Evolution of ...

Evolution of technology in marathoning

Like a chip off the old block, advancements saved time

April 16, 2010

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Timing chips revolutionized road racing in much the same way e-mail changed communication. Exaggeration? Not if you remember the days when official finish times were less than accurate for the masses.

As race fields grew, organizers struggled to track runners who reached the starting line well after the elite entrants and crossed the finish line in large packs. Before timing chips kept tabs on participants as they passed through checkpoints, officials would tear off a portion of a runner’s bib number and log it with a group time. Progress through finish corrals could be painfully slow.

The Boston Marathon was the first US road race to use timing chips, starting with the centennial race in 1996. Although nervous about how well the new technology would work, race organizers saw no other way to handle the record field of 38,708, to make sure everything went smoothly in the start and finish areas.

This year, the Boston Marathon will use disposable timing chips, eliminating the hassle of postrace chip collection. Next year, Boston runners may find time-tracking technology integrated into their race bibs.

“There’s a strip on the bib that can register just like a chip on the shoe,’’ said John Burgholzer, Boston Marathon technology coordinator. “It makes things a lot simpler. From a timing point of view, that’s really the Holy Grail.’’

When training, the latest high-tech gadgets can make runs easier, more productive, and more entertaining.

While heart-rate monitors and iPods have become de rigueur, many distance runners are eager to try devices that incorporate GPS and other capabilities. A watch-like Nike monitor tracks time, distance, pace, and calories burned. And Adidas recently introduced an MP3-compatible system with a pacer, stride sensor, and heart-rate monitor. Now, runners can chose to either tune out or plug in.


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