April 30, 2012

When a PR is Not a PR

I guess it should be subtitled "The Squeaky Wheel Gets a PR."

At the First Flight 5k and Flying Pirate Half Marathon last weekend, both had a computer set-up at the end with volunteers printing slips of paper with your finishing time and place. It was the same printer that you’d see creating receipts for credit card transactions, so you got a nice little slip to instantly know how you did (and that slip instantly got wet from sweat or rain and fell to pieces).

On the 5k, my slip read 19:11, crushing my 2011 PR in that distance, but it later came up online in the official results as 19:12. Okay, no big deal, a rounding error or something quirky between the system on the laptop and the internet upload. Not going to lose sleep over that.

But for the half marathon, my slip of paper at the finish line read 1:34:50, which was better than my previous PR of 1:35:07 at the National Half Marathon in DC. However, when the official results showed up online, they read 1:35:23, a difference of 33 seconds. What could cause this? The laptop at the finish line was clearly reading data that my chip transmitted to their recording device, and 33 seconds is a lot of time to misplace between a couple data transfers. I started to get very curious what information the finish line volunteers were using and why it was so far off – I thought maybe it was gun time, but that didn’t make sense either because my corral started almost two minutes after the elites.

So I e-mailed the official timing company to inquire. They were nice enough to dig into it a little bit, and even looked at the video recording of the finish line area to see if there was a discrepancy. To their credit, they took the effort to research and e-mail me back the fantastic race face screenshot included (see image at bottom). Good news in the end, it was a confirmed PR, with them recording a 1:34:47. Okay, wait a second…1:34:47? So I’m pumped as can be about running a PR in the worst weather conditions, but now I’m really not feeling much confidence in timing companies. Somehow my “chip time,” which should be rock solid considering it’s controlled by software and technology designed for this purpose, has now changed from 1:34:50 to 1:35:23 to 1:34:47…?

Ultimately this one ended favorably for me; I ran the PR that I was hoping for. But really makes me wonder how many other “official” race times have been incorrect.

Video replay screenshot FTW!!