Skip to main content

Undoubtedly an old topic here, though I have not searched the archives for it. This question arose for me in the context of calibrating on pavement to measure a few off-road 5 and 10Ks.

I also wondered about this recently while measuring on downtown roads in traffic, where I had to use the handlebar-clamp method several times instead of riding the tangent. do we have any standards for "too long"?
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

But do we put "Sally's 5k" in the race name field on the USATF website and then certify it as 5.5km?

For a 5k, if the measured distance is 3 meters over 5k, it should be okay to certify at 5k. But what if the measured distance is 10m over, or 20m, or 50m?

Runners should have some confidence that if they run a course that is certified as 5k by USATF, they won't end up running a course that is 5050 meters long.
Leaving out the dirt calibration issue, if a course is measured at 5005 meters, following our procedures, and not adjusted to be 5000 meters, it should be certified at 5.005K. Isn't that the approved, accepted process? I thought that we all agreed (for the past 30-years) that our procedures provided accurate distances, including off sets and locking the wheel and walking a perpendicular to avoid riding a tangent (for whatever reason).
I've had situations where the convenient locations for the start and finish resulted in a course that was measured to be 5001-5005 meters. I don't think it's right to force the race to move the start/finish from a desired location when we're not even sure that extra 1-5 meters is real. But how far do we let that go? 1-5 meters I think is okay. More than that is questionable.
I measured a 5K not long ago where I had to add an out-and-back section that required crossing an opening in a barbed wire fence so that I could get in enough distance. There was only one spot to cross the fence line in hundreds of yards of fence line. There was no other place in the park in which to find any more real estate for the path. When I explained to the RD that the restriction placed on the route would cause the start and finish to be apart rather than contiguous, she practically threw a fit. No explanation would cut it with her. The start and finish HAD to be contiguous. I then had two choices: 1)Measure some non intuitive, difficult to describe and hard to record diagonal cut across the establish park path to cut out the extra ~ 60 feet; or 2) Tell her I figured out an adjustment elsewhere that would tie the start and finish together and just leave the course 60 feet long.

I chose the latter.
Our certificates contain the field "Race Name". Call it what they want, in this field.

For "Distance", put in the actual measured distance. It is what it is. If you put the actual distance in, then the timer can extrapolate what the desired distance time may have been, and also publish that time.

With our SCPF, a 5k can already be up to 5005 meters, with a perfect ride. If, in Mark's example, the desired Start and Finish locations result in a measurement of 5002 meters (per standard measuring practice), the course may be an actual 5002 meters (the entire SCPF was used due to non-perfect riding path), or it may be as long as 5007 meters, due to a perfect riding path. So, the relevant question is: is 2 meters a material difference in someone's time?

I agree with Mark, that up to an extra 5 meters is not material when it comes to time. It may be an extra second for the fastest normal runners, or 3 seconds for the sloggers. It is material, however, in a record-setting situation.

For this reason, I believe we should put the measured distance in the "Distance" field.

But, this raises another question - what do we put on the map? The race name, obviously. But, I think we should also put a comment "due to Start and Finish locations being in predetermined locations, actual course length is 5010 meters". This is fair information for the runners to have. We certify courses, and their length. We are not PR for the event that chooses to have an odd-length course, for whatever reason.

(Now, who is going to argue that we certify that courses are at least as long as the advertised course length, rendering my position moot?)
Again, we are taking this overboard. If someone measure a 5 km and moves the finish to add an extra 5 meters. I say who cares? Just call it a 5 km. I know situation where one measures courses this way and it's recorded as a 5 km.

Yes, there may be some specific amount that we should consider as too long. However, I don't have an answer for that question. Should we examine this at the annual meeting?
We're measuing the course to ensure it's at least the advertised distance and not shorter than that. I typically tell people if you're going to make a mistake on your course layout, it needs to be the mistake of being "a bit" long.

Having said that I don't think it's a great idea to call a 6k race a 5k either. If the course measures 6k, the certificate of measurement should say that.

