Volunteer Roles #2 – Finish Tokens

The parkrun description of the finish tokens role is as follows:

"Finish tokens is responsible for ensuring that every runner is handed a finish position barcode, and that the tokens are handed out in the correct order. Finish tokens normally works at the opposite end of the finish funnel to the timekeeper. This is one of the higher pressure jobs in the finish area, and should be reserved for those with good finger dexterity and who are not easily flustered. At the smallest events, finish tokens may carry out the role by themselves, but once the event reaches a certain size, most events see the need for an additional finish token assistant who prepares stacks of tokens to hand over to the finish token distributor.

Every single person who crosses the finish line on their own two feet should be timed and handed a finish position token. Provided both the timekeeper and finish token distributor keep to this fundamental principle there should be no problems, and both will stay in sync. The rule of thumb for both finish tokens and timekeeper is to get somebody else (maybe the Funnel Manager or a Marshal) to make a note of potential issues that may need resolving later, but to not actually attempt to correct them in the finish funnel."

On the face of it handing out finish tokens sounds like the simplest of tasks available. Every event is issued with 309 finish tokens that have to be painstakingly popped out of plastic sheets, sorted and in our case threaded on to three shoe laces. The reason that an odd number 309 tokens are issues is that this just happens to be the default number that can be printed on a certain number of sheets. In the early days of parkrun before barcodes were used finish tokens were just metal washers with a number stamped on them.

A parkrun Finish Token

The person distributing finish tokens typically positions themselves in the middle of the finish funnel and hands out the next token to every runner who crosses the line. At busy times it may be necessary to move back down the funnel to ensure that there is room for finishers to actually cross the finish line. At Queen Elizabeth parkrun we thread our tokens on to laces in batches of one hundred. As a small event it is very rare to have to take out the second lace to date we have only exceeded one hundred runners on eight occasions. You will only be handed one lace but if it looks like we will exceed one hundred runners the run director will hand you the next thread. Prior to the run the Run Director will check that the finish tokens on the laces are sorted in the correct order. However in the time before the first finisher arrives it is wise to check through the tokens to make sure that they are in order and that none are missing. Some people choose to take a small batch of tokens off the lace to make handling them easier.

As each runner crosses the line they should be given the next token from the pile. As a small event we do not regularly use a funnel manager so you should try to make sure that as runners cross the line they remain in position order and they should be given the correct token. Runners will then take their token to the barcode scanner who will register them and place their finish token on a board at the scanning area. It is the responsibility of the finish token distributor to sort the tokens after the run and put them back on the laces in the correct order. If any are missing this should be highlighted to the Run Director. Some events use a volunteer specifically for sorting the tokens after the run but we are not big enough to make this necessary.

As finish token distributor you are our first line of defense against some potential results processing problems. One of the things to look out for is the dreaded "funnel ducker". A "funnel ducker" is someone who crosses the finish line and then removes themselves from the finish funnel before they have been given a token. This is something that happens more often than you might think. Even though parkrun is not a race some athletes can get very precious about their stats so if someone has put in a poor performance they may not want it to be recorded. However leaving the funnel without taking a token means that the times on the stopwatch goes out of sync with the finish tokens. If you see someone leaving the funnel without a token or if someone refuses to take a token you need to pocket the relevant finish token to ensure that the times stay in order. If is bad parkrun etiquette to leave the funnel without a finish token. It can cause huge problems. If you don't want your time to be recorded take a token and just hand it back without having your athlete barcode scanned. Periodically the Run Director will ask you what the next token number you have is. The RD will then check this against the number of finishers recorded on the stopwatch to ensure that things are still in sync. The next token that you have should always be one higher than the number of finishers recorded on the watches.

Apart from "funnel duckers" there are a few other things to be aware of. If you are removing smaller stacks of tokens from the laces for easy handling make sure that you are dealing them from the correct side of the stack. It is very easy to remove a stack of ten and then hand them out ten to one rather than one to ten. This obviously causes huge problems in result processing. In wet weather try to keep the tokens dry. When they get wet they have a tendency to stick together and it is possible to inadvertently hand out more than one token to a single finisher. If you drop a stack of tokens and you do not have time to pick them up and re-order them don't panic. Leave them and just hand out the next token from the pile but note the number and notify the Run Director as soon as you can. It is easier to handle a known block of numbers than to sort out finish tokens that have been given out of order.

One of the advantages of handing out finish tokens is that you get to interact with everyone who finishes. Try to congratulate them on their run and give them plenty of encouragement. What you will notice is that whatever finish position people come in they will most likely have all pushed themselves to the limit whether they are a sub twenty minute finisher or someone who has taken a lot longer.

If you would like to volunteer to hand out finish tokens in the future please get in touch with our team at queenelizabethhelpers@parkrun.com