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This question is prompted by Jeff's question as to whether we approve or recommend certain timing systems. I have recently been asking myself this: at what point do I say to a given group or company that I will not measure a course for them? A year or two ago I measured a couple courses to be run in National Harbor, along the Potomac just downstream from Washington. It was an out-of-town promoter. They didn't plan well, accepting way more entries than the venue could accommodate. They didn't follow the measured course, running the 5K in reverse direction from the route laid out, and not even trying to complete the measured 15 km. And yet there was the course map with my name on it-- much to my chagrin and embarrassment in this case.

That's the worst example I can think of but there have been lots of mild-to-major surprises when I see how race managers actually interpret what I thought were clear instructions! I don't know if this happens to others. There will always be mistakes. But there's a difference between making a mistake and not really caring or trying.

I'd like to hear if other measurers have experienced some of these frustrations. I still think most race organizers at least have good intentions even if they don't have the knowledge or resources they need.
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I place the following disclaimer on all of my maps:

"RaceMeasure has measured this course following USATF guidelines, and stands by the measurement.

However, RaceMeasure does not set out the course on race-day, and is not responsible for courses not set out precisely according to this map."

I have had no one emailing telling me I mis-measured a course since I started putting that on all maps. I did receive emails telling me a race did not run their race according to the map, however. It was just an informational email, and not someone seeking my hide.
In the case Bob writes about, the criminal carpetbaggers from Chicago (I use the term "criminal" advisedly) were besieged by bad publicity after the debacles they inflicted on unsuspecting runners. I had to fire off a few rebuttals on FB and a list serve about how Bob Thurston had nothing to do with designing courses that were totally inappropriate for tens of thousands of runners after some people asked in public "who is this Thurston guy who designed such an idiotic course?". Word got around quickly about how these clowns took the money (well into seven figures) and ran.

Months afterward, I and a couple other race-savvy folk in the D.C. area were approached by a few out-of-town organizations who wanted to establish a big race within 6 months of the first call. They may have heard that not asking Bob or some local expert to consult on various logistical hurdles was a huge mistake for the event that Bob references. I talked two of the organizations who contacted me out of attempting to establish a large new event in the region in any time span under 12 months. Who knows if they will come back?

I do think we as measurers have some responsibility to sniff out bad players or organizers who are about to make a mistake and circulate a course map with our name on it.
I suppose I should also add to my disclaimer: "RaceMeasure also did not design the course, and is not responsible for any course problems".

I do agree with Lyman that we should be offering insight into course design. But, while I have offered the insight in the past, most race directors don't heed the advice the first year, only to come back the second year for a re-design.

We can't make them create a reasonable course. But, if their event doesn't grow to over 250 people, there may not be an issue.
Sometimes a course measurer represents the last chance for a race to avoid disaster. Bad course design often means a horrible experience for the runners, and it's the runners we are doing this for, right?

Some of what I think I know about course design comes from my experience running races. But a lot of it comes from mistakes I have made, often when I have gone ahead and measured a badly designed course. Then I hear about the disastrous consequences.

The worst example I can remember happened when I was measuring a 10K course in Jakarta, Indonesia. The course I was presented with "crossed over itself" in that a later bit ran across an earlier bit. I had concluded that the distance along the course between the two parts was long enough that there would be no problem of traffic or confusion between slower and faster runners. So I measured the course as presented to me and came home.

My U.S. contact was livid. He explained that in addition to elite runners (who the promoters hoped would set a WR for 10K) there would be masses of regular folks joining in for the excitement, and so this "self-crossing" just would not work.

Long story short: I had to go back and measure a redesigned course-- i.e. fix the mistake I had made by just doing as I was told and not questioning enough.

I believe that someone actually did run a WR 10K time on the course. But I haven't been able to confirm that.
I have had discussions with race organizers at times that seemed as though might verge on becoming an argument as I attempted to explain how a course design with a fixed and contiguous start/finish requires an out-and-back section. I surmise that it is unique to people in our profession to encounter this type of misunderstanding. We are accustomed to dealing with course designs, while the average non-professional is not.

