Technology facilitates the timing of runners

David Katz, from Port Washington, on Thursday May David Katz, from Port Washington, on Thursday May 1, 2014 in East Meadow, has been scoring and measuring the Long Island Marathon since the late 1970s. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Running may be the most basic physical activity -- one foot in front of the other -- but keeping track of runners in distance races takes a different sort of dexterity. And, these days, lots of technology.

Not to mention a veteran impresario with a bent for perfection. When David Katz of Port Washington first measured and scored the Long Island Marathon in the late 1970s, he needed scores of volunteers just to manage the finish line. Some would activate a timing device to capture the time and position of each finisher. Others, waiting at the end of a finishing chute, manually recorded each runner's number, to then be matched with the time and position.

On Sunday, for the race's 42nd running, two volunteers and a laptop will be enough to collect all that data, which Katz can post instantly. But that's not the half of it.

Katz, 61, is a retired middle school science teacher who "loves all the toys" and the detail that goes with his job, which consists of measuring and scoring 45 to 50 road races a year on the Island. He also has worked a handful of elite global events and recently became the first person to receive an international appointment to oversee a second Olympics marathon and race walk, at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

Meanwhile, though, here are some of the chores to be done for Sunday's action -- which consists of scoring and timing the 26.2-mile marathon, 13.1-mile half-marathon and 10-kilometer race:

Katz's administrative assistant, Laura Mogul of Port Washington, will handle such comprehensive tasks as attaching a transponder chip to each runner's bib number. (Race director Jason Lipset, himself a master of a million working parts, said 7,050 were registered for the three races before last-minute signups.)

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Katz's junior partner with his Finish Line company, Dennis Boyd of Eastport, is in charge of all timing devices on the course, where 40 $2,000 digital clocks were to be set up around 4 a.m. Sunday (after the three-hour job, beginning about 1 a.m., of erecting all the mile markers).

At the starting line, 10 kilometers, 10 miles, 13.1 miles and 20 miles, antenna systems -- rigged up in rubber maps -- must be placed on the course, to read and transmit data from the runners' transponders, via an orange box of microprocessors stationed next to the mats. "It's the E-ZPass for runners," Katz said.

And it allows him, working from inside his trailer adjacent to the finish line, to track all 7,050 vigorous pedestrians throughout their journey.

Of course, things can go wrong. The small transponder chips -- in an earlier iteration, they were placed in the runners' shoelaces -- sometimes malfunction. It is rare, but Katz may get a call the morning after the race from a runner whose result didn't show up.

For that, he has a video backup system. He asks about what time the runner believes he finished and what he was wearing, narrowing Katz' video search. "When I find them," he said, "I send a picture [captured from the video]. And say, 'Found you!' "

It sounds easy. Or about as easy as running 26.2 miles.

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