If the RD chooses to call it a 5k anyway that's their right, let them receive the wrath of the runners when they figure out why their times are so slow, and that won't take long....
For the 5K I cited that is 60 feet long, I just left "5K" on the map. No one who ran the race complained, as far as I heard. I will enter "5.0183 K" on the certificate. I see no purpose to calling it anything but a 5K in public. To label the map differently would open a can 'o worms that is best left closed, IMO.

As Brandon and Mark and others have expressed, were my 5K 60 meters long instead of 60 feet, would we be OK to do the same - that is, still call it a 5K on the map as long as we enter "5,060 meters" on the certificate?

Taking this the next step to bracket the numbers: suppose this 5K were 600 feet long? Would "5K" on the map/"5,183 meters" on the certificate be OK?

I have no idea how often this comes up in the measuring world. My recent example is the first time ever for me. I, too feel certain that there must be some % over the advertised distance where we would not want the USATF imprimatur on the certificate of the race. If it is named or advertised as a substantially different distance than we measure, what should the threshold be before we do not allow it to be named a standard distance on the map?

While there are historical "odd-distance" events in New England and in other parts of the country, I do not see an interest or tolerance for anything other than standard distance events in my region, at least as far as those races that would ever bother with certification.

A measurer I know who once did a validation measurement came up .0028% long for that course. The record was validated. For a 10K, just for example,.0028% long would amount to 28 meters (or 92 feet)long. Obviously the record would have been validated at anything longer than the nominal distance after removal of the SCCF. This example begs the question of how this record would stand or fall when a new 10K record is subsequently set by 1 or 2 seconds, as records often are, when the validation showed this new record course to be only 5 feet long. In our system, the slightly faster runner would have to concede his/her record.

I do not agree with Brandon that a 6K race course can be advertised as 5K with no squawk from us. I would not create a map of a 6K that says 5K on it because I do not want my name associated with an inaccurate statement of the distance if it is way long any more than I want to put out a product that is inaccurate on the short side. I just want to know where "acceptably long" ends and "way long" begins..
Last edited by pastmember
I agree with Guido. We've been certifying distances using a process that's been around for a long time. If a RD insists on specific start and finish locations that result in an odd length course, then that should be the certified course length.

I once measured a combined marathon and 1/2 marathon where the race director wanted the same start/finish for both courses. The first 1/2 was a loop on the east side of town and another 1/2 marathon distance was on the west side, which made up the distance for the marathon course. The RD did not want an out-and-back anywhere, which would have made it easy to satisfy the start/finish locations. I fixed the finish at one locaiton, and after working with the RD most of one summer, we found roads that would bring the start locations within 16 ft. of each other. I marked and certified the actual 1/2 and marathon lengths 16 ft. apart, but told the RD that if they really wanted to use the same start for both courses, they should use the longer of the two. So, the 1/2 marathon runners ran an extra 16 ft.

A couple of years later, construction forced a change to the second half (marathon course). When I adjusted the course, I added a short out and back.

Then last year, the new RD asked to have a more extensive adjustment to the marathon and insisted that there should be no out-and-back while still having the co-located starts and finishes. I declined the measuring job.
I once measured a 5 km for a charity group and when I was finished the woman in charge asked me to move the finish line up 100m because there was a construction site behind the originally located point and "it wouldn't look nice in the photos." No problem, I said, we just have to move the start the same distance in the opposite direction to make up the difference. Oh no she replied, then the runners would have to walk too far to the start. I wound up charging them for my riding time but never submitted the course for certification, since I felt there was a strong likelihood they were going to put the start and finish where they wanted.
Here's a similar question, related to naming.
There's a local race that is one of the oldest in the state (49th running this year). Just for fun I measured it last year after the race and it came up about 70-80m short of its advertised 5 mile distance.
Now there is no way they are going to change this course after 49 years - too much history behind it (although to be honest, the finish on an old cinder track originally was run the opposite direction and MIGHT have been long enough).
My solution would be to omit any reference to the distance in the Race Name (just call it the so-and-so Memorial Day Race) and list the distance as 4.95 miles. The average runner is still going to call it "5 miles" but at least those who look it up will know the true distance.
We have 3 ways we can write our certificates and our maps when a course is measured to be 5.yyy km long.

