DAVE MCGILLIVRAY, for Runner's World
I always assumed that races were won on chip time, so when I started slowing down as the years went on, I moved more to the middle of the pack assuming that my chip time would be enough. When I later learned that gun time was actually being based for the awards, I saw that I actually lost some awards in my age group because - though I won via chip time - the awards were based on gun time. How do race directors choose gun time over chip time? I understand for big races wanting to have a "ribbon" to break, but I would think in small races that wouldn't be an issue. - Michelle
Good question, Michelle. For championship races sanctioned by USA Track & Field and for prize money awards, gun time is the required basis for results and rankings. For non-championship races, either gun time or chip time may be used; it's up to the race director.
Most, but certainly not all, races use gun times to time and score the open or overall winners while using net (chip) times to time and score everyone else in the race and for age group awards. Given the availability of chip technology today and the immense size of some race fields, this certainly makes sense.
For those lined up well behind the starting line, using net time is arguably the fairest way to time and score them. There are some traditionalists who argue that all awards should be based on gun time (head-to-head competition) and not net time. Today, however, this method seems more like the exception than the rule. Net time allows competitive runners to line up based on their expected pace rather than being forced to elbow their way closer to the starting line.
It is important for the race director to establish scoring methods well in advance and to communicate this on all of their entry materials so that potential entrants know what to expect. Unfortunately, this information is not always easily found on event websites or in the weekend event guides. Bottom line: Check with the event website and/or the race staff well in advance to obtain clarification on what method(s) will be used to score the race.