RACE COURSE DISTANCE (Are you getting what you’re paying for?) There are different methods that race organizers use to lay out and measure a road race course. And as most runners know, not all courses are as billed. For a wide range of reasons Race directors, event organizers and race participants should all be concerned about run course accuracy.
METHODS COMMONLY USED TO MEASURE RACE COURSES THE BEST & THE REST (or the Good, the OK, the Not So Good)
USATF Certification Measuring Wheel Global Positioning Systems (GPS) Bike and Car Odometers Pedometers
THE BEST - USATF Course Certification USATF is the official certifying body of running courses in the United States. The USATF certifying process assures that the course is the exact length as advertised. USATF Certification assures runners that times will be based on a properly measured distance. Many race directors don’t know the difference between “Sanctioning” and “Certifying” a race. Race sanctioning is an agreement between the event and USATF to follow certain criteria, offer insurance, and receive “official” standing with USATF. An event that is sanctioned may or may not have a certified course. It is important for runners to know this, so they don’t assume the course is also certified. Certifying the route deals with the distance of the route, making sure it is accurate by using the Calibrated Bicycle Method of measuring, the only standard method used around the world and recognized by USATF. EDM (Electronic Distance Measuring) may only be used by a qualified surveyor, and is usually cost prohibitive for any race, so it will not be included in this discussion. As long as there are no changes to, or construction on the course, USATF certifications are good for 10 years. Records set on a USATF Certified Course at events that are also sanctioned with USATF, will be official, pending validation by USATF. Officially certified courses are also recognized by the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). Measurement is done using a "Jones Counter” equipped bicycle. The Jones Counter is calibrated on the day of the measurement, both before and after the measurement. This assures that the course is accurate. If your course is more of a cross country race, then it will not qualify for a certification. But can be accurately measured for the day of the race. Examples of this are beach races, races that include a large piece of course over grass terrain like on a golf course, undefined trails, or shifting gravel or dirt roads.
Why Should Race Organizers Want A Certified Course & Why Should Runners Care?
A record set on a certified course will be official, pending validation by USATF. Running on a certified course is extremely important to elite and other accomplished runners, particularly when course records and personal bests come into play. Most runners like to compare performances in order to gauge personal progress. Comparisons are difficult if length is suspect from course to course. Runners who pay an entry fee for a road race have a right to a properly measured course. Average runners and walkers want to be assured that they are getting what they are paying for when they sign up for a race and that the course is exactly as advertised. Races should use the course certification number to advertise on their website, allowing runners to download the map and become familiar with the course before they run it.
How to get your course certified
The easiest way to have your course certified is to hire someone who is already skilled at measuring for USATF certification. Prices vary according to each measurer’s pay scale, but be prepared to spend $400 to $500 for a typical 5k. You can measure your course yourself if you are sufficiently motivated and willing to devote the time and attention that it requires. A new measurer should be willing to invest about $400 in equipment and 30 hours or more of their time for a 5k. In either case, you will need to contact the USATF Road Course Regional Certifier for your state. This person can refer you to qualified measurers that you might hire. Or, if you choose to measure the course yourself, the Certifier can provide guidance to help you through the process. The USATF Course Measurement manual can be downloaded in PDF format from USATF.org. And there is an active blog on measuring with the Road Racing Technical Council at RRTC.net. When you are finished with the course measurement you will need to send the required paperwork to your state Certifier with a fee of $30.
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