RFID Makes Running Marathons More Fun

When I ran my first marathon in 1983, I remember carefully filling out all the information on my race number so that when I crossed the finish line the race organizers could actually figure out my time and place.  I can’t remember, but I don’t think any computers were involved; I believe it was entirely a manual process.  Maybe there was an Apple II and a copy of Visicalc or dBase II somewhere behind the scenes, but I doubt it.

2009 Seattle Rock&Roll Marathon

This is a photo of 25,000 people running the inaugural Seattle Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon last weekend.  Each of them is wearing a tiny ChronoTrack D-tag which contains an RFID chip made by Impinj

Now, if you’ve ever run a marathon (or any organized road race), you know that the timing systems have made huge progress in the past decade.  Runners in big races now talk about “chip time” which is the actual time you ran the race; the time it takes from the point you crossed the starting line to the point you crossed the finish line.  No more adjusting your “time” for the 2 minutes and 33 seconds it takes to get across the starting line (or – if you are a back of the pack starter like me, the 10+ minutes it occasionally takes.)

However, if you are like me, you hate the fucking two ounces of plastic you have to tie to your shoe, or wrap around your ankle, or weave into your shoelaces.  It’s uncomfortable, unbalanced (two ounces on your right ankle over 26.2 miles is actually noticeable), and super frustrating when it doesn’t work. Then, when you get to the finish line, you have to get it off your shoe (usually with help from a race helper person) and give it back!  Blech.

The RFID chip approach completely changes the whole dynamic.  It’s light weight (imperceptible), trivial to attach to your shoe, and you can keep it because it’s extremely inexpensive.  Plus, I find it awesomely cool to wear an RFID tag while I’m running (and use another product from a company in which I’m an investor in a way I hadn’t expected.)  Fun!