Clipping Chips at a 10K!


Okay, as it turned out, I didn’t end up clipping chips off shoes at the Urban City U-Turn Design League International Downtown Nashville 10k (something like that) last weekend after all. At the very last minute, it was panickly discovered that there were no monitors in place along the course…a course that has roughly three million turns. Thusly, I was thrown a map and a big dorky sign with an arrow on it and sent to the wind tunnel known as “Church Street and Fifth” to point runners in the right direction. This spot was about a quarter mile from the finish, so while it was not quite as prime as the finish line for observing agony and accidental candicing*, it was sufficient.

But more on this volunteer experience in the future. I had originally planned to complain about timing chips in this blog and, darn it all, I’m sticking to my plan if even if my plan was changed.

Let’s face it. Everyone prefers chip timing to the Dark Ages of start/finish lines where, unless you were one of the fastest in the race, your “finishing time” could not have had bigger quote marks around it. (i.e. Going to the gynecologist is fun.Back in 1979, 25:30 was my finishing time for the Groove Out 5k.) I seem to recall a lot more elbowing and outright pushing at the start. Children were hurled into midair. Elderly people were intentionally tripped.

And finish lines were interesting too. Generally, a few extremely leaden-faced men with crewcuts stood around with clipboards and little clicky things in their hands. Occasionally they yelled at people. They were doing something very serious and important that no one was allowed to understand, but it had something to do with one’s “finishing time.” Just past them, frighteningly happy women stood with hangers that had been unravled into one long wire. As you crossed the finish line, you were immediately shuttled into an endless line where you were instructed to rip off that little part of your race bib with your name on it and hand it to one of the Hanger Women. This was how your “finishing place” was figured out. If you felt that you must sit down, puke, or keel over right as you finished—too bad! Luxuriating in any post-race theatrics meant forfeiting your place.

So, to be fair, chip timing is a dream come true in many ways. These days when the gun goes off at a race, you can be sitting in a port-a-potty trying to remember the lyrics to a Rick Astley song a quarter mile from the starting line, and it won’t make a whit of difference in your race time. Your race doesn’t begin until your chip crosses the magical mat. And when you finish, you can totally overdo the drama for as long as you want just past the finish mat. Feel like collapsing in a heap for dramatic effect even though you feel just fine? Help yourself! Thanks to the chip, there are no obligatory lines, no scary Hanger Women.

But still…

Think about it. The timing chip is a strange and awkward little disc with lots of openings and a tube down the center that may or may not be headed in the right direction once you’ve attached it to the top of your shoe. The attachment procedure, in itself, is a confounding event that involves threading two miniscule plastic ties through certain openings and then under shoelaces and then back through a microscopic tunnel embedded in the ties. Under the best circumstances, this would be trying even for a Preying Mantis. But for sweaty human hands right before a race, it is often pandemonium. And well aware that the chip is the only key to a finishing time and that A Lost Chip Will Result In A $35 Fee, many people weave and entwine their chips so much that the top of their shoes ultimately resemble macrame baskets.

The current “chip retreival” method invloves placing a line of volunteers just past the finish line. We sit on folding chairs with wire cutters in hand, a step stool in front of us, and plastic collection buckets to our side. As racers finish, they come reeling toward us in Frankensteinian fashion, plop a foot on the stool, and wait as we surgically remove the chip. As anyone who races knows, it is no easy task to balance yourself on one foot after hurtling yourself through anywhere from 3.1 to 26.2 miles. As a result, I’ve had runners fall on me, completely knock my chair over, and sit in my lap (not because they wanted to, I assure you). On the flip side, in my attempt to extricate wrapped, wound, threaded, and embroidered chips from shoes, I’ve inadvertently clipped shoelaces, gouged holes in shoes, and stabbed innocent runners.

And, so, this all leads to my question…..

Am I the only one who thinks this whole procedure is somewhat Flintstones-esque? I can’t understand how 300 songs can be stored in something the size of a Chiclet, and yet we still have to attach these weirdo plastic wheels on our shoes in an awkward way in order to get just a little bit of information. Don’t cars go through toll areas at 60 MPH with just a small barcode on their windows? It seems like it would be possible to develop throw-away adhesive strips to go on shoes or bib numbers that could be read electronically as runners passed checkpoints and start/finish lines.  Do I have any idea what I’m talking about or what this would entail? Of course not!

In the meantime, though, I will concede that I appreciate chip timing in spite of the oddity of the chip. In 1992, I ran my first marathon in New York City. While I will never forget that experience, I almost instantaneously forgot what the time on my watch was when I crossed the finish line. My “finishing time” was 3:38, but the wait to get across the start line at New York was roughly long enough to have had a picnic, a dental check-up, and a nap. Who knows what my real time was? So now I forever have to make pretentious and obnoxious quote marks in the air when asked what my “finishing time” was at my first marathon.

For this reason, then, I love chips. But for the macrame embedded extrication process at the finish line? Not so much.


*New to the term “candicing”? Feel like wasting the next twenty minutes of your life? Then progress to   for a riveting description of what it means to candice during a race. Share this word with friends and use liberally! Help us get it into the lexicon of the Urban Dictionary!


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