Coda: Vermont 50–Where are the (Accurate) Results?

It is three days after the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run, and I’m sure that the riders are still picking grit out of their eyes and ears. It was a muddy day on the trails of southern Vermont. The runners, unless they hit the deck, probably didn’t get coated as bad, but judging from the looks of my shoes, everyone needed to wash their gear with some powerful detergent.

I hope we didn’t do too much damage to the trails. One of the beautiful things about the VT50 is that the awesome trails are all on private land. It is the landowners who come together to help make this event possible. The landowners and the volunteers are the keys to the race. The volunteers were excellent, manning the aid stations, monitoring the course, and taking care of things at the finish line. All of my interaction with them was very good. The poor weather made for a challenging day if you were a volunteer standing in the rain, so I’m sure that all of the competitors appreciate the effort.

One thing that I find inexcusable, is the poor timing/results. This race has a $95 entry fee (for individuals) and every year, the results take days to produce. When they are finally posted, they are usually wrong and the formatting is impossible to read. How come I can go to a local 5K, pay $15, and get accurate results before everyone has crossed the finish line? Then, by the time you are home, the results are uploaded to the Internet. Many of the trail races in the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series are low budget/all volunteer affairs and it takes a day to get the results up. That is OK because it is part of the culture. Most New England mountain bike races provide accurate and prompt results. Clearly, there is a need to do some benchmarking.

The VT50 needs chip timing. It is a big budget race. Everything about the race is 1st class, including the organic cotton t-shirts, the volunteers, the aid stations, and the post race spread…but the results process is broken. Chip timing is available everywhere now. There are chip systems that are low impact on the environment (reusable), and they are accurate. It isn’t free; you often have to hire a service, but they are readily available and they are reliable. You have someone to hold accountable should things not go as planned. There are so many opportunities to cheat in the VT50 because the course doubles back on itself in several spots. Chip timing with intermediate checkpoints won’t eliminate this potential problem, but it would mitigate the risk and provide data that you could go back to, should you need to investigate. Providing split times would be an added value for the customers/competitors.

I have shared my feedback with the race director in the past. He is a friend, and I know that others have complained. The VT50 webmaster wouldn’t have to put so many apologies on the site if the results were right. I wouldn’t criticise if it wasn’t a legitimate gripe. The races that I volunteer at, including the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races, have had results issues in the past, and Debbie (the RD) and I  have taken heat for it, but we have stepped up our investment (money and time) to improve the process. I think that the VT50 owes it to the repeat participants to explain how they will improve this for 2010. When a rider or runner dedicates training time, travel time, and race time, then they deserve to get instant results, especially for a big entry fee. The entry fee is substantial because this is a popular race. It would sell out at an even higher number, but you still have to keep it fair. Ironman Triathlons sell out at $500+ with four times as many competitors. That is big budget! Let’s hope it doesn’t go there.

The VT50 is a community service event. The proceeds benefit Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports, which is a nonprofit organization doing amazing work, so it often feels wrong to complain. Nevertheless, without feedback change won’t occur. Let’s hope that the VT50 committee gets the message.

This year, the 50 Mile Run, was part of the Montrail Ultra Cup, a nationwide series of events. The big deal here is that the top two finishers for men and women, qualified for the Western States Endurance Run(100 miles), the country’s most prestigious ultramarathon. With a WS100 slot at stake, improved timing is a must. This is just one more reason to get it right next time.

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