Behind the Dots
Can you put on a successful adventure race without tracking? Sure you can. Folks have been doing it for years. But consider the advantages outlined here... to the race director, participants (especially safety and calming the nerves of loved ones), volunteers, sponsors, spectators, and those who’ve already crossed the finish line. We can tell you that our rental fleet is growing (with better coverage and long battery life) and that’s because of demand and realization of its value. Almost without exception, our clients are repeat customers and referrals from satisfied event directors. In fact, we moved into the tracking business after realizing how much they added to the sport of adventure racing.
Any length race can lend itself to tracking. Shorter races probably need higher tracking intervals and this may determine hardware requirements. Battery capacity on trackers and battery management become key considerations on longer events.
Tracking can greatly improve a lot of things about your event and probably change the way you produce it. Logistics become much more manageable when using trackers. Knowing where participants and your resources allow you to see issues before they become major issues and can streamline your production. Crew members and volunteers will thank you for not having to wait for teams that may or may not be coming, you can prioritize resources in a more integrated fashion, you can predict more easily when participants will be getting to critical areas on the course, and you can make sure resources arrive on time and to the right location. Tracking can also ensure your photographers are in the right place at the right time to get the right pics to help advertise and grow your event. Ask @Randy, @Chris, and @Vlad how it helps them in the field.
We support a lot of events that don’t even share tacking with participants and use it solely to coordinate logistics, support crews, medical teams, and designated race spots like leaders and last place.
With the right tracking portal, you can display sponsor banners and advertisements. Engagements can be tracked with Google Analytics and provide data back to sponsors on exposure. This is probably the most gauged exposure you can provide to a sponsor than any other tool you are currently using.
Once you have used a tracking system to help manage an event, you will start to realize that having this extra piece of technology will allow for better design and options for courses. Including:
Determining whether participants are following the rules in areas that may have been marked as out of bounds.
Reducing the number of resources needed in one area and perhaps extending or expanding a course into new areas.
Possibly using an area that may have had major safety concerns that can be mitigated by knowing exactly where teams are located.
Using an area that land managers may have restricted in the past because of access issues and knowing exactly where participants are located.
Allowing the use of virtual checkpoints, easing course setup and breakdown.
Participants get to share their experiences with friends and family. In sports that usually do not lend themselves as a spectator sport, tracking changes that dynamic. With sites like AR Live Coverage, race commentary makes following an event more interactive. For friends and family on the ground, getting to a spectator spot on the course to see teams at the right time and place is both a huge boost to participant morale and allows more access to outside viewing without having to hound the race director for updates on participant locations.
Race companies can also share the tracking link on their web page and social media sites, and staff and/or volunteers can provide personal, real-time commentary about what’s going on. Photos, videos, course descriptions, etc can all be integrated into a single dashboard, basically advertising your race continuously.
Issues to Consider
Coverage and Hardware
Available options are satellite trackers and cellular trackers. Pros and cons of each:
Coverage pretty much anywhere in the world.
Larger and heavier.
More expensive ($60-$150 per tracker).
Longer update intervals.
Key players are Spot and YB Trackers.
Ongoing data plans for personal trackers are expensive.
Depending on the device, you can get integrated messaging with participants. Very useful in an emergency situation.
Possible coverage issues. We can usually work with 80% coverage. Participants are constantly moving in and out of cell service, and so when you do a proper survey or run a demo tracker through the course in areas that seem to have no coverage, you may find cell tracking works. Cell coverage is improving daily. Areas that 3 years ago I would not have used a cell tracker now have full coverage. Take a look at these maps.
If it is shaded or mostly shaded in an area where you are hosting an event, we can track with cellular trackers. Even if you have coverage for 60-80% of the course, cellular tracking is an option. Would you prefer to know where your teams and resources are using tracking 80% of the time or 0% of the time with no tracking? Of course, there are some holes, mainly out West and in those cases Sat tracking is an option.
