Boilermaker Blog

Computers Gone Wild!

When electronic race registration runs well it is a Godsend for a sporting event. A recent case in point, the Beach to Beacon 10k.  This race which was the brainchild of Joan Benoit Samualson is the largest race that takes place in Maine with over 6,000 runners. Of that field 4,000 enter the race via open registration (first come- first serve). In five minutes the field was filled!

Two recent events show what can happen when computers don’t behave well.

On February 19th registration opened for the Chicago Marathon; four hours later the system was shut down due to technology problems.

In order to equitably dole out the remaining 15,000 slots Chicago officials instituted a lottery.  In spite of the problems, in the four hours the registration system was live approximately 30,000 people managed to register.

Fast forward approximately a month later to the opening of registration for the Marine Corp Marathon (MCM). The MCM which is run in October boosts a field of 30,000. Almost immediately the system strained with the heavy traffic. People were forced to constantly refresh their web screens to, hopefully, get through the registration process.

In the end, the Marines Corp Marathon was sold out in two hours, twenty seven minutes; that’s around the time the winner of the marathon will be coming in!

As a guy who loves history it made me think about the ‘old days’ (like 10 years ago) when we worked with a manual system to process everything.

Imagine dealing with paper applications, you fill it out, mail it, we receive it, retype in all the info you filled out, cash your check and send you a confirmation postcard.

We were heavily dependent upon a small, loyal force of volunteers who would process the mountain of paper. I simply cannot calculate the amount of man-hours needed to get the job done. 

If we used our current registration total (18,500) and assumed it took 5 minutes to complete the process per runner we’re talking about 1,541 hours. This year registration was done electronically in 68 hours.

I can’t think of a major race that is not using electronic systems as their primary, if not exclusive, method of registration.

In addition, races do not have dedicated systems to process your application that is accomplished through a third party.

So the ability of that registration partner needs to be able to handle the ‘flash mob’ that will surge through the system literally the minute registration goes live.

Bottom line is we in the race biz need to pick our partners very carefully because when things go bad you know whose castle the villagers will be charging with the torches and pitchforks.

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