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Grandma's Marathon:This time, chips won't fail, officials say

Grandma's Marathon officials say this year's timing chips are impervious to water, the culprit in last year's malfunction that caused dozens of runners' times to go unrecorded. (Clint Austin /

Don't expect a chip malfunction at this year's Grandma's Marathon.

John Magnuson, owner of the company that provides the microchips that time each participant's run, said he's confident the higher-grade chips being used this year will prevent a repeat of last year's missing numbers.

In 2009, some of the names -- perhaps as many as 150 -- were missing from the unofficial list of marathon finishers and times that Grandma's reports soon after completion of the race, and that the News Tribune prints the next day.

The reason: Some of the chips, which are attached to the runner's shoe, became waterlogged when runners poured water on themselves. The transponders short-circuited and the results weren't recorded.

Grandma's has contracted with Magnuson's company, ChampionChip Minnesota, to time the race each year since 2001. Magnuson expects a better result this year, he said, because Grandma's has gone back to the same model it used two years ago.

In this year's model, the transponders that do the recording are encased in glass and impervious to water, Magnuson said. It's the same model used in Ironman Triathlons, which include swimming. It's the same model used by the Boston Marathon.

Race director Scott Keenan shares the confidence. "There are no guarantees," he said. "... (But) we went back to the old chips that have been 100 percent successful in the past."

When the chips are down, Magnuson said, his company has backups that allow them to get all the results, although not as promptly. The method is a bit more old-school.

"A couple of us sit at the finish line and do manual times for every runner," Magnuson said. "We got a very high percentage that way."

There's another backup: Each runner's picture is taken with the time shown as he or she crosses the finish line. That's why his company eventually was able to record every runner's finishing time last year, Magnuson said, although the times might have been off by a second or two.

All of the names and times were recorded in the official Grandma's book, which comes out later in the summer.

The fail-safes will be in place this year, as they are every year, Magnuson said. But he doesn't expect to need them. "We'll probably throw (the manually recorded numbers) away, just like we do almost every year."