Mom & Pop's 5k, Distance: 5 km ------------ when yyy is between 0 and xxx
Mom & Pop's 5k, Distance: 5.yyy km -------- when yyy is between xxx and zzz
Mom & Pop's Run, Distance: 5.yyy km ------- when yyy is greater than zzz

The question Lyman is asking is, what are the values of xxx and zzz?
Interesting discussion. Maybe consider, in some cases, putting the distance in quotes if they want it there, the So and So "10 miler". Or maybe not. But if you can get away with just a no-distance name, I like Jim's solution.

I had the impression that a lot of those great traditional New England races had traditional lengths, usually short of the nominal distance. Maybe that's changed over the last 30 years.

Mark's suggestion allows us to keep in mind that there are limits to the accuracy we can claim.
Mark gets it right on the nose, what I refer to as "bracketing". I do not know what these numbers should be.

In the example I mentioned where the validation ride found that a course was .0028% long, this strikes me as too long, for the reason I mentioned. Another performance on another certified course of the same nominal distance that was just a couple of seconds "faster" would in reality be slower if the second course were to be validated at less than .0008 long, for example. The record holder would then lose his/her record to an inferior running performance. This may have actually occurred, for all I know.


For a 10 Miler: Race course 1: validates at .0028 long (45 meters); Race course 2: validates at .0008 long (12.88m) difference: 32 meters, or ~ 4 seconds for an open man at closing speed. The shorter course awards a new record to a man who runs 2 seconds slower.

Marathon: Race course #1 validates at .0028 long - 118 meters long; Race course 2 validates at .0005 long - 21 meters long. The difference of 97 meters (106 yds) means the runner on course #2 has several extra seconds to break the record set on course #1.
Bob, a lot of New England races were just arbitrary distances, sometimes point to point like Falmouth (between 2 bars; for years it was listed as 7.1 miles until I measured it and found it to be an exact 7).
The Westport Roadrunners Summer Series, the second oldest races in CT, which will be holding their 51st running this year, were designed as even distances (3, 4, 5 miles etc.) but were measured with the local police chief's car. By the time they were measured by calibrated bike and found to be off (most short, but a few actually LONG) there was too much history to toss out the courses.
Interestingly their distance has changed subsequently, as the measurement procedures changed from Shortest PROBABLE Route to the current Shortest Possible Route (there are a few measurers old enough to remember that change).
I particularly like running these each summer (the few races I actually get to run in) because my times there can only be compared to previous efforts on those courses - can't compare to any other "standard" distance. Of course the flip side of that is that I am generally getting slower each year Frowner
To Duane's point it's not just the record-setting situation why I think we need a upper % limit to course length and still call it a certain distance. I have running buddies who choose to run a particular race with a certified course because they want to, for example, set a PR or qualify for Boston or to get accepted to a particular college team. They are lead to believe that because the course is certified it is of accurate length - not too short and not too long either. They have no clue that there's a database where they can look up the certified map to check that actual course length matches the advertised race length though in my opinion, they should not have to. If a course is certified as a certain length, then besides being at least the advertised distance then it should not be overly long either. A number of us can cite situations where as either measurers or certifiers we been requested to call a 5K a 5K when it's not. For that reason, I'd like to see an official upper limit so I can say "Sorry, can't do that, it's against the rules".
Last edited by matthewstudholme
Aren't the certifiers looking at the paper work sent in? That is when one measurers a 5k, the measurer uses the shorter of the two measurements and adjust the course to the desired distance.