Less expensive ($15-$40/tracker).
Smaller and lighter.
Shorter update intervals, allowing for more detailed tracks and scoring options.
Limited “SOS” capabilities.
Participant Education and Tracker Management
No matter what type of tracker you use, if it is at the bottom of a bag and cannot get a GPS signal or service, it is useless. Making sure participants know that this piece of gear is a key (if not the most important) item on their mandatory gear list is critical. We like to make sure placement is either in a top pocket or taped to the backpack strap. Smaller cellular trackers are less intrusive and can be placed more easily than a Sat tracker to ensure good service.
We recommend having a dedicated person on your team managing trackers. This involves distributing them, managing the platform, being the key “Dot watcher,” providing replacements for lost/damaged trackers during the event, managing battery life etc.. This is key to tracking success. We can also come onsite and take care of all the tracking coordination and logistics to provide a turnkey solution.
Self-Provided Trackers or Rental Fleet
Although most platforms can integrate most of the main trackers (Spot, YB Trackers, QueClink, etc) having a managed fleet is the best option, especially if you are relying on tracking for logistics, timing, and safety. Personal trackers may not be charged, not have the right coverage, have a subscription that could expire, set an inefficient or incorrect tracking intervals, have features that may allow for unauthorized use (Bluetooth connectivity, messaging, etc.), not allow access to a management portal to manage each device, and control where emergency messaging is sent. Personal trackers are a good option if you are looking to provide some visibility into the race for casual dot watching. Track Leader and RaceJoy are some options that allow either Sat or cell phone tracking on personal devices.
Using a rental fleet allows you to avoid the pitfalls outlined above by having total control over your devices with dot watching managed all in one location
Along with the hardware you use, you will need a platform to combine tracking data and manage the tracking. Platforms may provide simple dot watching capabilities; others have scoring and leaderboards built-in. We utilize the Open Tracking platform and we think it is one of the cleanest and is the most widely used in major adventure races. It allows for social media integration, scoring, replays and a whole host of other features. James and Rob at OT know tracking in and out and have been doing this and providing services to extremely high-profile events for over 10 years. We work with them pretty closely and they live and breathe this stuff on a daily basis.
A great option integrated into some tracking platform like Open Tracking is a leaderboard. The Open Tracking leaderboard can work both with geofenced data (when someone passes near a location they get “Checked in”), manual entry, or integration with hand-held scanners. The flexibility of the platform lets you use multiple inputs to ensure your leaderboard and results stay up to date and correct. No more waiting until the “middle of next week” for final results. Get them when you cross the finish line.
Cost and Budget
There are a few different ways to budget for tracking. Knowing that you want to use tracking, get some quotes or procure hardware early on to allow you to either incorporate the costs in an entry fee, see if the costs can be covered by sponsors, or have the cost as an additional add on to participants. All are viable options. If you are using Sat tracking, look at spending about 4-6x as much as you would with cellular tracking for hardware rental. For a 3- to 6-day expedition race with 100-150 participants, budget around $4-6K for hardware costs and then add some more on if you need the trackers managed on-site or require a specific platform above and beyond what it provided by the tracking vendor (i.e., leaderboards, sponsor integration, social media integration, etc). If you don’t have coverage or need integrated messaging for areas that have no cell service, plan early so you can build the extra expense into your model. It will be a chunk of change. For cellular tracking we can supply trackers and a basic tracking platform for between $20 and $40 per team depending on event length. Events with teams really bring the costs down on a per-person basis as you only need one tracker per team. So if you have a 4-person team being tracked on a 6-hour event, you can get the cost of tracking down to almost the same amount as you would pay for a t-shirt. Volume discounts for larger events can also be applied more easily with cellular tracking as the data and hardware costs are so much lower than Sat. trackers. Also, take into consideration replacement costs for lost and damaged devices. A lost cellular tracker will set you back about $150-$200. A lost or damaged sat tracker will set you back $800-$1000. I know, I have been there.