Technology & Triathlon

When I first started competing – perhaps that should be participating, as competing sounds like I stood a chance of winning – in triathlons more than 20 years ago, I remember waiting about a week for the results booklet to arrive through the post.

Volunteers with ‘synchronised to race time’ watches stood at the various transition points checking race numbers as athletes charged past.

How times have changed!

For a start, no-one had any kind of GPS tracking device and I suspect that whoever invented Strava was still at school (I could be wrong about but everyone seems ridiculously young these days!)

Over the years the world of race timing has become increasingly sophisticated but not without a few challenges.

RFID technology is now commonplace with disposable timing chips that can be variously clipped to shoes, stuck to cycle helmets or embedded in number bibs. It’s essentially the same technology used in warehousing, retail and distribution to track the movement of products or consignments.

On Sunday – at the Outlaw in Nottingham – we wore re-usable chips strapped to the left ankle that, unlike disposable chips, are able to withstand being submerged in water for somewhere between 50 to 100 minutes – depending, of course, on the speed on the swimmer.

The first thing they did when I crossed the finishing line was to remove the chip – before I even got my medal.

The introduction of timing chips was the first step in the evolution that now allows friends and family to track their loved ones around the course.

And that’s all about the Internet of Things (IoT) – essentially sensors capturing data and sending that data through a connection to be analysed or processed as required.

In this case, it drives the online ‘athlete tracker’ that’s now become the standard for most races – such is the level of expectation amongst the burgeoning modern-era triathlon community.

Some have now gone a step further than timing points and it’s possible to track athletes live via a GPS signal.

Something I hadn’t experienced until yesterday – but then again my races are few and far between these days – was driven, I’m assuming, by an automated workflow; technology that again has clear parallels in a business context to save time, increase efficiency and improve the customer experience.

When I eventually hobbled back to pick up my race bags and my phone, I discovered that I’d received a text at exactly the time I crossed the finish line, congratulating me on becoming an ‘Outlaw’ and confirming my finish time of 10 hours, 56 minutes, 38 seconds.

It could be some time before my next full distance race – this one was a (some might say strange) 50th birthday present to myself. Who knows where the technology will take us by the time I’m 60?