Monday, March 21, 2011

It’s About Time...

An introspective look at the mechanics of running the Challenge

Shaving seconds off the clock is the constant pursuit of all Challenge Competitors. Initially, improvements come in large blocks of seconds. But at some point, you hit that barrier where you’re chasing fractions of seconds. It’s not unlike golf where the improvements come in huge chunks and then it’s progressively harder to get that stroke count under 80, then 70.

The Start
In sprint types of races, 100m, 200m, drag racing, etc., fractions of seconds is what it’s all about. With our current start system, the human variability has been largely removed in that the Starter does not control when the siren sounds. The old days of a Competitor playing some kind of a head game against an opponent has been taken out of the equation. Now, it’s a head game that you play against yourself. How can you benefit by using your own reaction time?

Putting reaction time in proper context, consider that the average finish time is now around two minutes, and a number of competitors are in the one-thirty range. Realistically, what additional benefit can you ascribe to the start? The start system provides micro-second data on reaction times, and we’ve been casually observing the mechanics of thousands of races. Realistically, in an event that takes over 90 seconds to complete- unlike sprint events, the start is not where the race is won. Said another way, it’s not worth the risk to jump the gun.

Over the winter of 2010, Chuck DeGrandpre and Bill Alexander spent a considerable amount of time focusing on a transparent and objective method for standardizing the start. Hundreds of trials were run and videotaped. The election for a five-second penalty was based upon a number of factors. False starts had been a problem and resetting a race was impracticable. Five seconds for a false start makes sense when you consider that jumping early can give you nearly a two second advantage over the siren, in addition to the disconcerting effect on the other competitor

Contrary to the claims that “I never moved before the green light”, video confirms that competitors are moving their foot. They wouldn’t believe it until they watched the videotape. If you’re properly positioned with the ball of your feet planted on the pressure switch, you’re not going to get a red light. Period. There’s a very simple solution for avoiding the red light: Don’t Do It. The difference between anticipation of the siren and moving on the sound will save you more time than you’ll ever make up.

Gaining Ground
If you look at the Challenge Course events for where you can make the greatest improvement, focus on the delineator run and hose advance. The hardest thing to do is get over the mindset that says, “This is a great time to recover.” Running versus walking has the potential to take seconds off your time thereby removing any thoughts about the milliseconds that may be acquired for the start, or risking a five-second penalty.

The Keiser
In the last CAB meeting, the subject of the Keiser Forcible Entry Simulator was brought up. Specifically, discussed was the change in the coefficient of friction associated with temperature. We have known this for a very long time, but solutions have eluded us. Keeping both sleds in the sun is one way of having consistent lanes, but that’s not always possible when the course orientation is East to West. So, we’ve added heating elements to the trays that will keep the temperature ≈ 110°F (43°C), consistent with exposure to direct sunlight.

The Finish
For as long as we’ve been running the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, we’ve been providing coaching tips to help everyone’s performance. We’ve repeatedly pointed out that loss of control on the dummy drag is non-productive and potentially dangerous. Watching hundreds of Competitors as they approach the finish line, we couldn’t help but notice that those who turn their head to check their location would soon follow with a fall. It was nearly automatic. It is an enormous temptation that unfortunately comes with disastrous consequences.

The other problem observed at World Challenge XIX were the numbers of competitors who felt compelled to throw (lunge) themselves backwards at the finish line. The potential of a career-ending injury is unconscionable, not to mention the toll that this rash act has on very expensive breathing apparatus.

The argument in defense of the crash and burn finish just doesn’t hold any water. No one ever got to first base faster by sliding, jumping or lunging. It’s been scientifically proven that continuing your stride and motion across the bag is the fastest way to get there. It’s the same with the Challenge.

Finish Line Mechanics
Since its inception, the SFCC rules have stated that your time stops when you- the Competitor and the feet of the mannequin cross the threshold. It is the magnets in the heels of the boots of the dummy that close the circuit on a series of reed switches thereby stopping the clock. This is a competition unlike any other, where the victim’s position is paramount, versus the leading edge of the athlete that stops the clock. We make no apologies for this; it’s what makes firefighting what it is- it’s about saving the victim. It’s also expensive to design a system to do this, but we’re not about shortcuts.

New Rule Change
We have been studying ways to make our event safer and finishing under control is one of the best ways to lessen injuries and minimize damage to the equipment. The responsibility for stopping the clock will be that of the Competitor. For the 2011 season, those individuals who fail to stop the clock, will be given a handheld stopwatch time plus two seconds. If there is a mechanical problem with the clock, there is no penalty.

The immediate benefit will be seen in the Relay category where one lane’s completion time is fixed and displayed and the other continues to run, thereby eliminating confusion as to who won.

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