Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Hi Group,

Greetings from Missoula, Montana.

 The Missoula Marathon was held this past weekend. There were 5000+ runners/walkers/handicappers participating. The Hellgate Amateur Radio Club, led by Elmer WG7P, did a great job directing efforts of the 25+ volunteers who provided voice communications and APRS support to the race. We had communicators at most of the 17 AID Stations along the two routes, which included a Full Marathon (26.2 miles) and Half Marathon (13.1 miles). As the three lead male and female runners passed each AID Station the assigned communicator would radio in the bib numbers and time of crossing to Jerry N7GE (also an avid APRSr) at the finish line. I manned the APRS finish line station, monitoring the trackers we had following three lead males and female runners, and two "tail end charlie" trackers bringing up the rear of the races. Both Jerry and I took turns radio'ing the leader updates to Eric NZ7S at the FINISH line crossing where the announcers broadcast the info over their PA system.

The trackers consisted of two Byonics MT-AIO "yellow box" units mounted on bicycles, a Byonics MT-RTG mounted in the half-marathon pace car, three Kenwood D7/D72's, and an Arduino tracker neatly mounted on a bob-trailer behind the tail-end charlie bike. We ID'd the trackers with tactical callsigns (MSLA*) and entered owner callsigns at the end of the status text comment, set them for 30 second updates with various offsets to reduce packet collisions. Battery life well exceeded our needs on all the trackers. The finish line station ran UI-View with two area specific maps generated with Precision Maps v9, one showing the entire race routes, and the other focused on the final four AID stations. The AID stations were generated as objects on UI-View, and were periodically announced onto the APRS-IS as MSOAID*. As my TH-D72 was being used as a tracker, the UI-View station relied on APRS-IS input only. A projector and screen displayed the race picture for others to see from our location just below the finish line in Caras Park.

The trackers and FINISH line station worked great, although there were some gaps in coverage and other technical difficulties along for the ride. It was nothing we couldn't deal with, and overall a very successful mission. This was the first occasion for using APRS at the Missoula Marathon, and race officials were very impressed. I've done about a dozen or more races, marathons, triathons and Ironman events over the years, so bring some experience with me to the Hellgate club as I'm summering in Montana to escape the heat of Tucson. Makes sense, right?

We had a debrief last night at the monthly HARC meeting, and along with increasing the number of trackers to cover the three leading males and leading females of each race, we intend to place a tracker with the 5 hour PACER runner, and perhaps with one or more of the SAG vehicles. We also talked about coordinating some other communication updates including "tweeting" the BIB numbers when they pass the AID stations, so others can stay aware, and using several iPhones or Android smartphones to broadcast streaming video to UStream and link it with a map of the associated APRS tracker. I have that capability now, using my Android Bionic and mobile tracker to the web page at http://k7gps.weebly.com, but it could easily have been adapted to U2APRS or APRS OpenTracker running on a smartphone and the UStream video simultaneously. Oh the possibilities are limitless.

There's another communications-related activity I'd like to expand for next year, that is in the "lost and found" arena. We had several people wanting to drop off lost and found items, or in two cases looking for separated parties, one of which was a runner/walker in the event, who should have, but had not yet crossed the finish line. We took the bib number, name and description of those folks and radio'd an attempt to locate to our people along the course, but unfortunately never made contact with the other parties. On the TV news later that night I heard a report of one runner who collapsed mid-way between aid stations, where we didn't have any communicators, was administered CPR and rushed to the hospital. His age and physical description matched those of the person we were looking for. We'll try harder next time to get the bib number of those who are administered first-aid along the course, and get that info to communications-central, so when concerned parties come looking we can provide them with at least some information, or which hospital they were transported to.

Regards, Dave K7GPS

More information:

M-1, M-2, F-1, HF-2 trackers were all mounted on 10-speed bikes. We wrapped blue painters tape around the area where our tracker would be mounted, so as to not cause any scratches on some very expensive bikes. Dick W7XT fab'd a couple 19.5" metal mounting brackets to the bike to hold the mini-mag mount antenna and give some semblance of a ground plane. We also used:

  • H-1 tracker, the MT-RTG, was in a Subaru. Nothing fancy there.
  • TL-1 tracker, a D7 and Etrex GPS with 1/2 wave no-ground-plane antenna, was on Dick's BMW 1100R and worked just fine.
  • TL-2 on Dean's bicycle bob-trailer, the Arduino tracker, and a pole mounted Go-Pro HD camera. Perfect for the larger battery he had. Next year we may run a uStream-capable camera from it, and put him up front. This takes the limited tracker mounting options off the bike an onto a small, single-wheeled trailer that attaches to the rear. With as many biking events the HARC supports here in Missoula, perhaps the club will invest in a half-dozen of these to come up with a really-robust tracking capability. Think of the possibilities! 

It was a really fun event to support, and the race officials really appreciated the club's efforts. The club is moving forward to purchase several more MT-AIO trackers since they support a bunch of different events where APRS can supplement voice communications.

We're also recommending to the race officials to have the escort bike riders wear a brightly colored shirt with M-1, F-1 etc in big letters, so our AID station communicators can more-easily identify the leaders, and the riders call out the bib numbers of who they're escorting, as in some cases the bib numbers curl up or are tucked in, making them unseen to the AID stations as they come by.

Again, this was really a great event, and the people of Missoula and all involved are really super people. It's no wonder this smaller venue marathon was voted "most friendly marathon" in 2009. I think the trend continues today.

Dave K7GPS

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