I have had some luck proposing the RD visualize a loop of string that is 5K/10K whatever long, with a section of this loop pinned to the S/F position. I then ask them, how would you propose to make the rest of this loop fit neatly into available streets? Sometimes, using this metaphor still does not cut it for him/her.

When the start/finish is on an out-and-back section ("lollipop" configuration) and we have flexibility to move the contiguous start/finish up or back, I usually am able to get an understanding of why the S/F must float. When I do not have that flexibility, I sometimes struggle to get the RD to grasp why an out-and-back section is necessary. A couple of clients have actually told me I was wrong when I tried to explain how this works. I am guessing that I am not the only one out here who experiences this type of discussion.

I sometimes spend a non-trivial amount of time on the phone with race organizers discussing course design because of the lack of understanding of things we think of as basic. For example, in a recent discussion about a labyrinthine design proposal, I insisted the RD get on Google Maps so we could view the proposed streets and paths simultaneously. She kept using "go straight", "go around", "go down", etc. to attempt to guide me. when I asked her to use compass directions, she did not understand how to. I had to explain where north is, then west, east, south. She still struggled, sometimes getting her directions backwards. What should have been a 10 or 15-minute discussion lasted almost 45 minutes before we got on the same page. This is a person with an advanced degree, who I consider highly intelligent. When I grasped her design concept, I realized it was weirdly and unnecessarily complicated. I estimated this 5K would require at least 14 course marshals and a lot of backup course markings.

Five minutes later, I proposed a much simpler design, to which she said "OK". If I had just measured what she gave me, I would venture the race wold have ended up looking more like a hash run than a 5K race. A perennial issue I encounter with course design and measurement and course logistics management in general is that this all seems simple to the uninitiated. Bob Thurston can vouch for the challenges I recently faced attempting to add the right amount of distance in a large open parking lot for a fixed/contiguous S/F 10K. Thanks to Bob donating his time and his math skills, and my work riding and rejecting multiple parking lot section measurements, I was finally able to cobble together a moderately-intuitive route. This took several hours. The RD will never understand how it took so long.

I would appreciate hearing how any of us has successfully dealt with this sort of situation.
I recently measured a half marathon where the RD was going to have 500+ run through a narrow stretch of sandy beach, then through a path through the woods over roots and rocks. "We do this every Sunday with my running buddies," was his rationale. Fortunately I was able to talk him out of it. The EMTs would have been busy had I not.
The question originally posted about us having standards for how a race is administered is definitely not part of our job as certifiers. As Jim states we can advise a race director based on our knowledge from race experience. Let's not open a can worms and create another job for the RRTC. We have enough on our plates as is.

Here is a link for all to see that is what the RRTC is about:
Response and comment:
1. If it's not our job (and I agree), is it somebody's job to evaluate these things? Beyond social media I mean. For example, do the local USATF affiliates who administer race sanctions actually look at how races are planned and conducted, or do they just collect forms and money?
2. This may not be an area where we can all agree or where there could be an official policy. Maybe everyone just needs to figure out how we will handle some of these questionable situations.
I sometimes spend hours in negotiations with clients about course design. Do not repeat me, but some of my friends in the running business and I agree that non-runner organizers come up with race course ideas that are just, well, stupid. I encountered one two days ago that was inherently unsafe to the point that it will never be done again.

Different measurers will take different approaches to how proactive we are about course design. I respect that some people are not comfortable getting into a discussion about changing the RD's treasured design. Last year, I redesigned about 75% of a client's original course idea because there was no way to get in the required distance without major changes. When I later referred to "my design", the RD took exception, saying "I designed this course".

