TriHardAlan - Tales of an Age Grouper
TriHardAlan - Tales of an Age Grouper

Actual Live Tracking During a Race

TriHardAlanby TriHardAlanSep 30th 2020
Last weekend I did a Triathlon with live tracking. And you may be thinking so what, a lot of races have that. Except they don’t, not really. They have timing mats you cross and give you times at those points and some races even estimate your time that you will cross timing mat 3 based on the time it took you to get from timing mat 1 to timing mat 2. And generally speaking, that works just fine. But this race promised actual live tracking of the athlete via GPS tracking which doubled as your timing chip to give results. But did it work and give any benefit to the supporters of athletes at home?

The first thing I noticed was that the event organiser, Votwo, had incorporated this new technology at no extra cost. £62 for a Standard Distance Tri is dirt cheap and in line with other events I have done with them at that venue, Eton Dorney. And I thought huge credit for them for doing this. But then I noticed the system used is called “GEO Tracking” and seems to be owned by the same person who owns Votwo. So, this seems to be an investment to save the cost of hiring a timing company. But nothing wrong with that and hey, I still think some credit is due as their events are always well organised, very cheap and they have tried something new and kept their core values.

So, this GPS live tracking needs to work on two levels……

• For the athletes during the race
• For the family member at home

For the athlete there was a few differences from a normal race. The biggest one was the GPS tracker/timing chip, one unit, had to be inserted in to a tow float for the swim. This kept it above water and meant the person at home could literally see you, well a dot with your race number, moving live in the water. But I didn’t like this. The tow float was a pain. I was constantly hitting it with my left hand at the back end of my stroke and it was hitting my head on occasions. It was a very windy day mind you. You also had to stop as you exited the water for a marshal to remove your GPS tracker from your tow float and hand it to you and you then put it on your ankle in T1. Yes, it’s the same for everybody but I would rather not have to do this. The other noticeable thing is with no timing matt’s there is no finish line (there was a finish funnel and 2 flags but no line on the floor). Or any lines for that matter. Nothing out of T1 or T2 so it was all a little unclear the transition points. This would be easy to fix of course. Just mark the lines, and especially the finish line, where they have marked the various crossover points (swim exit, bike out etc) with what they call “GEO fencing” which is done on line. Hence, no need for timing matts. The GPS tracker is larger and heavier than a regular timing chip but not in a restrictive way and once out of T1 it was as you were in any other race.

For the family member at home? Well, my partner said she could see my number moving in the swim so that did work. Did she sit there for two and half hours watching a number 223 moving round a map? No. Here is maybe a demand problem. For an Ironman, or even maybe a Half, the family member is more invested in your movement and progress. There is the safety element and just the fact those distances are a bigger event in an athlete’s season and indeed life. Are partners or family members that interested in a Sprint or Standard distance race? I suspect not. The other side of the live tracking was results. And that frankly did not work as it should. Most races you can get an instant result, provisional of course, as your cross the line. And this sort of did that giving a position and final time. But the splits were labelled unclearly (T1 was called Bike Out for example) and it only showed the first turnaround point of the run rather than the run total time. Later in the evening the live tracking page was taken offline and results appeared in an excel file google doc but with no transition times shown. For some people T1 was added to the swim and T2 to the bike time. For others T1 and T2 were added to the bike time. If you wanted to see for example how your bike time compared to others in your Age Group, it was difficult.

Obviously, there is a fair amount of criticism here. And some may judge that to be harsh for what is the first time implementing new technology. But I did think as something unique and new it was worth reporting on and I have given this feedback to Votwo as well. Would I be prepared to pay extra to have this in a race? Absolutely not. Not that Votwo charged extra, they didn’t. But as I said above, at shorter distances I just don’t think there is the interest and I didn’t like swimming with the tow float and stopping to retrieve the tracker. I also suspect this would not work with any kind of mass starts as you would have packs coming out of the swim and queues to get the timing chips out. Mind you, may be a while before that is a problem!

In summary….. the traditional system of timing matt’s works better.

In my next blog I will talk about changing to a vegetarian diet and if that has had any effect on my racing.
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