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.  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 for a simple, safe to measure course is $50 per mile plus $100 for paperwork plus travel costs and certifier fees.  Courses with restrictions require making detailed drawings.  Those requiring multiple approximations or in areas of dangerously heavy traffic are obviously going to cost more too.  If traffic is bad and you cannot ride along as guard, I can provide my own but it will cost more.

A simple, safe roads half marathon will cost $750.  Prices always include the $30 fee which must be paid to 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.

Course design considerations:
– 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 across traffic: We try to avoid those.
– Wrong way on a one way: Avoid having runners go the wrong way on a one way street.
Go for:
– Flat and Fast: Try to keep the course as flat and fast as possible. But, remember, too many turns will slow runners down as much as hills.
– 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 GIS mapping to get a workable estimate of the distance.   Unfortunately, almost no first try design gets 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.  You, the race director, do not have to be there. BUT if you  want to avoid “Oh, no, I wish he hadn’t done it that way”, be there and plan to spend all Sunday morning on it. If traffic is really bad in an area, I may measure at 3 a.m.  Weather is a major issue. It is common to wake up in the middle of the night, stick my hand out the window and if it comes back dry, haul out and measure.

Measurement begins with calibration of a bicycle wheel with a hub mounted counter. This resolves to less than 4″ per count. 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.