What Does Chip Timing Mean In A Race?

Natalie Cecconi
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What is Chip Timing?

In most cases the term "chip timing" is used to describe a specific type of event timing. Chip timing systems are used in nearly all races in the United States and are what the USATF and IAAF use for all certified competition.

The reason they are referred to as "chip timing" occurs because a computer chip is placed in the back of your racing bib. At the start of the race, the chip is electronically activated, and this signals the timing "punch" to start registering your time, which is generally recorded to the 100th of a second.

How Does Chip Timing Work?

The basic version of chip timing (also called automatic timekeeping) is that an electronic device is used to time runners during a race. The device electronically reads the number from a bib (the bib contains a coded sequence of a few letters and numbers) and then electronically displays the race time.

That is, the bib (a small medallion with a large number printed on it that fastens on the front of the shirt) acts like a credit card and the timing device at the finish looks for the bib number and electronically displays the race time.

The specific electronic components that are used to measure the race times of participants vary depending on the race. Some devices depend on the individual to press a button at the start of the race. Others automatically record when a runner crosses a timing mat at the start. And yet others use a pressure sensitive pad that is placed in different spots on the race course and records when the runner passes it.

The goal of chip timing is to provide an objective measure of race times.

Transponder Chip

Do you know that there is an invisible billboard attached to your bib number, identifying the exact moment when you cross the finish line?

This is the so called transponder chip timing.

Transponder chip timing started some 30 years ago with the Kentucky Derby but, in the recent years, has become a regular complement for USATF-certified meets.

In a nutshell, the transponder chip timing system uses a small, battery operated radio frequency tag that you wear on your race number to identify the exact moment when you finish the race.

Today, most associations, and even some races, follow this technology and use it to track and record your times.

The main goal of this technology is to make sure runners cross the finish line safely, so it uses wireless technology and no wires to the finish line. The tags are usually attached near to the athlete’s shoe, and the frequency is read by a transceiver unit, which is located near the finish line.

In most cases, the athlete carries the transponder in a pocket or on the shoe. The shoe pylon, or mat, identifies that the runner is wearing a chip, and the system confirms that both the tag and the pylon are in the correct location before adding the runner’s finish time to the total.


The reason why a chip time is used in a race is to record the finish time for each runner. It is used instead of a stopwatch so that all runners in the race are treated, and judged, fairly based on the individual results and not on the running speed of the fastest runners.

In a traditional race, all runners start at the same time, then a person or device with a stopwatch is used to determine the finishing times. This means that the fastest runners start with a short head start and can use this to their advantage.

Using a chip time eliminates this advantage because each runner’s initial position is recorded in the system at the start of the race. The system then detects when each runner crosses the finish line, and then records that runner’s finishing times accordingly.

In most cases, a chip time is automatically provided on the official website of the race.

You can also easily convert this time to your personal best by looking at your previous results.

What’s the Difference Between Chip Time and Gun Time?

Chip times are widely used in marathons, ultramarathons, and bicycle races to document the time that an athlete finishes a race.

Time is captured by a transponder – usually attached to a bib – and passed through a series of sensors that record the athlete’s time at different points along the route.

The various time records kept by the individual sensors is the athlete’s official time.

This is different from gun time, which determines the winner of the race by measuring when the athlete crosses the starting line.

Although chip time and gun time both tell you who won the race, they have very different variables.

For example, the winner of the 2008 “Run Like the Wind” race in San Francisco, California, was taken by Leon S Smith with a time of 2:26:17.

This was his third place in a race that started in the rain and which was delayed at one point due to a bomb threat.

Chip timing, however, showed that his time was 2:27:41. His slower time was due to him slowing down to help an injured runner.

He was declared the winner because his 2:27:41 was faster than the 2:29:13 the second place runner had posted.

What Are Some Advantages of Chip Timing?

Chip timing can help both runners and race directors. For runners, chip timing times can be posted immediately, giving participants the ability to check their results shortly after crossing the finish line. And runners and family members can replay race splits, allowing more time to be spent watching the performances of their favorite runners.

Chip timing systems also provide valuable data to race directors. Using timing chips and software, organizers can progress participants through each stage of the race and clearly see how many people drop out of each section, helping to fine-tune future races. This technology is also useful during official race times in case there is an appeal.

In addition to tracking timing, chip timing records a runner’s location while he or she completes the race. This capability provides the race director with valuable insight and information to be used for running event improvements.

Although chip timing systems are more expensive than traditional timing methods, organizations considering the benefits of this technology might find it to be a worthwhile investment.

That’s because it can be a powerful tool for helping to improve and promote races.

What Are Some Disadvantages of Chip Timing?

Chip timing has been used for the last two decades in order to time and record races and competitions. It has been implemented as a safety measure to avoid human error. In some cases, it has also replaced manual timing altogether, and in certain competitions, you will not be able to start the race if you have not registered electronically. This has led to the increased popularity of chip timing for track meets, marathons, etc.

While it has been implemented to modernize the competition process, some of its main disadvantages include:

It can be costly to use chip timing for an event.

It seems to have made things more complicated rather than simplified.

It is not yet completely secure against human tampering and foul play.

The devices receiving and transmitting the signals are not always secure.

Chip timing is also said to be less accurate than manual timing.

Tips For Accurate Chip Timing

As the popularity of running races increases, chip timing has grown along with the event. Most people who run races are familiar with a chip timing system. However, some are still unclear on how chip timing works and how it’s used.

Chip timing, also known as transponder timing or simply “chip timing”, is used in races and other competitive sporting events, such as triathlons. With a chip timing system, a transponder is attached to each athlete’s shoe or clothing. As the athlete crosses the starting line or finish line, a sensor or transponder registers the runner’s unique ID and chrono times are recorded.

Chip timing equipment is used to make sure timekeeping in races is accurate. It is also used to for proof in the event of a protest.

The chip time is determined by the time the runner crosses the starting line, as opposed to gun time which is when the runners hear the shot or other start signal.

Some runners say they run better with chip time as it’s not dependent on gun time.


With all those great tips, now you can start to get more out of your weekend warrior rides and provide yourself with a better base for improving your potential and one day getting to be a champion.

The first thing you have to do, though, is decide which of those tips is the one you’re going to really make a part of your routine from now on.

As they say, “if the shoe fits, wear it.” After all, you’ve got to keep the biker’s philosophy at heart.