Saturday, May 30, 2009

The D-Tag: Solves a Problem that Doesn't Exist, Causes More

This is what ChronoTrack says about the D-Tag, after which I will offer my own thoughts. Don't expect them to be particularly balanced. I'm going to say right up front that I don't like the D-tag.

'One of the many goals of the ChronoTrack system is to simplify the timing process for athletes. A disposable tag eliminates the need for several organizational choke points that allow the athletes to spend more time focusing on their competition and less time waiting in lines. Shorter lines before the race to pick up your bib and chip and no line to return your tag or chip afterward are just some of the benefits to the ChronoTrack system.

The D-tag is easy to attach your shoe and is far lighter and less intrusive than other timing tags and chips. Once the D-tag is attached to your shoe, you will quickly forget that it is even there! Instructions for attaching the D-Tag to your shoe are available here.'

I ran a race on Memorial Day that used the D-Tag and the first thing I'll say is this- I'm glad Ken Platt was timing the race. Ken was able to deal with the people, starting with the 5th place finisher, whose time wasn't recorded because the D-tag didn't survive the 10K.

That's the less intrusive than other tags and chips D-Tag. This right here demonstrates the biggest problem with the D-Tag. Let's face it, the bulk of timed racing is road races- running. And the D-Tag was designed by people who think every chip will be attached to a sneaker.

Well not exactly: 'What if I don’t have laces?
The D-tag can also be used by attaching it to your ankle with a Velcro strap. The tag should still be formed to make a “D” shape and then attached with the Velcro.'

Picture the above tag attached to the side of your ankle with velcro.

As I'll get into later, the tag is very fragile. And it need to be attached to your shoe very carefully using the 8 step process in the linked PDF above. Yes, I'm serious, 8 steps. Check the PDF. There are no filler steps. You have to separate perferations, crease this fold back that, adhere the other thing- and if the tag gets out of it's 'D' shape it probably won't work. So that means you can't use the tag for open-water swims, aqualons, duathlons, or triathlons- unless you're planning on wearing your sneakers on the swim and we're all moving back to toe clips- oh wait, you can't bend the d-tag...

I certainly wouldn't recommend running a trail race with this loop on your shoe either.

Then there's the disposable issue. I heard mention of the tags being recyclable, but good luck separating the metal electronics from the plastic. Chronotrack themselves calls it disposable. So we're replacing a system that has permanent, re-usable chips with disposable chips. That means thrown-away. More plastic and metal for our landfills or to be burned for electricity.

Let's talk about organization choke points.

Theoretically, you could purchase numbers with d-tags attached to them. However, the race I ran Monday had the traditional station where you got your number, and then a second station where you got your D-Tag. Organizational choke point one- not eliminated.

The second choke point is huge, and I understand why the D-Tag is a draw for race directors at big races, because that second choke point is the finish line. I'm on the board of directors of the New Haven Road Race and every year I hear the same complaints about handing out and collecting the chips, how a certain percentage of chips don't get returned, and these are valid complaints. For road race directors who have thousands of athletes, think big city marathons and races like New Haven, the idea that the d-tag goes in the trash and is never heard from again is tremendous.

I'm not a race director, however. I'm an athlete, and one thing I'll say is this, I never sit in those board meetings and hear a lot of complaining about how many chips malfunctioned. More on that in a moment.

But the point is, there was still a white bucket at the finish line and several volunteers ready to cut the tags off with scissors. That's right, we have volunteers in the finish chute with scissors cutting the tags off and putting them in the white bucket. In fact, ChronoTrack says that the D-Tag has a 'special adhesive to ensure its durability'. Read, has to be cut off. Choke point- not eliminated.

Back to the functionality. I don't know much about much and I'm sure some 4th grader out there can refute each and every point in this post, but I have run a lot of races. I've run chip-times races in two countries and dozens of states, and with the exception of one Connecticut timing company who I won't mention that has never gotten a race I was at right- so you know it's not Ken Platt, who always gets it right- the chips just work. I had never once had my chip (the one I own) or any other chip malfunction.

At the race I was at, the 5th place runner's D-tag didn't register. Margit's didn't. And so many others didn't that Ken had to post a notice on the results seen here. 'Can I flatten and tuck the whole D-tag in my laces to make sure it stays? No. This can cause damage to the D-tag and also lowers the performance of the D-tag. For optimal performance, the D-tag must be attached to the shoe in the proper manner. For instructions on properly using the D-tag please click here.'

Yes, the 'less-intrusive' D-tag... so many runners want to tuck this 'less intrusive' tag under their laces because it's way more intrusive than a real chip on a strap around your ankle..

In a corral with 2000 other runners and one of them steps on your foot ? The D-Tag will probably break. Tuck it under your laces- it will break or not register. Loop shifts so that it's inverted ? May or may not read. Given the number of tags that failed, it's unquestionable that the tag is much more fragile that it ought to be.

The bottom line on the D-tag is this: it is marginally easier for race directors because they don't have to give out and intake chips. It's better for the timer because they don't have to sort the chips.

But it's worse for the timing companies because now they have to maintain multiple timing systems (or time only road races). It's definitely more prone to failure. It replaces a green technology (in short, a reusable chip) with a disposable one. And it's a less comfortable timing device.

I don't blame the timing companies for adopting this technology. Race directors want easier options. Chips are hard to manage at large races, and race timers need to provide directors what they want. But I do blame Chronotrack for promoting a fragile timing device and making a lot of claims that, as an athlete, I don't see are true, especially the ones that claim the D-tag is somehow better than the chip...


Frip Chissom said...

Did the Flying Pirate Half Marathon in OBX on April 18, 2010, with a D-Tag. My time was not recorded. My tentative conclusion: D-Tag's might suck.

Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you