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Here's a nice measurement story that Steve Vaitones found.

Measurement Article

By DEBBIE FETTERMAN / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Measuring a marathon course is a time-consuming effort that uses simple tools. Yet the ramifications of miscalculating a course are huge.

Pat Cheshier, who measured the White Rock Marathon's new half marathon course, examines the tools of the trade: a bike and a Jones Counter rigged to the front wheel.
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On Sunday, an estimated 17,000 runners participating in the Dallas White Rock Marathon, half marathon and relays will count on the precise calculations made by Pat Cheshier and Andy Beach, the half marathon and marathon course measurers, respectively.

Marathon director Marcus Grunewald can be assured that the courses are accurate because they've been certified by USA Track & Field state certifier, Tom McBrayer of Houston.

But that won't stop runners from questioning the course's length. Participants using global positioning systems often get inaccurate readings, attributed to runner error or signal obstruction, Grunewald said.

"For every e-mail I get that says the course was too long, I get another one saying the course was short," Grunewald said.

Certification ensures that participants cover the advertised distance. Times clocked on uncertified courses cannot be considered for records, rankings or qualification for events such as the Boston Marathon.

Despite the advent of GPS devices, road races are measured on a bicycle, using a USA Track & Field-approved Jones Counter, a steel measuring tape, notebook, calculator and pencil.

"It's the only way the USATF will take it," said Cheshier, 59, of Duncanville, who measured the event's new half marathon route.

The Jones Counter device was invented in 1971 by Alan Jones in an effort to measure a road race course. Before heading to college, Jones' son, Clain, sold 2,341 counters from 1973-1982, including four to the Montreal Olympics in 1976. There have been improvements, updates and name changes since, but the basic concept remains the same.

The Jones Counter mounts on a bicycle's front wheel and advances every time the bike moves four inches, said Beach, 50, of Garland.

Before and after covering a course, the bike must be calibrated four times along a precisely measured straight section of road to determine its average count. This number is used to calculate the counts per mile and per kilometer. Temperature changes, air pressure and air leakage from tires affect the calibration count, Beach said.

A course measurer is expected to measure the "shortest possible route" that a runner could take without being disqualified. That means riding diagonally between corners when crossing a street and straight through S-turns.

Beach said there's also a "short-course prevention factor" of 0.1 percent incorporated into the calibration procedure, which adds five meters to a 5K and approximately 42 meters to a marathon.

Once the cycling and calculating are completed twice, the data must be documented and a map created, Cheshier said. These materials are sent to McBrayer, the state certifier. A course certification lasts 10 years if there are no changes such as road construction or a new starting or finishing line.

Beach said he rides at an estimated 6 mph, stopping frequently to take notes. He prefers to ride during the middle of the night to minimize traffic concerns.

Cheshier prefers daylight, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., acknowledging that traffic can be bad. His former police colleagues tell him he's "an accident waiting to happen."

Cheshier rides the course finish to start to compute his first measurement. Then he reverses course. If his numbers correlate within .08 percent (approximately 17 meters in a half marathon), he's set.

If not, he must measure the course again.

"If you're going to do it, do it right," Cheshier said.
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That's a nice article. Thanks, Justin, for sending it.

It makes me think that it may be a good idea for those of us who have marathons in our cities, to write a similar article, and either have the marathon submit it, or we submit it ourselves to the local paper, so runners can be better informed. It may reduce the number of emails and complaints from GPS-wearers.

Michael S. Bowen is the Florida representative of Road Runners Club of America. He is a USA Track and Field certified road racing course measurer.

He explains the process in measuring and certifying a race course.

Six times a year I receive phone calls from race directors. While they may not know it, the call's an advertisement that sounds like:

"HELP WANTED - Fearless, anal-retentive, detail-oriented person/s to ensure running course accuracy. Skilled in problem-solving, math calculation, line-drawing, detail elaboration. Bike-handling skills and lack of fear a must. Track, cross-country or road running experience highly recommended. Must own bicycle, CPSC-certified helmet, and RRTC-approved measuring device - no GPS users! Must memorize simple mathematical calculations, exact metric & English course distances. Know capabilities and limitations of GPS/alternative measuring systems. Able to communicate USA Track and Field definition of 'accurate course' to general public. Skin thickness, selective hearing, and love-of-travel, able to adapt courses at whim of race directors/police necessary. Compensation varies by difficulty of job, prior experience of applicant. Hours: Flexible; highly-dependent on auto traffic. Resume to (850) 867 5309."

