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I don't see the benefit in us unilaterally deciding what the cross-country folks should have in the way of a certification. It would certainly be handy if some spokesman for that sport was to participate in these discussions.

If all they want is a piece of paper that says the course was measured, that's easy to give them. If full-dress USATF certification to the same standard as a road course is desired, that's considerably more work.

What do they want, vs what do we think they want?
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I'm not sure "certification" is what they want, or what they need.

Just having courses measured according to a recognized standard with accurate methods and equipment would be a good start.

Generally any records that are kept are course records only. The goal of cross-country course measurement would simply be that the distance is accurate and credible based on the standard of the organization under whose rules the course is used.
Jay’s post Wight Post pointed out a number of things that make RRTC certification of cross-country courses problematical.

The biggest problem, in my view, is that making a map of the course is usually quite difficult. Our standard for roads is that the course description must be good enough that a validation measurer could ride in the tracks of the layout measurer, perhaps years later. Roads have established boundaries. Golf courses and open country do not. Without a definitive map any statement of course accuracy is meaningless. Would any sane person buy a property with a deed that states the acreage but not where the lot boundaries are?

Another factor at play is the uncertainty of whether the race organization can actually set up the course in accordance with the map. We know from experience that people will fill out forms with statements that are not true, sometimes unintentionally. How can the actual race-day path be verified?

Optimistically assuming that a map can be produced, we then are faced with various methods of measurement. We seem to have two standards to follow – middle of the course vs shortest possible route. We have calibrated bikes as our principal tool, with steel taping and uncalibrated measuring wheels also in the mix. Of these, the steel tape is the most accurate. The accuracy of wheels on rough ground is presently unknown.

The US cross-country sport has at least two organizations which oversee it. Neither has any rigorous measurement standard. Even IAAF’s World Cross-country championships are laid out to a standard (if it exists) which is unknown to me. Perhaps there is such a standard. If there is, it would be helpful to know it.

Those seeking certification of cross-country courses should seek help from whatever federation oversees them. I doubt they will get it. We can certainly help with the measuring, but should avoid implying that the measurements are accurate to our road standard.

I don’t believe our road measuring techniques are up to the job unless we are willing to admit up front that we are ignorant of the resultant accuracy. That said, my feeling is that we should not be issuing USATF certificates of accuracy to cross-country courses. It is a can of worms.

I think single-day certification avoids many of the things that you list as problematical.

The major difficulty with XC is not in measuring the courses, but in reproducing them. Let's not try. Measure the course immediately before the race, when the course is well-defined, and then the next day consider the measurement irrelavent since the course cannot be reproduced.

A disposable certification, if you will.
Mark and Pete's statements regarding being able to reproduce cross-country courses is true for the vast majority of cross-country courses, but not all. John Tucker has developed some ways to archive critical points that are not well defined by landmarks. You're also starting to see schools (usually at the college level) develop permanent, dedicated cross-country courses.

I think it's safe to say that anybody willing to shell out what it might cost to have one of us measure his cross-country course is probably going to document it in a way that he can reproduce it season after season. Either that or it's a meet so important that it is required to be accurately measured.

Add me to the list of those who aren't really keen to pull a steel tape over a 5K course. Many cross-country courses, however, tend to be loop courses, or courses that use course segments more than once, so for a 5000 meter course, you might actually be able to tape significantly less than that.
This brings to mind an experience at the NCAA D1 XC championships that were held at the Penn State golf course back in the late 70s or early 80s (I don't recall the exact year, but Ed Eyestone was one of the top finishers).

After the race several coaches were complaining that the start line had to have been laid out wrong, making some runners cover more distance than those on the other end of the line. "My kids always get out fast, and we were buried after 800," was a typical comment. Harry Groves, the Penn State men's coach and meet director, maintained the start was OK. After getting more than a few complaints, Groves went out with a surveyor's wheel and measured the start. He later announced that after all, one side of the line was farther back than the other. "What do you want to do," he then asked. "Rerun the whole race?"
Here's the question: Do cross-country courses NEED to be CERTIFIED?

The road course certification program was largely borne out of the desire of some in the sport to keep records of performances on roads. For those records to have any credibility, one had to establish that the course was indeed the distance it was advertised to be. Over the last 25 years, though, a properly measured course has become one of the essentially attributes of a competently produced event- whether records are anticipated or not.

I don't think the desire to keep records is at the top of the list of reasons to measure cross-country courses. The #1 reason to measure cross-country courses is that they are, by and large, poorly measured. The stakeholders in the sport need to have some level of confidence in the distance of the course and the locations of the marked intermediate splits. And that's how we usually try to sell road race directors on the merits of USATF certification.

Does this mean USATF certification for cross-country courses? I don't know. For performances to have credibility there needs to be a credible way to communicate that the course has been measured in accordance with accepted methods by someone who knows how to measure it.
Interesting to read this "old" topic on measuring cross-country courses. I occasionally get an inquiry about measuring an off-road course for certification. I always say that I can measure the course accurately, but USATF will not certify it. As pointed out here, the best reason for this is the obvious difficulty in re-creating the route in the way it was measured. And this assumes the terrain would support a good ride.

However, GPS devices are practically ubiquitous these days. I sometimes am challenged by Garmin-wearing runners about the differences in measurement they get on this or that course from my certification measurements. I usually dispense these discussions (with good nature) by asserting that only Lidar will give them truly accurate distance readings on anything but a perfectly flat, open course. "$50,000 and a giant backpack and you are in business" I tell them.

But GPS readings can pinpoint a course within certification tolerances. I can image it wold be a pain to measure or to lay out a course checking GPS readings every few yards. I am just saying it can be done. When would it be worth it? I have no idea. Probably never.

I'm just sayin'...

Lyman Jordan
I find that some of my race directors use GPS to initially measure their course. If I google earth measure the course, I come out closer to the real measurement than they do. I find that they don't really know how to measure the SPR. When I tell them they need to add 400 feet to their 5K, they tell me I am nuts. I have usually convinced them to give me a place to add mileage in case I am right. When I do the official measurement, I need to use the extra mileage.

GPS units can be useful instruments in finding marks. But I would never trust one to measure a course. There are too many variables, and not everyone knows how to accurately use them.

For now, I am happy with my bike and Jones counter.
Having just finished up with our local cross country season, I just want to add my 2 cents on accuracy in cross country measuring. I've measured 2 courses here, one in Fort Dupont Park in SE DC, the other in Colmar Manor Park in neighboring PG county. I am confident that the course distance has remained correct but this comes with a price: namely, I have set them up myself every time they are used! With help of course-- however I do think that getting a good and (semi-)permanent measurement is possible in some cases. A helpful feature of these 2 courses is that there are lots of pretty well-defined trails to incorporate in the route, and for "open" areas you can establish a few key points that runners must go around.
Each of these courses, by the way, has 3 variations so that there is a different distance for high school, middle school, and elementary. The high school course is 5 km-- I get that right and then build the variations so that elementary course is around 3200 meters and the middle school is around 4000 meters.
But-- how confident am I that I could write the specifications well enough that I could turn over the course setup to others? I need to ponder that one.
One reason for going to this trouble is that I think you can legitimately talk about course records if you keep the course consistent and correct.

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