For many athletes and runners taking on a marathon is a special event. Given the dedication, training time, and physical effort required it is not uncommon to build a crowd of supporters along the way.
That means that when race day comes, there is likely to be people who want to follow along with your progress. So, how do you track a runner during a marathon? The answer to that depends on which marathon it is. Luckily there is a way to track regardless of which event they chose.
Live Race Tracking Hosted By Timing Companies and Major Marathons
The easiest way to track a runner on the day of their marathon is to often to use the organizers timing features. Most major marathons have a timing vendor which tracks runners using a series of timing pads that the runners pass over. By embedding an RFID chip into their number bib or some small tracking trip worn as a bracelet or on a shoe, these timing companies provide verifiable time tracking on finish times and mile split times.
As an added benefit, with live relays of this timing information you can often get alerts on where your favorite runner is on the course. The only issue here is that this series of tracking and live reporting is not inexpensive, and the cost is passed along via the race entry fees. Given this cost, and the general complexity of setting of the timing station, only smaller events are unlikely to have this sophisticated setup. A few of the major marathons that do have day of tracking for their runners though include.
Los Angeles Marathon Live Runner Tracking – LA is one of the largest marathons in the world and as a point to point course is important to have good athlete tracking since you will only have one chance to see your runner. The past few years they have used their Active.com app for live tracking.
Hong Kong Marathon Live Runner Tracking – Hong Kong has one of (if not the) largest running fields of any Marathon. The course does wrap back on itself so if you choose the right spot you can see your runner more than one time, but finding them in a field of nearly 75k runners still is tough. They have a webapp for live athlete tracking.
New York City Marathon Live Runner Tracking – Another of the major fields, NYC Marathon has only a handful of spots to see a runner more than once. Since those spots are mostly in Manhattan where the crowds are rumored to surpass 1M watchers, having a bead on your runner is key. They also provide an app experience to monitor your runner along the route.
Gold Coast Marathon Live Runner Tracking – As one of the largest marathons in the world, and the largest in Australia, the Gold Coast Marathon is a major destination event for a number of athletes. Track your runner using their live results page for finishes and incremental location alerts.
Track A Runner During a Local Race or 5k
Most smaller races do not have live athlete tracking. Although this feature is becoming more popular with some timing companies, it still doesn’t make sense for most local races to pay for the setup and tracking needed.
When a race does not have live tracking, you still may want to find your runner via a separate means. This may be to cheer them on, or make sure that you are on time to see them finish, or just to monitor them in between the provided check points that the official tracking has. As most runners know it is easy to fall have something come up the deviates you from a normal pace, and that makes it hard to find someone if you only have check ins every 5k (or sometimes only just every 13.1 mile!). Without a tracker it is easy to turn away and miss someone, especially since many runners look similar in their racing gear.
Thankfully as GPS chips and watches have become more popular the options for tracking someone in real time have become more accessible. Here are a few options for tracking a runner during a half marathon, triathlon, or other race.
Find My Friend and Strava Beacon
If the runner you are tracking prefers running with a phone it becomes simple to track them. Simple services like Apple’s Find My Friend can run in the background and allow for live tracking during a race. This still requires a 1:1 sharing with a friend for explicit sharing though so other results may be preferred. This is where standard activity tracking services come in.
Most of the GPS based tracking aggregators, like Strava, will offer a individual broadcasting option. Strava has this as their “Strava Beacon” feature which is available to Strava premium users within the mobile app.
Although designed as a safety feature, it works well for race day tracking too. It allows you to share a URL to follow along on your workout, although the sharing is limited to up to three contacts. If you are planning on using this make sure your mobile device is fully powered during the ride as opening an app and broadcasting a GPS tracking for 5-6 hours can be a drain on battery. No one wants to get 20 miles into a run only to have their tracking fail!