There was a time when race results merely tell a runner’s official time and photos merely serve as souvenir of an event. These days, these two combined do much, much more than that.
Back during my early days of joining races (circa 2008-2009), a race result is a mere list of names and their respective finish times. If there were people who were my secret “target” I simply find their names and compare their times with mine. In those early days, those “targets” help us assess our improvement and a race result list is a very willing secret accomplice. What a good feeling it was to finally be faster than your target!
Race photos back then were scarcer than drops of rain on the desert—it’s practically inexistent so you have to hope that you have friends that brought along their cameras on the race, and you stumble upon each other! I was lucky enough then to have at least one shot per race (not necessarily in-race photos though)—just enough to brag that you did join the race! Imagine how times have changed in the past few years.
These days, race results are so detailed and sophisticated that I would not be surprised if some race results come along indicating the calories you burned! They have your pace, your place in the race when the winners crossed the finish, the distribution of runners around the finish line when you crossed, etc. And race photos are almost always included too! You would just be so unlucky (or so darn fast) if you didn’t have at least one race photo. Sometimes I think that these photos are some of the reasons why runners in Metro Manila have very, very slow average times as your speed is inversely proportional to the number of pictures (i.e., the slower you are, the more pictures you have).
But who would have thought that race photos and results when combined could have so much power, especially in these days of social media? Photos speak louder than words, and in races they do tell a lot. Let’s take for instance a photo of a lady runner carrying a bunch of bananas (which is called a hand, or “piling” in Tagalog) during a recent race. While the picture can’t tell us why a lady of her size would need a hand of bananas on a not so long race (10K), the picture shows her face and bib number. Those who have more time in their hands than they should could easy cross reference her bib number with the race results and her name could be revealed! Assuming that the registration information she provided is accurate (and she’s using her own bib number), everyone who has access to these results would know of her identity. And in these days of social media, anyone can judge a person with one look of a single photo without really asking the entire story. (And for what it’s worth, I would like to commend the race organizer’s action of purposely removing her name in the race results to protect her identity.)
Race photos have indeed inadvertently become a race organizer’s tool for capturing all sorts of cheating. I remember a few years ago of a single race bib being worn not just by a single person in a race (like a relay) as captured by the cameras. Even in the prestigious Boston Marathon, some legitimate finishers report seeing other runners wearing bibs with their numbers when they looked up their race photos. Cross referencing when and where a runner’s photo was taken with today’s multi-point timing-chip-based race results and you may figure out who took a “shortcut” to finish the race.
With all these powers, cheaters, hoarders, and all wrong-doers beware! Those cameras in races are starting to be like “Big Brother.” You may not always be seen, but it’s difficult not to get caught. And the price of being caught red handed is high.
To “Big Brother”—the photographers, race organizers, and their crew, these great powers come with great responsibility. You may not be able to control what people do in races, but you can control how much information gets released about the identity of people at stake. The handling of the recent incident I mentioned was good, but I doubt that this can be done all the time considering the number of incidents every race. Maybe you can limit the information you show to the public in race results, showing only the details once more credentials are supplied (like last name, email, etc.). Maybe we should use nicknames for race results. Whatever it is, I’m just hoping that we should not be so easily identifiable to strangers by just typing our race bib numbers. It’s not that I’m afraid of getting caught in a compromising situation—it’s just to prevent further public humiliation to the person involved.
I really do despise all those cheaters and hoarders that tarnish the good sport of running. They have become so many that it is so easy to catch at least one every race. Sometimes I just want to post publicly on my wall, “this is the guy that took boxes of sports drinks from that hydration station,” or “this is the lady that rode a bus to the finish line,” but some people actually enjoy that attention and would do anything, and I mean anything, just to be famous so it’s probably better for us not to acknowledge them by name. They already got their “souvenir” photo circulating on the internet for ever as their karma, let it do the talking for them.