Volunteer Roles #1 – Timekeeper

The parkrun description of the timekeepers role is as follows:

"The Timekeeper is responsible for ensuring that the finishing time for every runner is recorded as they cross the line. This is one of the higher pressure jobs in the finish area, and should be reserved for those who are not easily flustered. parkrun uses a variety of timing devices, and it is important that the Timekeeper is familiar with the particular device in use at their event."

Timekeeper is the volunteer role that many parkrunners fear the most. There is no reason to, it is very simple and we work with two timing devices. If there is a problem with one stopwatch we always have a backup. Some parkruns have a timekeeper and a backup timer but at QE we give both our timers equal responsibility.

There are a couple of different timing devices used in parkrun events. At events with less than five hundred participants the most common timing device is the JUNDS stopwatch. At Queen Elizabeth parkrun we operate two JUNDS timers. These are battery operated devices that take CR2032 batteries.

The JUNDS Stopwatch

The Run Director will ensure that the batteries are ok and that the stopwatch is cleared before they hand it over to you. You will also be given a full demonstration of how the device is operated. There are only two buttons that you need to use as a timekeeper. These are the ones marked A and B in the diagram above. The D button is also useful as you can toggle through the different operating modes. This can be used as a way of preventing accidental button clicks before the start or whilst waiting for the first finisher to arrive at the finish. The secret of a successful event though is to keep things simple so I won't go into full details here.

When it is time for the event to start typically the Run Director will check with both timekeepers that they are ready and that their device is still in the correct operating mode. When the signal is given to start the timer presses button A once. The watch then starts and you can relax for the next fifteen minutes at least.

When the first finisher comes into view it is time for action. Our two timers position themselves on opposite sides of the finish funnel. When each runner crosses the line (on their own two feet) the timer presses button B. This will then record the time for that finisher and it will show the number of finishers along with the time of the last finisher on the watch display. The Run Director will periodically ask the timekeepers for the number of finishers which they will then check against the number of tokens handed out. It is also good practice for the two timers to check with each other to make sure you have the same number of recorded times.

Queen Elizabeth parkrun is a small event and we only average around seventy runners per week which is around half the number of runners that would cross the line per minute at the peak times at an event like Bushy parkrun so timing at QE is a fairly relaxed role. Occasionally you will find a group of runners crossing the line together. The best way to handle this is you count the number in the group as they approach and then click the required number or times as they cross the line. We only give times to nearest second so this method works well at busy times.

If you make a mistake the most important thing is not to panic. Notify the Run Director as soon as possible who will then deal with the problem. We have a backup timer and at the end of the day it is a free event run by volunteers who are all doing their best. Probably the most common timing problem is missing a finisher. Cross checking the finisher numbers with the second timer and finish token person helps us to work out where any potential problems have occurred and it can usually be easily sorted out. The nemesis of the timekeeper is the "double crosser". This is a person who has already finished and been timed in who then goes back to run in with a friend or to do a warm down lap but then crosses the line a second time. As a timekeeper you cannot be expected to remember everyone who has already finished so just concentrate on clicking in everyone who crosses the line.

Timekeeping is a pressure job at parkrun and all the event participants need to be aware of this. Occasionally runners will cross the line and immediately ask what their time was. Don't feel compelled to answer concentrate on the job in hand. They will get their time in due course as will everyone else. It is poor parkrun etiquette to engage with a timekeeper whilst they are on the job. Distracting a timekeeper is likely to cause problems for everyone and should be avoided.

At the end of the run make sure that the tail runner is counted. They are still a runner in the event and their time counts. You can then stop the watch by pressing button A a second time. This is not essential as the Run Director will make sure the watches are stopped when they take the timer back from you. If you know of any possible problems in your timings let the Run Director know and they will then choose which watch to use as their primary timer.

Timekeeping is very interesting and satisfying job. It is certainly not the terrifying experience that many think it will be.

If you would like to volunteer as timekeeper in the future please get in touch with our team at queenelizabethhelpers@parkrun.com