Race Timing: Bibs & Chips

Welcome to the first Running on Tuesday linkup hosted by yours truly and Patty from My No-Guilt Life.  For our first running topic linkup, we’re making it easy by just asking for any running-related topic at all.  To linkup, go to the linkup button at the bottom and add your link!  Thanks for joining us!


My first race was in 1994 and the timing involved a guy sitting at the finish with a notepad who wrote our bib numbers down as we finished.  My second race had some kind of timing device I’m sure , but I don’t remember what it was.

My first race after I got back to running was a local 10k.  When I went to packet pickup I was surprised to find a small square bit of plastic with four holes in it was attached to my bib with a zip tie.  There were no instructions but I could tell it wasn’t supposed to stay on the bib.  Apparently this is called a Ipico shoe tag.  I tried to find instructions on the web but was lost, so I laced my shoe laces through the holes and showed up on race morning with the intention of looking at other runners’ shoes to figure out if that was the right way to do it.

I quickly learned that I should have saved the zip tie and used that to attach the chip to the top of my shoe.  I went to the registration tent and asked for an extra zip tie and threaded it under my shoe laces and through the chip and attached it to the top of my shoe.  Some races provide twist ties to use instead of zip ties.

photo credit: hopeanddream10.com

The reason for using the zip tie instead of threading it through my laces is that at the end of the race, there were volunteers with scissors cutting the tags off.  If I had laced my shoelaces through it, I would have slowed down the finish chute process.  The only real downsides are (1) even with the zip ties, the last thing I want to do when finishing a race is to come to a complete stop and wait for someone to cut something off my shoe and (2) the zip ties aren’t foolproof.  I saw more than one chip laying in the middle of the road in the first mile or two.

Another type of shoe tag timing device is the D-Tag.  I had this as the timing device at the Space Coast Half Marathon.  Luckily, they had very clear instructions at the packet pickup and expo.  The tag was attached to my bib, but I had to pull it off and then loop it around my shoe laces in a big circle.  This was easier because it stuck to itself with a good adhesive and there was no need to return it after the race.


My favorite timing device (because it is the most idiot-proof!) is the B-Tag which is permanently attached to the back of the bib.  I’ve seen a couple of different kinds.  One has a big foam protective frame around a thin metal strip.  Another looks just like a plastic strip on the back.  It’s important with most timing devices not to bend or fold them.  It’s also really important not to expose them to magnets.  There was an unfortunate incident at a race which will not be named in which decorative magnets were put in the packets as race swag and ended up deactivating a lot of the bibs.  Oops.

Always check to see if the Expo has a timing mat for checking to make sure your timing device is active and that it shows your name.  At the race, the timing mats are usually slightly raised and easy to spot.  It’s usually very difficult to accidentally bypass them, but it doesn’t hurt to be on the lookout for them to make sure you go directly over each one.

Regardless of what your timing device is, it is always important to have your emergency contact information and any medical information (conditions, medications, allergies) written on the back of your bib in case of emergency. In disappointing news, there have been many instances lately of people taking photos of bibs from internet postings and creating counterfeit bibs and racing with them.  So, you might want to either postpone the publication of photos of your bib until race day or somehow obscure your race number and other parts of the bib to foil the bib thieves!

Finally, on race day make sure that your bib is fastened to the front of your race outfit (use the provided safety pins or specially devised bib holders) and visible.  It helps the race officials and if there are photographers on the course it will help make sure you get all your awesome photos.  If you’re wearing lots of layers and plan to discard some along the way, you may want to put your bib on your bottom layer.

What’s in the future?  After spending some time at Disney, I think that we may see more use of magic band technology so that runners can be tracked along the entire route, not just when they pass over the timing mats.  This would eliminate the need for the bulky timing mats, the risk of magnets messing up the timing device and would allow the race directors to easily catch cheaters who cut the course.  And with Disney’s major foray into HF radio frequency technology able to be read by long range devices, I won’t be surprised if runDisney is one of the first ones to implement it on a major scale in a race.

So, that’s everything I know about bibs and timing devices.  If you’re a seasoned racer, this is all old hat to you, but I remember being new to racing and being so confused about this stuff, so I thought it might help someone!

Make sure to check out some of the other great running posts in the linkup!  And today is the LAST day to enter our $100 gift card giveaway here!


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Race Timing: Bibs & Chips — 18 Comments

  1. I’m a big fan of the B tag as well. I could not believe a company as large as it is made a huge mistake and gave us magnets in our bags….big fail! I did post a photo of my bib before my race last Saturday, but since it was a smallish (less than 2,000 runners), I thought I was safe. Agree though that if you are running a race that requires either a lottery or a time to qualify to obtain a bib, keeping your bib private until race morning is necessary.
    Pam recently posted…Training Plan for Richmond MarathonMy Profile

    • I know! Magnets in the bags! Thanks for linking up with us!!

  2. Great point on the magic band technology! That would be pretty sweet to be tracked through my whole marathon. Thanks for hosting the link-up!

    • It would be cool to see that kind of data, especially if you didn’t wear a Garmin. Thanks for linking up!

    • That clipboard method drives me nuts too. Since I tend to start in the middle or back half of most races, I’m not a big fan of gun timed starts either! Now I have to go read your delicious sounding post…S’mores!

  3. LOVE this idea! I’m always in search of running/fitness blogs to read, so this is a win-win 😉

    ~Kim from Running On The Fly

    • Color me rad is such a fun race! Thanks for linking up!

  4. Some of our smaller races here only have a gun time and hand you a numbered popsicle stick when you finish…I definitely prefer the ones that are chip timed! Especially since I know I’m a slower runner, and I want to be responsible and head towards the back of the pack, but don’t want the extra time it takes me to cross the start line added to my time. I’ve started doing more races in SE MI (as opposed to NW OH) because they seem to be more “professional” on that side of the border.

    My first ever race had the adhesive-loop D-tag, but since then it’s been all B-tags (for races with chip timing). I just spectated at my first triathlon a couple of weeks ago, though, and they had ankle bracelet thingies that volunteers had to remove after they finished. And they were very particular about which leg they had to wear it on, so that it wouldn’t interfere with the bicycle’s gears. I would love to see some GPS-based tracking to keep people from cutting on courses!

    • I hate those gun timed races for the same reason! I had one that had you run three laps around a lake and you had to pick up a popsicle stick on each lap but I’ve never been give a numbered one at the finish.

    • Yeah, LOL on the popsicle sticks! Had fun on the linkup!