This is a link to Real People Run. There you will find an interview with me about measuring courses. It covers way more than is here. Listen to the podcast at:
First, I am a “Measurer”, NOT a “Certifier.” There are about 75 IAAF Grade A or B credentialed “Measurers” in the United States. I am proud to be one the 50 designated as Grade B. There are many, many more competent measurers who are not credentialed. Each state has a designated “Regional Certifier” who reviews course measurements and issues certificates. Some Certifiers cover more than one state.
I design and measure courses for USATF certification. My usual charge is $50 per mile plus $100 for paperwork plus travel costs. Courses with a lot of restrictions, requiring multiple approximations or in areas of dangerously heavy traffic are obviously going to be more. If traffic is bad and you cannot ride along as guard, I can provide my own for a significant additional cost.
A simple, safe roads half marathon will cost $750. Prices always include the $30 fee I pay the USATF regional certifier to issue the certificate. A decent looking course map for web posting is included. You also get a “Locations Book” with labeled pictures of all course landmarks. Certification is good for 10 years unless the course is modified.
First, we design the course considering:
– Crowds in early turns: Is the first turn within 100 yards of the start?
– Fast and slow runners in the same place: Will course workers be able to tell 1st lap from 2nd lap participants?
– Left turns cross traffic: We try to avoid those.
– Wrong way on a one way: Avoid having runners go the wrong way on a one way street.
– Flat and Fast: Try to keep the course as flat and fast as possible.
– Hold down public safety expenses: Avoid streets which will require hiring police.
– Avoid sidewalks: This holds hold down conflicts with pedestrians.
– Too much drop or too much distance from Start to Finish keeps the course from being record eligible.
Once there is a basic design, I use Google Earth or On The Go Maps to get a fairly precise measurement of the distance. Unfortunately, almost no first try designs get the distance right. I got down to Version X on one half marathon course. More often than not, the GIS measurement of a 5K will be within 10 feet of where the bicycle measurement ultimately puts the Start, Finish and any Turnaround point. While waiting to measure, I make a web map for advertising purposes for the race director.
After settling on a course, we start looking for a time to measure. It is advisable to wait till two months before the race in case there is a surprise road project. Usually, traffic is lightest Sunday mornings. The race director does not have to be there but if he or she wants to see the process and have some say in last minute decisions, you better plan to spend all Sunday morning on it. If traffic is really bad in an area, I may measure at 3 a.m. As often as not, I do not know till the night before if I will go measure that day.
Measurement begins with calibration of a bicycle with a hub mounted counter that resolves to less than 4″ per count. Then, the race director meets me at the course. The course must be ridden twice stopping at all mile marks. Then we return to the start, finish, turnaround points and mile marks, take pictures and describe them in enough detail that they can be found again. Then it is back to the calibration course praying that the front tire did not have a slow leak. If the front tire goes flat while measuring, all your work that day is lost.
With the information gathered, the USATF paperwork is completed and sent to the certifier for the state where the race takes place. When the certificate comes back, it and an invoice go to the race director.