Saturday 12 July 2014

Once upon a time... Irish firm's fairytale rise

Gerry Duffy meets the man behind Precision Timing, which has serviced events around the world

Hirofumi Ono in a penguin suit with David Wade, greeting finishers of Antarctic Ice 100K

The distance between Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and Ballinlough Castle -- near Clonmellon in Co Westmeath -- is almost 9,000k. During the course of doing what he does best, both locations were visited last October by Kilrush native David Wade.

You might not know David, but if you are a runner, a cyclist or a triathlete, chances are you have almost certainly sampled his product offering.

It is a distinct possibility that his company -- Precision Timing -- have timed an event that you have competed in, for they are one of Ireland's premier sports timing companies. If you still have your bib number from a recent race, check out the timing chip inserted inside. It is one of David's most recent innovations.

I last met the man with a background in electronics and electrical engineering in October at Ballinlough Castle, where he was timing an autumn duathlon. When I enquired as to why he looked a little jaded, he explained that he was just back from timing an ultra-marathon in the Brazilian jungle the week before.

"Yes, that one was definitely different," he laughs as he zooms around the registration tent, minutes before setting 200 competitors into action over a showery and blustery north Westmeath countryside.

"The jungle event had six stages comprising a total of 250k. It ran through swamps, rivers, rough terrain and dense jungle," David explained. What was his biggest challenge in ensuring the timing went to plan?

"Well the timing tag had to be extremely robust for starters and the timing points had to be stand-alone, self-sufficient with power source and data collection. Once the stage started, we were required to move to the finish-line location. This was achieved some days by boat or by 4x4 vehicles. It was a rainforest, so we experienced the heaviest rain I have ever seen -- and I'm from west Clare. Charging batteries each day was an added challenge."

Did he do anything different in advance of the race?

"Before travelling, I decided to assume I had no facilities available each day, and so I brought a laptop that is waterproof, dustproof and shockproof."

Formed in 2008, his company's rise to prominence has been almost meteoric in its magnitude.

As someone who attends a large number of events around Ireland, I am always intrigued as to how often I meet David or Ronan Wogan -- his business partner.

As we chatted after the duathlon over coffee, I asked him about the birth of Precision Timing just five years ago.

"I actually got into the business accidentally. My brother was a member of the Midland Triathlon Club and they wanted to time an event. With my computer and engineering background, I got roped into helping out on the day. Believe it or not, as recently as then, most events were timed using pen and paper. That first event did it for me. I loved it."

In the early days, the staff consisted of his wife, brother, sister, parents and friends. Now, however, Precision operates just like its name suggests.

"We have five full-time staff, including Ronan (sales director) and Claire Kearney (online registration administrator). We also employ six to eight part-time staff."

This year, Precision will time more than 160 events and has grown to become a leader in its field. Operating from its base in Kilrush, Co Clare, Wade's 4x4 is certainly fitter than any competitor he has ever timed, clocking up more than 100,000k per annum.

So what is a busy day like for them? (That day alone, they timed at three different locations)

"A typical day might consist of a 10k run in Cork, an event in Sligo as well as a 5k or a 10k run in the Phoenix Park. So three teams and three sets of equipment are required as well as vehicles and support staff to help with on-the-day registration and equipment, gantry and full logistics set-up."

One thing that always struck a chord with me was the reality that a timing company must deliver. Mistakes are not an option. So what's that pressure like?

"It is extremely stressful and frantic," David confesses. "Events often start at the same time, so I'll be on the phone, constantly addressing concerns at one location, whilst making sure I capture the necessary data at my own event. Because I am the most experienced with the computer systems, I make myself available to the other teams for debugging with the system software or race set-up should errors or problems occur."

I imagine it must be a relief knowing everything went to plan as he goes home each evening.

"Any distance over an hour away means I will have stayed overnight in advance, but travelling a lot gives me time to speak to the teams. We are deeply passionate about providing the best service to everybody, so we share ideas, problems and difficulties that may have arisen to either resolve them if anything is outstanding or to avoid repeating them."

In Ireland, you may have seen David at the Ballycotton 10k, the Cork City Marathon, the Athlone 'Flatline' Half-Marathon or the Samsung Night Run.

Precision have also timed the Brighton Marathon in the south of England, the North Pole Marathon, and David has even brought his laptop to time an event in the Antartic.

So where does he feel they stand out in terms of product offering? "We offer a 'one stop shop' to include online registration services and electronic timing with an affordable, efficient disposable chip-timing system. This also includes timing equipment built into our aluminium gantries. We have our own app for immediate post-race results and we can provide the race numbers with the chip built-in, as well as high quality T-shirt apparel and medals too."

Does he ever get a chance to take part in events himself. "No, but it's on my list for next year," he laughs as he packs away the final few items.

With that, he jumps into his overworked 4x4 and heads for his beloved Co Clare. Packed away in his laptop case are the names of three more satisfied race organisers and close to 1,000 competitors who -- that weekend -- had availed of his company's expertise.

Irish Independent

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