I have not seen many if any applications for a race of a desired distance to been longer than that distance. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have a limit as to when we call something a specific distance. However, I feel it doesn't happen often enough to create another rule.
1) I believe we need a policy, so there is no question or confusion. More people measuring means we need more stated guidelines, and can't rely on the bulletin board to convey "common sense".

2) What gets posted in our database, and shows in an online search? Joe's Race insists on set Start and Finish points, and no adjustment spur. The course measures to 5025 meters. What is posted online? 5k? That would be wrong. Can 5.025k be posted? That would be accurate.

If we don't post the accurate length, we lose credibility in the running community.

The New England races Jim refers to are already known to be odd lengths. We should publish the actual length, and not a "standard length" that is close to the course length.
Duane, when you say "measures to 5025 meters" do you mean as determined by an expanded constant (i.e. x 1.001)? If so then you would be stating that distance in the same way we state that a 5K course length is 5,000 meters. The unstated footnote is "I laid it out to be about 5030 meters but I'm confident that it is at least 5025 meters."

I could support that, or at least I see why it makes sense to give the runner that information-- an extra 25 meters is worth 6 seconds for a 20-minute 5K.

If such a statement is warranted could it just be a statement right on the map, like "Measured distance of course is 5025 meters"? (I don't think further explanation is a good idea, and I don't think we should be over-precise, as in saying "measured distance is 5.02487 km.")

That said, I kind of agree with Gene that more rules might not be desirable. Maybe as a guideline we could recommend that if a course is "over distance" by 2 SCPF's then such a statement should be given. So if we think a 5 km course is 5010 meters long or longer?
I'm not understanding this discussion, If a measurer measures according to our manual and submits a course for certification as 5.yyy-miles, why is it not certified at 5.yyy-miles? There is no range of a measurment, it is one distance. The only time a second distance for a USATF certified course becomes an issue (or even available) is after a validation. If the course is found short it must be corrected or records are not valid and any records previously set are invalid. If the course is long the measurer or race director is informed and offered the choice of correcting the distance to the advertised distance or leaving it. At least that's what I thought the process was.

Is this discussion is about the 0.0008 "range" between the 2 measurements, only one of which is used? Or the 0.0001 SCPF which is not a range or addition of length? It is to compensate for the fact that no one is capable of perfectly riding the shortest course.
Guido, I have said that also. I have not seen or at least I don't recall a submission for any distance more than the advertised distance. What people are saying is if one submits a 5 mile course for certification and it's some distance over 5 miles. Do we still call it 5 miles?

I say if the race wants to call it 5 miles, that's their right. However the certificate should state the distance certified. I also feel the map should indicate the distance Certified. This would solve the problem!
Bob, I am saying to state the measured distance, keeping the SCPF as part of the measurement.

Now, I measure a course to 5000 meters, including the SCPF. It shows on the cert as 5k. If the course measures to 5025 meters, though, it should show as 5025 meters on the certificate. I was also asking Gene if it could show in the online list as 5.025 km.

Guidos, the discussion is not about the .0008 range. It is about the acceptable over-length margin before a course is not called the "desired" length, due to Race Director desire to use specific Start and Finish points, with no adjustment spur.
This situation arises quite often. The course is a single loop with no turn-around and the RD would like the start and finish to be in the same place. Or there is a 5k and a 10k and the RD wants the start for both to be in the same place and the finish for both to be in the same place.

When the course is measured with these desired start and finish locations, it comes out to be 5003 meters. I think most agree it's okay to have 5k in the name of race on the map and to certify it as 5000 meters. But what's the limit on this? If the distance came out to be 5075 meters I think most would agree we shouldn't certify it as being 5000 meters. It sounds like Bob believes that limit should be 2xSCPF. So for a 5k, if the measured distance is 5011 meters, the course length on the certificate would be 5011 meters.

