truss would be above the participants head. Later in this chapter, we will talk more about how to tag your participants. Below are some real race examples of mounting options.

HOW DO I ENCODE TAGS, AND WHAT AM I ENCODING ON THEM?

In order to get your tags ready for race day, you have to first understand a little bit about the memory banks on a UHF RFID Tag. (Figure 2.4) illustrates the functions of each memory bank. For more information on each memory bank, be sure to read our article Types of Memory in RFID tagsx. The primary memory banks that are used for race timing are the EPC memory bank and the TID memory bank.

EPC memory is most commonly used in race timing because it is the first writable memory bank. EPC memory banks contain a minimum of 96 bits of writable memory which is 24 hexadecimal characters or 12 ASCII characters.  If your tag’s EPC memory has more than 96 bits, simply divide the bits of memory by four to produce the number of hexadecimal characters and divide by eight to get the number of ASCII characters the memory bank can hold. The most common way to use the EPC memory bank is to overwrite the pre-encoded number with the bib number. If you use this method, your software only needs to know one number per participant, making the system less complicated. With Higgs tags from Alien Technology, you have the option to use the pre-programmed, randomized number on the EPC memory bank and associate it with the bib number in your software. If you use Monza 4D or Monza 5 chips, you cannot rely on this method because all the pre-programmed EPC numbers are the same on those tags.

The TID memory bank is another option for race timing. The TID memory bank on all tags contains a random, non-repeating number that you can associate in your software with a participant’s bib number. All readers come preset to read the EPC memory bank which means if you want to read the TID memory bank, you will have to change the read settings on each reader.

AFFIXING THE RFID TAG TO THE PARTICIPANT

When you have encoded your tags, the next step is to determine where you will place them on the participants. While bib tagging is the most common method, there are a few other ways that are gaining momentum in the race timing industry. Take a look at the graphic below (Figure 2.5) to see the four most popular tagging methods for race timing.

(Figure 2.5) displays the four main types of tagging: shoe tagging, bib tagging, hip tagging, and double bib tagging. Deciding how you want to tag depends on your setup, your tags, and the type of race. Below is some information about each tagging method.

SHOE TAGGING

Placing the RFID tag on the participant’s shoe reduces your RFID equipment setup options. A truss setup could not be used with this method because of the large space between the tag and RFID antenna. Typically, shoe tags are laminated with an extra inch or two of lamination at the top. With that extra space, you punch a hole and then slide the participant’s shoe lace through. Of note, this method is better suited for smaller races.

BIB TAGGING

With this method, you simply adhere the tag onto the participant’s bib. A small strip of foam between the tag and the runner might increase the read range by adding a layer between the human body and the RFID tag. Depending on how you orient the tag on the bib (horizontally or vertically), you will need to make sure your antenna’s polarization corresponds if you are using linear antennas.

HIP TAGGING

This method is the least common tagging method for race timing. An RFID tag is placed on each hip of a participant allowing circular antennas on both sides of the finish line to pick up the read. They are usually kept on the hips with the laminating method and safety pins that pin them to the participant’s shorts. This method shouldn’t be used with linear antennas.

DOUBLE BIB TAGGING

Tagging each participant with two tags on their bib is a fairly common practice in the race timing industry. With two tags, there is an increased chance of getting a read. If you add foam backing between the tag and the runner, it will increase the read range. Also, placing the tags in different orientations will help receive more reads, if you are using circular antennas.

For more in-depth information, check out the fourth guide in our Mastering Race Timing Series, How to Tag Your Racer.

WHEN DO I TEST?

Testing is extremely important in your race preparations. At this point, you should have chosen a tag, tagging method, and equipment setup which means you now have all the key pieces needed to test. If you haven’t decided on a tagging method or setup, be sure to test different options to find the best method for your race. Testing is key throughout the pre-race planning period so that you can work out any kinks that may arise and modify your system to obtain the highest read rates and best range.

COMPLETING THE PRE-RACE STAGE MEANS:

  • I have encoded all the tags and associated them (if required) with the bib number in my software.
  • I know how to successfully mount my equipment and have a planned race day setup.
  • I have tested my tags, setup, tagging method, mounting equipment, etc.
  • I have decided on a tagging method that works well with my setup.
  • I know how to register participants and have started the process.
  • I have purchased RFID equipment, accessories, and bibs.
  • I have chosen an encoding method.

RACE DAY

When you have completed the Pre-Race Section you are ready to move on to Race Day. In the Race Day section, we will cover the following information:

  • How to Setup on Race Day
  • Small Details to Remember
  • On-site Testing

SETTING UP FOR RACE DAY

Most timers and directors open an on-site registration booth about an hour and a half before the race to handle any late participants. Depending on how much equipment you have to setup, you should plan to get to the race location 1-3 hours before registration opens. If you allot enough time, you can successfully setup all read points, a booth for registration, as well as test your equipment.

BELOW ARE A FEW DETAILS TO KEEP IN MIND ON RACE DAY:

POWER AND WI-FI

If the race director is providing power supplies, all you need to bring are the power cables for each device. If the race director is not providing a power source, make sure your generator or other power source is tested before you leave for the race location. A Wi-Fi connection may be important if your laptop requires internet connectivity. Ask the race director to setup a good Wi-Fi network and provide the password beforehand so you don’t have any problems on race day.