Using devil's advocacy to help illustrate a point: Ditsy Don, the RD of a multi-race event, comes to me with a request to measure a course he roughed out with his car odometer. The course crosses over the route of another race that will be conducted simultaneously. When I point out that he needs to change the timing of the race starts that he wants for these two races, he balks. When I suggest an alternate route, he has reasons why it won't be satisfactory or it may not be eligible for a permit. I go ahead and certify the course. Predictably, after race day, social media are flooded with complaints from participants about the fact that they had to dodge other runners crossing their path.

I have never been a party to such measurements, nor will I be. Last year, I had to tell one race organizing group that I would not be able to help them. They insisted on routing a 5K through the only (small) parking lot for the race. They were expecting several hundred people. There were other issues with the course - they would not accept that using a fixed and contiguous start/finish would require an out-and-back turn around section somewhere. I politely maintained my position until I realized I was on the verge of breaking into an outright argument with people I had just met. The manager of the start - finish area property understood my points, but he was the only one. He was not successful in getting through, either.

No way I was going to measure an inherently worthless course and put my name on the map, or even do it anonymously. I do not need to cite any USATF regulations to walk away from measuring a badly flawed course design that makes no sense. If the design will create safety issues, such as one I saw recently, and the race organizers do not agree with me, it is likely that they will not employ adequate police or course marshal or traffic cones on race day. They may put runners at risk for no good reason. As with the courses that Bob Thurston measured for a client that lied to him about how the courses would be used, a post-race uproar by participants and the authorities is not worth any certification fee for me. I venture that most of us would agree.

There is good reason to ask experienced people with local knowledge.  I don't do measurement these days, but do a lot of course management, or start / finish line management. 

Often this means looking at the proposed course and asking if they need help on X section of the course.  Places I know they can screw up on race day.  

Sometimes they actually ask me before brining a race to Fort Lauderdale. Most times they don't.  Often they have nailed down the course with the city or police before talking to me. Basic advice, like you can't do that course because it runs across railway, and no matter what they tell you you can't control trains on that line is ignored. (Yup, the train cut the race in two.) 

More commonly they just have not fully thought out the way traffic will, or more commonly won't flow around the race and the streat closings.  Sent a RD a message today, saying if his new course was not locked in, I had a proposal to reroute 3 miles of it to minimize traffic problems, and make course and cone management a lot simpler. 

Another big flaw, bringing a long race to town without first contacting local running clubs and groups they hope will volunteer for course management and waterstops.
There is nothing like having lots of experienced, often older runners, some of whom are RDs themselves, volunteering at various key points on your course. Unless you have a huge profesional staff... and even then having local experts helps. 

Race organizations should take proposed routes to the local running clubs and ask for input and suggestions BEFORE getting permits and locking in the route. We can tell them the problems we had with this road, or that neighborhood, or this bridge, or that police department. 

My local club has organized a dozen local races every year, for more than three decades, and every year assists other large races when they come to our metropolice.  Mistakes in course layout, capacity, or traffic problems are often obvious to experienced locals.  We know how the traffic flows. We know what has worked for other courses in the past, and what was a major headache.

Just because you are a professional race management or race timing company, does not mean you fully understand the smoothest way to snake the course into the community.  RDs need to Circulate proposed courses to the local experts, and Ask for suggestions.  None of us like to see races or community traffic screwed up by lack of insight during course design, or poor race day management.

So I do email the RD and say, this is stupid, or this could be better. I do tell people that just because the police say you can do that, if the city approves, their proposed routes are probably not a good idea.  

Last edited by jamesm

I was approached by a VFD several weeks ago to certify a course that would effectively cut off an access road to two churches for a planned Sunday morning event. Thanks to Google Maps, it was easy to see this. When I pointed this out, it took some time for the organizers to grasp that these churches would not have been thrilled to have many of their parishioners inconvenienced or blocked out of the church parking lots. Fortunately, they heeded my advice and scrapped this race concept and are working on a better one now.  

One time measuring an inherently faulty course - long ago - was enough for me.

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