This article, by Don Sikorski a formerly fast runner, now a Dad and weekly running columnist, appeared in the Norwich Bulletin on Sunday May 24, 2009
Most entrepreneurs would refrain from using a business name like “Guido Brothers Escort Service” to run an above-the-table operation. For New London’s Pete Volkmar, co-franchisee of the business for 20-plus years now, business couldn’t be better.
This is a running column, so in case you’re wondering just exactly what type of services Volkmar’s business performs, it’s all about race course measurement and certification. (Probably not what you were thinking.)
Volkmar, a recently retired Electric Boat Engineer, is a long-time runner and race director that knows the ins and outs of the road racing scene as well as anyone. It was his initiation into the world of road race directing that brought him to the course measurement.
That’s where the Guido Brothers Escort Service comes in.
Volkmar and fellow runner Gianni Ficarra launched the company in 1986 while starting the Sneekers Race in Groton. When word began to travel that Volkmar and Ficarra were certifying the race course they directed, proposals from other local race directors for course certification soon followed.
“We realized that this takes a while,” Volkmar said. “The paperwork and the math that has to be calculated take about eight hours. We really should be charging for it.”
The process is rather complex, yet there exists a universal system that allows anyone to measure a race course if the proper procedures are followed. The “calibrated bicycle method” requires a measurement over an accurately measured distance to insure that the wheel is calculating the distance properly. Once that step is complete, a Jones Counter is added to the bicycle wheel. By riding over an accurately measured distance, you can determine how many counts there are for the distance.
Finally, the [measurer] rides the race course, following the shortest possible route. The process must be done twice. If the two measurements are within 0.8 percent of each other, the measurements are considered sufficiently accurate.
Volkmar has measured about 200 courses for USATF certification. At least three have been subsequently validated by an independent measurer because a record was set on the course.
The purpose of the course certification process is to produce road race courses of accurately measured distances. For any road racing result to be accepted as a record or receive national ranking, it has to be run on a USATF-certified course.
“Many runners want to compare their performances to other races,” Volkmar said. “And you can’t do that if the courses aren’t certified. Any record that is set had to be set on a certified course. And that was the start of all of this measurement stuff back in the 1970s.”
Volkmar points to the long-standing tradition of distance running in southeastern Connecticut and the evolution of road racing events as the challenge in establishing a blueprint for race directors to follow.
“Our area is rife with odd-ball distance races, probably a carry-over from the old days when a dozen skinny guys in old shorts raced over whatever course the race director established,” Volkmar said. “Since there were relatively few races, the distance didn’t really matter as long as all 20 or so runners ran the same course. Fast forward to now, with a plethora of races to choose from and intense competition for our free time and disposable dollars, and race directors can no longer simply set up a road race without attention to all the details.”
One race director that echoes Volkmar’s sentiments in John Bysiewicz. A former national class runner and a professional road race director, Bysiewicz has utilized those experiences to gain a strong understanding of what runners want from a road race event.
“Today, there is a level of expectation by runners that a race course is certified,” Bysiewicz said. “This year my company (JB Sports) has already gotten three races certified. Years ago, races didn’t need to be certified because there were only a few races around. Now, many runners have run races for a decade or more, and they have a higher level of expectation from the events they run. These runners expect a T-shirt in their size, a certified course, traffic control, split times, water stations, computerized timing and food.”
Volkmar believes that most runners traveling to races out of the area will look for a standard distance over a certified course.
For marathons — which involve the identical procedure, just for many more miles — the importance of certification becomes greater. Though many races in the state are not certified, Volkmar emphasizes the value in the process.
“For race directors, it’s a simple matter to get your course certified, which makes your race technically a better product,” Volkmar said. “With the cost of races increasing, the consumers are sure to demand higher quality for the higher entry fees. USATF-certified courses are a sign of technical quality.”
Sikorski did a fine job of getting things right. Most of the articles I've seen describing the local measurer/certifier have a pile of inaccuracies. Good job.
I've always thought that was the best business name ever.
Nice to see an article written by someone who gets it.
The article says "within 0.8%" rather than 0.08%, but I doubt anyone but a measurer is going to notice or care about that error.
Well deserved, Pete. I do disagree somewhat with this line:
I've always felt one of the charms of New England races is their oddball distances. The Westport Road Runners summer series, which enters its 48th season this year, was measured by a police car at nominally "standard" distances but by the time the courses were finally certified there had been so much history they kept the courses at 3.85 miles, etc. One of the attractions of such races is you're guaranteed a PR the first time you run them. The downside is you only get one chance a year to better that time.
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