Is it a Race or is it a Time Trial?
It is both.
For a Race. USATF rules state that ALL competitors' official time is Gun Time. That is the start of the race via a pistol shot, siren, whistle, bell, dog bark, etc… and the end of the race when crossing the finish line. This does not consider the distance and time back that you are situated within the start pack. If it takes you 2 minutes to get to the Start Line, that 2 minutes is part of your overall (Gun Time) time.
For this to be a race we need to agree that the person at the front of the pack needs the ability to protect his/her position from challenges from behind. Additionally, those behind him/her need the ability to gauge where they are in the race and decide when to mount a challenge and “kick it” into gear to pass the front runner. This gives integrity and fairness to the competition.
Our vision of first place in the race is that of the first competitor crossing the Finish Line and busting the tape (so to speak). Applause is given for that accomplishment!
With this knowledge it is critical that if you are fast, and think you could win the race, you need to be up front on the starting line. Period. Any time behind the line is added to your overall gun time.
For a Time Trial. USATF rules state that Net Time or Chip Time, as we know it, is only available to the competitors for reference. Chip Time is the calculation of the time (using a transponder) of crossing the Start Line to the time of crossing the Finish Line. All competitors using this method of race placement are doing a Time Trial race. For example, The Tour de France has Time Trials on certain days. Each competitor launches from a start gate that records their start time, and eventually their finish time is recorded at the Finish Line. All these times for each competitor are listed fastest to slowest for the rankings for that race. Time Trial. With this type of race it is impossible to know where you are, in order of time, within a pack of runners that are stretched out across a large distance of the race course.
Road Races do Both. To uphold the integrity of the race, The Overall Finishers are scored by their Gun Time. For age group awards the issue is the time (and added distance) it takes a starter to cross the Start Line. So, with Age Group Placement it is acceptable to score them by Net Time or Chip Time. These two timing/scoring methods are blended and considered standard and normal practice for virtually all races everywhere.
Rare but does happen. On rare occasions it is possible that a chip time records as a faster time than an overall winner’s gun time. However, you will not see that person’s gun time faster than the overall winner's gun time. It can happen that a runner, that starts back in the pack, can run a faster pace than an overall winner. However, this runner started back in the pack adding time to their gun time. Therefore, it is critical that, if you are fast, and think you could win the race, you need to be up front on the Starting Line. Remember, USATF rules state that ALL competitors' official time is Gun Time. Chip Time is only available to the competitors for reference. To keep the integrity of the race, to have the first person in each gender crossing the Finish Line, to be the Overall Winner(s), we have the standard of using Gun Time for Overall placement in the race. That first Male and first Female crossing the Finish Line GETS ALL THE APPLAUSE.
There are times when a race can have scoring and placement by Chip time only. The entire race placements are by Chip Time. This would be for a race that has interval starts. Mud races, Obstacle Course races, and recently for races requiring social distancing. Runners start across the Start mat in familial groups every 10 seconds for example. Marathons that let 25 runners go every 10 minutes to keep them spread out along the course. These races do not know the Final results until all participants have finished. Preliminary results can be seen but can change as new runners come in.
The Argument. “My Chip time was faster than the Overall Winners time, I should be the overall winner!” Consider this – A race is a race is a race. The number one rule of a race is that competitors are ranked/listed by the order they cross the Finish Line. All Overall reports are printed in Order of Finish, first to cross the Finish Line to last to cross the Finish Line. This is Gun Time order. It’s a race. There is no “race” where the Overall Winner is the fourth person to cross the Finish Line. That can only happen in a Time Trial race. If you say, “Let’s make our 5K a Time Trial Race”, the spirit of competition is gone. The Overall Winners have no ability to defend their position. Those behind have no ability to challenge the front runner. All the excitement of “the race” is gone. The excitement at the Start Line, when the gun goes off, is gone. You would see fast competitors starting in the back of the pack as they know they do not need to cross the Finish Line first. They might wait to start their time, crossing the Start mat, for 10 minutes after the Gun goes off. The Finish Line loses its excitement. The Final Results are unknown until the last competitor crosses the Finish Line, theoretically that could be the Overall Winner. In my view this is not an enduring format for your 5K “Race”. You would have to rename those races to - 5K Time Trial. I believe these events would lose participation and eventually fail. Time Trial Races should only be for those with interval starts as explained above.
The principals and rules governing a “Race” must be followed and accepted by all. Again, it is critical that, if you are fast and think you could win the race, you need to be up front on the Starting Line. If you do not. you are risking your Finish position in the Race.
Runner’s Edge Race Timing and ALL the other timers in our area and across the country use the Overall Winners by Gun Time and Age Group placement by Chip Time method for scoring races. This keeps the Spirit and Integrity of a Mass Start Road Race alive.
Keep Racing and Have Fun!
Runner’s Edge Race Timing