CABLES

Depending on how many antennas you have per read point, setting up your antennas maybe complicated. Make sure that all cables are plugged in and are snug. If a cable isn’t plugged in completely, you risk the reader not getting power to the antennas, thus missing all reads in that read zone. Also, be sure cables do not become tripping hazards and that they are either run through cable trays, trusses, or at least taped down.

READ ZONES

When you are setting up a read zone, keep the antennas five feet or more apart from each other. Read Zone width is also a very important factor to consider when you set up. Most antenna read zones have a width of about six to eight feet, however the antenna gain and tag read range ultimately determine read zone widths. If you allow the read zone to be too wide, you may miss tags that pass between antenna read zones.

VOLUNTEERS

Setting up a complex timing system is not a one person job. The race timer or race director should recruit volunteers to help setup and monitor read zones in case something happens to the equipment.

MANUAL TIMING SYSTEM

Having a back-up manual timing system, in addition to your RFID timing system, helps to ensure that you won’t miss a participant. Problems like attaching the RFID tag incorrectly can be overcome with a manual system in place. Some RFID timing software packages include a manual timing system for ease of use.

SMALL DETAILS

Sometimes equipment setup does not go as flawlessly as one hopes. On race day, it is good to have a few essentials in case your equipment has race day issues. A standard tool kit, duct tape, power cables, safety pins, and backup equipment are details that could possibly save your race. If you have a backup reader, antennas, tripods, etc., you will be better prepared for any accidents that may occur on race day.

HANDING OUT BIBS

It is beneficial to have a small table away from your RFID equipment to hand out bibs or take last minute registration forms. If all of your participants crowd around your equipment, it could disturb your setup, especially your cables.

ON-SITE TESTING

As the professional race timer for the event, it is your job to make sure that your equipment is running like a well oiled machine and ready for tags to begin crossing the start line. Arriving at the location early is a great time to get all your read zones running and tested.

COMPLETING THE PRE-RACE STAGE MEANS:

  • Power and Wi-Fi are packed and/or will be located on-site.
  • I have volunteers and a back-up manual timing system.
  • I know when to get to the location on race day.
  • I’ve determined appropriate read zone width.
  • I know how to setup for race day.
  • I have tested thoroughly.

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS

Before any race, brainstorming potential risks is a good way to be prepared. If you are able to find weak spots in your system, you can plan to mitigate the risks and take steps to make sure nothing goes wrong. In the potential problems section, we will cover:

  • How to prevent system failure during a power shortage
  • How to avoid participants tripping on cables
  • How to ensure you don’t miss a read
  • How to avoid any mounting issues

HOW CAN I AVOID PARTICIPANTS TRIPPING ON MY CABLES?

When you are working with electrical equipment that has to be connected via cables, you run the risk of creating tripping hazards. If a volunteer or participant trips on your cables, not only could the equipment be damaged, but you could injure the participant as well. If an unseen participant trips and accidently unplugs the cable from the antenna, that antenna could go down and miss reads the entire race. To mitigate this risk, run your cables through cable trays, over trusses, or at least thoroughly tape them down. Most cable trays interlock to provide a continuous surface.

WHAT IF I HAVE POWER FAILURE?

A common issue that race timers can have is a momentary loss in power. Whether it is a loose outlet or quick power surge, it could reset your hardware configurations and miss reads. A UPS backup, or uninterruptible power supply, can help you avoid such an issue on race day. Even a basic UPS backup would be sufficient to power your RFID readers because they do not use much power. A typical UPS battery backup costs about $40 - $100 depending on the size and battery requirements.

To keep your race timing system running longer in case of a power shortage, only plug your reader in to your UPS battery backup. If the UPS battery backup only has to power your reader, it can last hours longer than if your laptop was plugged in as well. To keep your laptop powered, always remember to charge your internal battery for race day.

WHAT IF I HAVE MOUNTING ISSUES?

If you have tested thoroughly, mounting your equipment shouldn’t be a problem; however, in cases of unstable trusses or too short tripods, keep tools and extra equipment in case of necessary quick fixes. Zip ties, a tool box, and backup equipment should be all you need to ensure there are no mounting issues on race day.

WHAT IF MY EQUIPMENT SKIPS A READ?

If all participants are tagged correctly and your setup has been thoroughly tested, you should have very few, if any missed reads on race day. Your manual timing system is your backup and will save a read in case a participant tags his or herself incorrectly.

COMPLETING THE POTENTIAL ISSUES SECTION MEANS:

  • Power and Wi-Fi are packed and/or will be located on-site.
  • I have volunteers and a back-up manual timing system.
  • I know when to get to the location on race day.
  • I’ve determined appropriate read zone width.
  • I know how to setup for race day.
  • I have tested thoroughly.

CONCLUSION

RFID is one of the best ways to get accurate results in the race timing industry, and the technology is continually improving. By using this guide, you are better equipped to successfully plan, test, and implement your RFID system on race day. Please note, your system may work differently at different race locations because of environmental conditions, so be sure and test before every race.


Want to learn more about race timing?

You just completed the fifth, and final guide in our Mastering Race Timing series. Learn more by reading the other whitepapers in our series.

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