Tiny chips track runners’ time at finish line | nnbw.com

Tiny chips track runners’ time at finish line

John Seelmeyer

Participants in Reno’s CincoK run and walk on May 8 may be wowed by technology that produces results almost instantly.

Suzy Truax, whose Finish Line Productions Inc.

operates the technology, will be wowed if the number of registered participants exceeds projections.

The Reno-based company owned by Truax is paid a couple of bucks for each participant it times.

Given the company’s heavy upfront investment in computer gear, much of the additional revenue from increased participation drops straight to the bottom line.

The runners and walkers in CincoK and other events timed by Finish Line Productions don’t see a lot of evidence of the technology.

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Before the run begins, they lace a device containing a computer chip and transponder into their shoes.

As they finish, they cross a sensor mat that electronically feeds information about them and their time into a waiting computer.

By the time 20 runners or walkers have crossed the finish line, the company’s computer begins spitting out results.

Along with their times, participants learn the pace they ran.

They see how they compare with others in their age group.

The results are updated every few minutes.

It isn’t quite as simple as it looks, Truax said last week.

In the days before an event timed by Finish Line Productions, Truax inputs names and other data from entrants’ registration sheets into a computer program.

She loads that data onto a computer chip, then matches the chip to a bib that the runner will wear.

The morning of a race, participants double-check the data on the chip they’re assigned, and Truax busily works in a motor home that serves as her office on race day to make the necessary changes while runners are circling the course.

After the race, Truax needs to make sure all the chips are returned billing participants $30 if they’re not.

“There’s a lot of intense clerical stuff,” Truax said, noting that most of the events she times involve about 200 participants.

The biggest she’s handled? Eighteen hundred runners.

Truax, who has owned The Executive Center, an office suites company in Reno, for 24 years, isn’t a runner herself.

But she was encouraged by her triathlete son, Kevin Truax, to get involved with production of the Pyramid Lake Triathlon nearly 15 years ago.

From there, she began producing triathlons, runs, competitive swims and similar events around the region before she got burned out after a decade in the business.

“It was just too much work producing races,” she said.

“And timing always was the biggest problem.”

In 2000, Truax decided to specialize only in timing and signed a deal with ChampionChip World, a Dutch company that had developed the computer chip system.

Today, her firm is one of two in the state to provide the ChampionChip computerized finish line, and she’s handled races as far afield as Iowa.

An event in Denver is on the schedule this autumn.

The biggest competition for The Finish Line’s service, she said, is the old way of doing things cadres of timers armed with stopwatches and clipboards.

The electronic timing system is more expensive for race producers, but produces fine-tuned results much more quickly, Truax said.

“We can,” she said, “just do it boom, boom, boom.”