The "zzz" is about the name of the course on the map. I think most would agree that if the measured distance came out to be 6100 meters, we shouldn't allow "5k" to be part of the name of the course on the certification map. USATF and RRTC will look pretty ridiculous if have cert maps out there that say Joe's 5k, course distance: 6100 meters. But what's the limit on that? A course that is 5011 meters should have it's distance listed as 5011 meters, but do we still allow "5k" in the course name? My opinion is that's okay. But what if the measured distance is 5050 meters?

So xxx is the amount we allow the measured distance of the course to be over 5000 meters and still call the certified distance 5000 meters.
And zzz is the amount we allow the measured distance of the course to be over 5000 meters and still allow "5k" to be in the course name on the map (even though the actual measured distance is listed on the certificate).
In Mark's example, what about naming the course "Joe's 5k+"? I do agree there needs to be a limit on how far over we should allow a stated distance to be part of the name of the course.

What if the opposite of Mark's example arises? RD wants the Start and Finish to be the same spot, but the 5k comes out to 4980 meters, while the 10k is correct? Do we allow "5k" to be part of the course name? Do we show it as "Joe's 5k-"? "Joe's slightly-less-than 5k"?
Last edited by duanerussell
Well if RD really wants the course to be other than 5000 meters, either short or long, but still wants to call it a 5K, we could just put an asterisk and explain in a note.
I've had courses that people wanted to call "marathons", knowing full well that 8K is not a marathon. I just put 8K in parentheses, or write "8 kilometer course" prominently somewhere.
I have a course I measured that is called Stephen's Sunrise Pi mile 5k (on the map). This course is 3.14 miles as listed on the certificate. So what everyone is saying the 5k shouldn't be on the map because it would be just over 175' longer than a 5k? This would make the course about 12 seconds slower for a 6:00 per mile runner.
I guess we're talking about the name? Again, my $0.02, if a course is measured and submitted at 5.025 or 5.0025 km, it should be certified at that, regardless of what the name of the course is. The nails or whatever start and finish marks should be separated by the distance measured following our process. We measure and adjust courses to inches of length. Why would we not certify at the measured and corrected length?

We've discussed at some length the naming of races and found that usually the client names the course after the race. Are we saying km here that if the client wants to name a 5.0025 course as "Joe's 5 km", we somehow should legislate against that?

Wouldn't it be better for the measurer, if different from the race director, to suggest that the race director use a less misleading name, followed by the certifier suggesting the same thing? If that fails, and the certificate correctly states the distance, the integrity of the measuring process is maintained and so is the client's right to pick a misleading name.

Another choice (similar to Bob T. above), that needs no additional legislation, is for the certifier to note the actual certified distance on the map along with the USATF logo and effective dates. That way the actual certified distance is on the document more likely to be seen by the most people.

The RRTC shouldn't get into the business of legislating race names. How would the RRTC handle the situation where the race director hires an outside (non RRTC involved) contractor to make a map or other advertising material and directs that a 5.5 km race be billed as 5 km?
I agree that we should be putting the measured distance on the map, in addition to the cert.

If someone looks at just the map, they have a right to expect our certification map to reflect the actual distance, not just whatever the race name may be. If they hire someone else to make the publicity map, and don't indicate the measured distance, that is not our issue. We just need to make sure that our cert and certification map accurately show the measured distance.
J.A., I measured one of those, they just called it a Pi-Miler (VA11017RT). Who knew this was going to be a trend-- will they list records at this distance? Smiler

About putting distances on the map-- I like the idea but if the race is called a "5K" and I've measured it to be 5 km, what am I adding with that statement? And how would I state it? 5 km, 5.0 km, 5.000 km, or ???
If the measured distance is the distance listed in the course name then there is no need to list it.
It's probably a good idea to show the measured distance in the same units as what's stated in the course name. If 3.14 miles is listed for those Pi races, people who don't know will still think it's a 5k, and people who do know will wonder if those folks from USATF know how many miles there are in a 5k. In the case of the Pi race you could list it in both units.

Add Reply

Link copied to your clipboard.