Posted by: David Stewart | December 16, 2014

Holiday Half Magic: The Flying Bib Mystery


Now, I don’t normally believe in “magic” per se. But when unexplained good things happen around Christmastime, it strains my detective skills.

Before the Holiday Half Marathon came along five years ago, there wasn’t really a Christmas-themed race in the Portland area, and now we have one. There is artificial snow blowing around, inflated Santa Claus’s and plenty of runners dressed in elf ears and pointy shoes. I ran it in 2013 and had a great time, so I was thinking of running it again in 2014.

But I procrastinated (as usual) and didn’t think to sign up until after the race filled up. (Unfortunately, a bit of a pattern with me).

A week before the race, I found out that a running buddy wasn’t going to run the race because of injury. Since her entry was going to go to waste, she graciously offered for me to take it over. The race is nicely organized for changing registration for a nominal fee. So we met up and executed the name change. So far so good – I was going to race after all!

Race day had perfect December running weather – temperature in the mid-40sF, clear skies and very little wind. At my current (lack of) training, I decided to just have a nice run and not get injured myself.

All was well, until about mile 9 in the race: I saw someone taking photos and instinctively checked to see if my race number was visible on my racing bib. That’s when I discovered it. I wasn’t wearing my bib.

Even if you are a non-runner, you know what these bibs look like: a rectangle pinned to the runner’s shirt with a unique number on it. Like most races these days, this bib also had a chip integrated into it, which would electronically register my start time and finish time to yield my official results. If the electronics fails for some reason, the number lets the organizers record a finish time the old fashioned way, by writing down the finish time. It’s also a way for race organizers to identify and punish “bandits”: people who are trying to cheat and run without registering for the race. 

Normally the runner attaches their bib by safety pins to their shirt. I really hate doing this, partly because I don’t like tearing up my technical running jerseys with these pins, which often rust and stain the shirt. Yuck. So many years ago I bought a Race Number Belt from Amphipod. This is a great gadget which holds your number on without pins. But after decades of racing with it, it failed without my realizing it. (Maybe I need a new one?)

So there I was nearly done with my 13.1 mile race, running without that bib I had legally obtained from my friend! Nothing to be done about it, since I had no idea when it had come off. So I decided to just finish the course. If the organizers decided to prevent me from finishing the course, well it would serve me right for losing the bib.

I really hate saying this, since I absolutely do not approve of bandits, but I did manage to finish the race without being punished, other than getting a few dirty looks. I suppose I should have just stopped running at that point, but since I only had about four miles left, I kept running. Sheepishly I recovered my dry clothes bag and slunk off without drinking any of the free beer or eating the hot chili. Not so magical.

According to my Garmin Forerunner 405CX GPS watch, I ran the race within a few seconds of my race time the year before. So I decided to check the official race results and estimate where I might have placed in my age group had I actually kept my number on. Since I didn’t finish with my precious bib – and thus without my timing chip – I knew I wouldn’t be listed in the official results.

Except, I was. Listed in the official results.

Full pause. Wait. What? Who is that guy from my home town with my same name and age? I checked the tag I had ripped off my dry clothes bag, and the number matched the number in the race results.

There is simply no way that the organizers could have recorded my time without my bib with its timing chip. And to make it more confusing, the time recorded was more than two minutes faster than my actual finish time.

In essence, my race bib, along with its timing chip, magically flew past me and finished the race before I did. Christmas magic indeed! The Half magic included a flying bib!


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