Written by Kevin Spradlin of the Potomac Highlands Distance Club
MORGANTOWN, W.Va., March 17 — When Ray Hunt crossed the finish line of the MoutainEAR 5K run on Saturday at the terminus of the Caperton Trail at Hazel Ruby-McQuain Park, I asked what his 5K PR — personal record — was at that distance as of that morning.
24:50-something, Ray said.
“Not anymore,” I said, having glanced at the timing machine as he crossed as a time around 24:33 came and went.
The 49-year-old grandfather from LaVale, Md., had driven some 90 minutes to the start line of the resurrected 3.1-mile run. He’d brought his wife and young granddaughter, the latter serving as an impromptu finish line volunteer before the event began.
While Ray mentioned that Saturday’s race was merely a “fun run” leading up to his goal race of the Deckers Creek Half Marathon in June, he knew that a new PR was possible on this mostly flat, out-and-back course.
In short, they were goal-oriented and invested with time, money and effort into Saturday’s event. And it made informing a representative of the WVU’s Student Academy of Audiology, which staged the event, that much more difficult. My message?
I had lost the times for each of the 219 finishers. And there was no way the data could be recovered.
I’ve been timing and directing races since 1997. This has never happened before.
What caused the technical glitch was inaction, on my part, about 40 minutes before the race. I had failed to clear the memory of the Seiko S149 stopwatch system. The machine can hold 300 times in its memory. But I failed to clear the memory before the start of the MountainEAR 5K. So every time I clicked the button at the finish line, it was all for nothing.
Mistake No. 2 was my assumption that everything with the timing machine was working well — and, technically, it was, save for my pre-race error. That assumption led me to turn off the video camera, which generally serves as a back-up for each race timed by my running club.
My timing rates are among the lowest around. The reason that is possible is not because I’ve found some secret to doing things different.
It’s not something I’m in business to make al iving on. As for methods, I simply use a more old-fashioned way of timing that, when executed properly, allows age division awards to be calculated at the finish line in a timely manner. The idea, then, is to follow that up with the web publishing of complete results.
Other companies use a more automated system. Sometimes that includes chip timing, where an electronic chip is placed on the shoe or inside the bib number and a runner’s progression is recorded at two or more points along the course. The data is sent to a computer. All the timer does is hit a few buttons to make it work. And when it works — and it usually does — everything runs pretty smoothly.
Same with my system. To add on to that, though — when it doesn’t work, the impact is severe.
And when everything works as it should, and when all the buttons are pushed as they need to be, things are good.
Things aren’t good now.
I have apologized more than once already. I know it doesn’t too much good, really, and certainly doesn’t bring back the times. I feel awful for the WVU student group, which worked so hard to bring about a successful event.
The students had spearheaded the coordination of the return of the MountainEAR 5K, last conducted in 2009 with far less … stellar participation by either corporate sponsors or runners and walkers. The event was abandoned for the past two years.
2012 was different. Crystal Vimpeny and the students at the WVU Student Academy of Audiology had done a fantastic job in the months and weeks leading up to race day to ensure the sponsors were signed, runners and walkers were entered (170 pre-registered), volunteers were recruited, signs made, packets stuffed, T-shirts designed and ordered, and food and water purchased, picked up and distributed.
Shoot, I even think the students placed an order for the unbelievable unseasonable weather — nearly 80 degrees and sunny — that Morgantown residents and visitors experienced on this mid-March St. Patrick’s Day.
The only thing that didn’t work out so well is the hired timer. While this news of a lack of results comes as a disappointment to many, I’m hopeful that this one negative doesn’t take away from the great job the SAA students did to make the event a success. This one situation was far beyond their control.
But I hope this doesn’t take away from the feeling of accomplishment for those who participated in the event. You still crossed the finish line. Some of you raised your arms in triumph — and those emotions can’t be taken away, time or no time. There are pictures to prove it.
And for all those who set a PR — okay, so it’s an unofficial one. But like Ray, you get a chance to race again next weekend. And now you know just what you’re capable of.