Gun to Mat Timing Explained
One of the most frequent questions we get is whether the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon is timed from Gun to Mat, or Mat to Mat.
The answer, of course, is that we, in accordance to IAAF rules, time our races from Gun to Mat.
But sometimes the simplest rule can be difficult to explain…
What is Gun to Mat timing?
Gun time is the term used when the starting gun (or in the OMTOM’s case, a little cannon) indicates the official start time of the race. Gun to Mat therefore is the time from the sound of the gun to the moment when the runner crosses the finish line.
In a mass start like the OMTOM, not every runner starts on the official start line, and athletes are seconds or even minutes behind the start mat.
Therefore, when the timing statistics are stored, each runner gets the Gun Time, and the clock ticks until they cross the finish line to receive their chip time.
However, many runners find the concept of Gun to Mat timing confusing and somewhat bewildering – especially when they are the ones starting in the back of the pack and need a few minutes to navigate their way to the start mat.
“Why can’t you just use my actual start mat time for my result?” many ask.
Elite Athlete Prize Reward vs Citizen Personal Best
The reality is that the rules of the IAAF, ASA and WPA (the governing bodies whose rules we must adhere to) state that only Gun to Mat timing can be used to determine the finish order for awards (in our case, prize money), to be given out to top finishers.
In addition to this official rule, the OMTOM also has different medal cut-offs for the Ultra Marathon. These medals are coveted an integral part of the event's tradition, and it will be impractical to hand these medals when mat to mat timing is in place.
In the Half Marathon, all likely prize winners are included in the first start batch, so they all compete for prizes on an equal gun to mat basis.
In an argument of fairness, Jim Ferstle (on behalf of the IAAF) discussed the case of the controversial results of the 2008 Chicago Marathon, when a certain runner’s chip time placed him in the top 10.
“If it was allowed that runners could use their chip times as their official finish time for determining their place and awards in road races, a runner could intentionally start the race back in the pack so that he or she would cross the starting line a second or more behind those runners lined up in front.
Then the runner could simply run behind the lead runner in the race and not have to attempt to outkick an opponent to get ahead at the finish because he or she would in effect be running in a handicap race, i.e. by starting behind the runners in front the runner would only have to make up that deficit any time during the race and stay close enough to the runner who started in front to record a better net or chip time when crossing the finish.
Meanwhile the runners who started on the front line would not know whether or not the runner running near them in the final strides of the race was somebody who started with them or with the “bonus” seconds from starting well behind them.”
In the end, the rules are clear. There may be athletes who run faster races purely based on their mat timing, but unless they are competitors in the elite race, they cannot compete for prize money.
So, when you line up at the start at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Ultra or Half Marathon, be sure to synchronise your watch with the start cannon, and not when your RaceTec Chip beeps on the start mat.