Gun Time or Net Time?

Turkey Trot 5K 2011 – Photo by

After timing large races, we often get a few questions from runners asking why results are not posted by chip time and instead by gun time. Isn’t that the whole point of chip timing? First, let’s clarify a few things. Gun time is the time elapsed between when the race starts (gun goes off) and when the participant crosses the finish line. Chip time or net time is the time the person crosses the start line mats and crosses the finish line mat; chip time will always be less than gun time.

When races are sanctioned by the USATF and for prize money awards, gun time is always used for results and rankings. If the race is a not a USATF event, then it is up to the race director to decide if gun time or chip time should be used for results and awards.

At Colorado Race Timing we default to gun time scoring unless the race director requests that chip time is used instead. The logic is that a race is a race to the finish line and not a time trial, which it becomes when one uses net time.

At the Turkey Trot 5k in Colorado Springs (2011), Carl Arnold tossed in a kick at the finish to pass Kenny Foster to become the second person to cross the line, Kenny ended up taking third. However, Kenny actually had a faster net time than Carl and we are talking by thousandths of a second. Thus if we had the results done by chip time, Carl would have thrown in that surge to pass Kenny all for naught and even though he was the second person to cross the finish line the results would have had him in third.

It also applies to individuals competing for age group awards, check out this video. This video comes from the Fans on the Field 10K which had over 3,000 participants. In the video, you can see Jay Survil throwing a kick to pass Greg Diamond and winning the 50-55 age groups. Now had we calculated results on chip time, Greg would have won the division.

As a runner, I can vouch that if I got outkicked to the finish line that I would not want to win the age group award based on chip time – the effort should be rewarded accordingly and you’re racing the person and not the clock. In fact, Jay told me that at another race he ran this summer they did results by chip time and the same thing happened, but this time he wasn’t awarded the age group victory even though he crossed the finish line before his age group competitor.  Jay told me that he brought the issue up with the timers and they were not aware of the USATF rule.

Most small races that we time this issue doesn’t even come up as the results and standings are the same, be they chip or gun time. It’s only in larger races where this becomes an issue and questions arise as it can often take minutes for those at the back of the pack to reach the start line.

This was first the lesson in Race Timing 101; look for a future blog post where we talk the ins and outs of timing, race directing, course management and logistics 101.

7 Responses

  1. Although I understand your definitions and I appreciate your clarification on the definitions in this blog post, the point of using the gun time with modern chip technology is ridiculous. Its the equivalent of using chop sticks when there are perfectly good forks available. In grey areas like this, I often revert to asking myself if I had to explain this to my 9 year old,, how solid is this argument? If I told him that he ran a 12 minute per mile (chip time) 5k and his friend ran the same 5k at 12:05mpm (chip time) but the other kid won,,,, that would sound ridiculous to my 9 year old.

  2. I guess if I had to explain something to a nine year old, saying that the winner is the first person to cross the finish line is a lot easier.

    At the really large races; Chicago Marathon, BolderBoulder, et al. they do the overall, say the top three by gun time and age group results by chip time.

    A few years ago I was racing the Runnin’ of the Green 7K and worked really hard to catch the guy in front of me, once I caught him he picked it up and I was sprinting all out to beat him to the finish line. They did results by chip time and he beat me, afterwards I simply thought WTF. Sure he had a faster time by a thousandth of a second but there is something to be said for the guy who out kicks his opponent to the finish.

  3. I understand the logic, I just support the other view, which I know a /lot/ of people do. Primarily because even the local Turkey Trots now get enough people that you can’t start within say a minute of each other.

    If the races are small enough where you and I are on the line together and we can truly race against each other for the entire distance, I agree with gun timing. If I have to start five minutes after you,,, thats not really a fair race.

  4. Great article and good points. I agree with having the USATF events go off of gun time and that should be rather obvious.
    “A race is a race to the finish line and not a time trial.”

    With that, I think having the chip timing is also a good tool, especially for large races like this past Thanksgiving Day turkey trot in Colorado Springs. That way somebody who ends up crossing the finish line a minute after the gun goes off can see what his actually pace per mile was if he had a specific goal in mind.

    That was a nasty kick by Carl by the way. Completely surprised me.

    Great race to all!

  5. Well as a runner, I wouldn’t wan tto win an age group award because I was able to outkick someone at the end who started 30 seconds after me because they got trapped by a bunch of walkers. I would always defer to who ran the course fastest.

    The race is the whole distance, not the last 100 yards.

  6. Just to be clear, the two opposing points are 1. “A race is a race to the finish” versus 2. Use of a tool to mathematically calculate how long it takes a person to run a race?

    The other detail worth noting here is that USATF olympic events that start by gun all have the people competing directly with each other,, on the same line/start time.

    In the case of the NYC Marathon, Meb for example wouldnt start five minutes after Mutai.

  7. While I can appreciate arguments from both sides, racers “should” position themselves according to ability so that the faster runners are at the front. I realize it is impossible to really determine exactly where you should start but in the case of gun timing, it may force runners who really shouldn’t be at the front to push their way up there. Runners should not have to worry about dodging other runners because they got behind runners who shouldn’t be there. Happens all the time.

    If chip timing is used then net time should also be used, unless in the case where prize money is on the line. Runner times should be recorded for the distance of the race, not the extra distance they have to run because they need to start further back.

    In the case of kicking it in at the end – great. But remember if you start further back then maybe you should start your kick even sooner.

    Just my 2 cents 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.