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How to Tag Your Racer

 

This is part 4 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)

A Guide to Race Day (Part 5)

 

INTRODUCTION

This guide is ideal for new race timers or those experimenting with new tagging methods. Different RFID tags, tag orientations, and system setups will make a large difference in the read range. Below we will talk in-depth about different tagging methods, the strengths and weaknesses of each one, and the RFID system setup that works best for each.

When tagging race participants with RFID tags, there are several different ways to achieve the best read range. 

The four most popular ways to tag a participant are:

  • Bib tagging
  • Double Bib Tagging
  • Shoe Tagging
  • Hip Tagging

Testing different tagging methods will help you decide the best method for your system.

The four main methods are outlined below along with their pros, cons, and typical antenna setups.

BIB TAGGING

Bib tagging, as it sounds, involves tagging the participant’s bib. The tag can be oriented horizontally or vertically depending on your antenna’s polarization.

  • Pros: The strength of this tagging method is that you adhere the tags onto the bibs beforehand, reducing the risk of user error.
  • Cons: Read range may be limited due to close proximity to the human body. To mitigate this issue, create separation between the tag and the racer with a foam spacer.

BIB TAGGING ANTENNA SETUP:

  • Panel antennas can be arranged on both sides of the track at a median height of the bib and angled inward towards the checkpoint. Using this setup, you could potentially use either circularly or linearly polarized antennas. Circularly polarized panel antennas are recommended because of the participants’ height differences and compensate in the event that a participant’s bib becomes uneven. Linearly polarized panel antennas work best when the beam is aligned with a known tag orientation.
  • Alternatively, you can setup using multiple circularly polarized antennas across the top and sides of a truss. In such a setup, you can place two antennas at the top angled downward and two on the sides (at average bib height) angled inward.
  • Mat antennas underneath the racer will also work well with the bib tagging method. Placing the tag vertically on the bib typically gets the best read rates when using mat antennas if the mat antennas are linearly polarized. In any setup, you should thoroughly test exact antenna placement and read angles to ensure you achieve ideal read rates.

DOUBLE BIB TAGGING

Double Bib tagging is when the race timer affixes two tags to the runner’s bib in two different orientations or two in the same orientation.

  • Pros: There are two tags, increasing the chance of getting a read.
  • Cons: Two main issues exist with this type of tagging. This method is double the cost because you’re using two tags per racer. The read range also may be diminished because of how close the tags are to the human body. To mitigate this issue, create separation between the tag and the racer with a foam spacer.

DOUBLE BIB TAGGING ANTENNA SETUP:

  • Panel antennas can be arranged on both sides of the track at a median height of the bib and angled inward towards the checkpoint. Using this setup, you could potentially use either circularly or linearly polarized antennas. Circularly polarized panel antennas are recommended because of the participants’ height differences and compensate in the event that a participant’s bib becomes uneven. Linearly polarized panel antennas work best when the beam is aligned with a known tag orientation.
  • Alternatively, you can setup using multiple circularly polarized antennas across the top and sides of a truss. In such a setup, you can place two antennas at the top angled downward and two on the sides (at average bib height) angled inward.
  • Mat antennas underneath the racer will also work well with the bib tagging method. Placing the tags vertically on the bib typically gets the best read rates when using mat antennas if the mat antennas are linearly polarized. In any setup, you should thoroughly test exact antenna placement and read angles to ensure you achieve ideal read rates.

SHOE TAGGING

Shoe tagging is placing a tag on the runner’s shoe and is typically used in races with a smaller number of participants. Pinned to the side of the shoe or laminated with a hole, it is tied with the shoe’s laces.

  • Pros: This tagging method acts as an alternative method if bibs are not preferred. Tagging on a relatively small part of the human body may increase the chance of reading the RFID tag (due to less interference).
  • Cons: One downside of this tagging method is that the orientation is completely unknown because the tag will bounce with the runner. This limits the race timer to primarily using circularly polarized panel antennas. Also, due to the nature of the tag and antenna setup, this tagging method is not recommended for races with a large number of participants.

SHOE TAGGING ANTENNA SETUP:

Shoe tagging works best when used with circularly polarized panel antennas. Place at least two circularly polarized panel antennas on each side of every read point (more if the race has a larger number of participants).

Be sure to have the antennas around a foot off the group and facing inward at a 90 degree angle to the racer as he or she passes by the read point.

HIP TAGGING

Hip tagging, used mainly for smaller races, places a tag on each of the runner’s hips. This way antennas on both sides of the read zone will pick-up the tags. Of note, this is the least frequently used tagging method.

  • Pros: Two tags are utilized increasing the chances of obtaining a read as the racer passes by the read point.
  • Cons: Double the tags, double the cost with this method. Another downside is that the tag is at one of the thickest parts of the human body, thus reducing the read range.

HIP TAGGING ANTENNA SETUP:

Because the tag is secured to the hip, panel antennas should be used with this tagging method. Circularly or Linearly polarized panel antennas aimed at the average hip height usually produce better reads for this tagging style. The antennas should be facing inward at a 90 degree angle to the racer as he or she passes by the read point.

SUMMARY

There is no right or wrong way to tag participants for race timing events. Testing is the only way to be sure which specific method will work best with your setup. If you have any questions regarding how to tag your race timing participants feel free to call or email us!


Want to learn more about race timing?

You just completed the fourth guide in our Mastering Race Timing series. Read the next whitepaper in our series, A Guide to Race Day.

   

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