How to start a race


SLSC is now a data driven club – only by careful analysis of data patterns can we drive performance and quality. No more can we rely on the time-honoured ways of making decisions such as the alignment of the heavens, the phase of the moon, time of the month, hangovers, tarot cards, what we feel in our bones or simply by doing what Margy says. Now it’s all evidence based and consequently I have been commissioned to examine a range of options for starting races.

The most simple is to start people at the same time and the winner is the person who finishes first; but that would be unacceptably dull for SLSC. To spice it up a bit more in some summer races the handicap is calculated at the end, with points added or subtracted depending on the umpire’s personal peccadillos and preferences usually based on how much you deserve to win. Cake is often an important factor in this calculation. The weakness with this system is that the cake makers are more likely to win which would be unfair on the cake consumers. However that too could be handicapped away with time added or subtracted for cake participation.

Other ways to start a race might be numerically with each racer being allocated a random number such as 8,674,988,986 or 6 in Base 273 (which is like counting with 273 figures instead of ten). Or it could be started alphabetically by name: either surname, forename or nickname. Or by age, or gender, or age and gender or by age, gender and a random number in Base 13. It doesn’t really matter because whatever the process the computer will be able to produce a list of winners by randomly sorting the entrants.

Probably the most interesting idea for starting a race (not mine I might add) is to start in height order so that each swimmer has to start from the place in the pool where their nose is only just above water. This means that a tall person will start nearest the deep end and so will have a huge advantage in a one length race that ends at the deep end. Conversely if the race ends in the shallow end the shortest person will have the advantage. The results will vary according to the length of the race and whether or not it is an even or odd number of lengths. This system could be combined with the cake making handicap and given weighted scores by the computer (assuming jam hasn’t got into the keypad) to make sure the results are completely fair.

In a properly fair system every member of the club would be randomly allocated a win so long as they met a participation threshold, but where’s the fun in fairness? Fake facts is where it’s at in the deep end.

By James Brooke Turner