In Florida, there are more than 30 of us who are listed with USA Track & Field (USATF) as course measurers. Some have been measuring courses for decades, others for a handful of years. We do it because we love the sport of running; we understand the need for accurate courses and in many cases, because very few others will do the job.

When I tell people I am a runner I receive two questions immediately afterward: 'Have you done a marathon? Have you done Boston?' To do Boston, you have to qualify on a certified, accurate course.

USATF, the national governing body for the sport of running, defines an accurate course as one that is NOT SHORT. It's important to know the course you run on is not short; you need to know how well your training is progressing.

You want to compare your race performance to others in your age group, another town, or around the country -- even year-to-year in your town. If you think of a race director like the manager of a Subway shop, you want to make certain the five-dollar foot-long you paid five dollars for is really 12 inches in length. Any smaller would upset you, and you would go some place else to eat lunch. So, the race director wants you to come to their race rather than somewhere else. One good way to ensure this is by having a USATF-certified course.

Just because you get a USATF course measurer to measure your course doesn't mean it's certified by USATF. But having a USATF course measurer measure the course will ensure the course is done properly. The measurer does this by use of several tools and a simple protocol.

The first tool is a bicycle with a counter mounted to the front wheel hub, which provides a fixed count for each turn of the front wheel. The earliest model of counter is accurate to within three inches, more accurate than the GPS receivers used by fitness enthusiasts. The measurer does a series of calibration rides to determine the number of counts (turns of the wheel) per miles/kilometers. These rides are performed on a calibration course, measured out using spring tension and steel surveyor's tape; most measurers have one or more calibration courses in their area.

Once the count (wheel revolutions) per mile/kilometer is determined, the measurer adds a 1/1000 factor to the count to help prevent a course from being shorter than the actual distance. So, a 10-kilometer (6.213172 miles exactly) run, such as the Crescent City Classic, is actually closer to 6.219925712 miles in distance.

The measurer, once on the course, begins to act like a runner. He or she rides the shortest possible distance from start to finish; riding 12-inch tangents on curved sections of the course. If runners are going to be restricted from part of the road, these are noted. Distance splits are made at multiples of each count per mile/kilometer, marked (temporarily) and noted relative to fixed points. The counts at the finish are also noted. During a second ride of the course, the count from start to split points & finish are noted again.

The total counts between the first and second rides are divided to ensure the difference between the two rides is no more than .08 percent (26 feet, 4 inches for a 10-kilometer race). Once the course rides are complete, the measurer returns to the calibration course to repeat the calibration done before the measurement rides. The calibration rides before and after the measurement are compared, with the smaller count used to measure course length. The smaller count per mile/kilometer is used to compare the shortest course measurement to the desired distance. If the course distance varies from the desired distance, the measurer adds or subtracts distance - if necessary - to make the course distance accurate.

The measurer then draws up the map, showing detailed location of start, turn points, and finish. Each of the distance splits are noted, as well as places where runners are restricted by cones or barriers. This map, the calibration form, the measurement form, and an application for course certification is sent to the USATF state course certifier, along with a check (in Louisiana, it's $30). The certifier reviews the paperwork, certifies the measurement met USATF protocols (sometimes after asking for more data), then prepares the certificate. The certificate number and map is placed in the USATF course database, where it can be found by the general public. The race director is asked to place the certificate number on all documents related to their event, both before & after the event. Course distances are valid for 10 years from the date of certification, after which the course needs to be measured again and submitted to the certifier.

So, racing on accurate certified courses benefits the individual athlete because he can truly compare his performance to other days or other persons. Accurate certified courses benefit the race director because it's another proof to market to potential customers of their event's quality. In fact, USATF and Road Runners Club of America championship races are required to be held on certified courses. So, think twice before you take that GPS receiver-wearing runner's opinion of the course measurement as gospel - look it up on the USATF Web site. If it isn't there, it isn't accurate.

(For what it's worth - I did correct the attributed by-line: "A couple of minor corrections to the by-line. Michael Bowen is the Florida (North) representative to RRCA and is a USATF-recognized road racing course measurer. USATF does not certify measurers yet, but they have considered a system like the IAAF. Thanks! MB")

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