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I've been asked by several members of the CT state cross country committee to certify the course the state high school championships (class and open) are run on. I told them RRTC does not certify XC courses, but it could be measured to certifiable standards. They have made plans to place permanent markers (I believe bricks buried flush with the ground) at the mile points and any turn points not clearly demarcated by fixed objects (trees, stone walls, etc.)

Here are a couple things we plan to do. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions before we do the ride midday Friday (Pete Volkmar you are welcome to join us, Wickham Park, Manchester, 11:30 a.m.)

1. Lay out a permanent calibration course alongside a straight section of park road. We will mark the endpoints on the asphalt with PK nails.

2. Landmark the start, finish and any turn points based off of permanent, immovable objects.

3. Locate the mile and km split points; mark with permanent objects (bricks).

4. Measure segments of the course between permanent points. This will prove useful if the course must be changed in the future (on some occasions, a "rain course" has been used that avoids a steep grass uphill, sending the runners up a parallel paved road about 30m away).
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Jim's plan sounds like a good one to me. I think the difficulty could lie mostly in documenting and mapping such a course.
There may be definite points that would serve as the center of an arc that the runners would follow (with specified radius).
With tape I'd be afraid it would take a huge amount of time, and also present difficulties around curves and switchbacks.
Pete, thanks for the heads up.

Gene, your thoughts are right, although this course has been run for years (like Holmdel in NJ) and the same group of guys organize it every year (probably also like NJ!). I think what they are trying to do is locate the major points so that when they finally hand off the organizational baton their successors will know how to set up the course in the future.
I agree we shouldn't certify XC courses in the official sense but when we can lend our expertise and techniques (such as documenting turn points, etc.) we should do so.

Justin, we plan to calibrate on the grass adjacent to the road. The reason for laying out the cal course on the asphalt is to be able to mark it permanently.
OK, I am confused - not that it takes much. Jim states: "I told them RRTC does not certify XC courses...". I thought we were now able to certify cross country courses. Tell me if I am mistaken.

After the study demonstrating that calibrating on pavement and then measuring off-road does not produce short courses, I thought we were able to perform XC certifications as long as the route can be meticulously documented for course layout. I have measured a few 5K XC courses employing careful measurements from fixed objects, compass directions, and GPS coordinates for timing points other than the start, finish, or turn around locations. It is a huge amount of work, but I believe my maps and my course documentation, which tends to run to several pages, provides all that is needed to recreate the exact route.

My protocol is to first ride the proposed course before the initial measurement with a bundle of ~ 100 or so engineer's flags. I then place these flags on the course to define the SPR and I note which side of the flag to measure on. For the first ride, I rough out the distance and mark the provisional S/F (I usually employ a contiguous S/F whenever possible). On the second ride, which takes a long time, I stop at every change in direction and note the point with respect to fixed objects, as well as the compass direction. Each point is numbered and its description is recorded.

Every time I have measured this way, the two measurements have come out well within .08%. Two courses I have measured this way have been laid out by persons other than me using my documentation. From what I heard from race personnel, the courses were laid out as measured and the races were conducted successfully.

Regardless of the amount of work, I feel measuring and recording this way is preferable to steel taping anything other than a very straight off-road course. I do not know about any other measurers, but I would not particularly care to steel tape anything longer than a mile, much less 5K.

So, now my question is, aren't there procedures under which we can certify off-road courses as long as we carefully and completely document the route?
Lyman, in view we shouldn't certify XC courses. In almost all cases they rarely follow a defined path. GPS coordinates aren't acceptable for location of a permanent mark. Again, do you really think the race would place everything as it was described?

I believe we discussed this at one of our meetings and decided not to attemp a certification of a XC course. I will bring this up again at this years meeting.

My suggestion is simple: measure as we would for certification. Hence, the XC course can state this course was measured according to USATF guidelines. However, it can't be certified because of too many variables.

Jim, as stated he is going to certify this. First, I haven't seen anything on it. If I do, then Iwould run this by the council for final approval.
I thought the same as what Lyman said. Seems like it is possible to ensure that the distance is not short and I think that's the main criterion.

On the other hand I can see the sense in what Gene is saying. In most cases it's probably not a great idea (i.e. not worth the extreme effort to document and monitor).

It's an interesting conversation. Personally I don't think we need to make one universal decision. There may be room for some to go ahead and certify XC courses with adequate specifics, then we can try to assess that effort once there's a little experience with it.
I had never intended to officially certify the CT championship course - too hard to document all the turn points, etc. Just wanted to measure it to "certifiable standards" which is what we did - calibrated on a grass cal course, 2 rides of the course, noted all the mile & km splits, adjusted start and finish (BTW, when measuring from the "break point" at the first 500m of the course to either end of the start line, we found the difference to be 0.07m, not the several meters some coaches claimed).
It is up to the race organizers to make sure the course is laid out correctly on meet day. But at least they now have the marks to do so on a consistent basis.
That sounds like a good approach.
XC coaches can be a stitch-- I can hear them making a big deal about where the runners are placed along the starting line! Also kind of funny to listen to the things some of them shout at their runners.
Jim it would be fun to see a map of the course-- occurs to me that we don't get to see examples of non-certified courses. Just a thought.
Gene, as I mentioned, I use GPS coordinates only to locate the approximate timing points, not the course route. I record the path using tape measurements from fixed objects. I add compass directions for clarity.

Course layout is time consuming, but my specific directions have proven to work well. On one course, I laid out the flags according to my measured and recorded points with no problem. In another race, an experienced coach laid out the flags according to my highly detailed record. He said it was no problem doing this. The race times indicated to me that the distance as run was most likely accurate.

I am seldom certain that any race will lay out a course properly. A big national race here in D.C. made an error in the course a few years ago. The Marine Corps Marathon notoriously laid out part of the course incorrectly one year. Bob Thurston and I make corrections to the Army Ten-Miler course layout every year before the race start. I believe having very specific instructions of where to place course flags every several yards can result in a course that is actually more accurate than a comparable road course because of the additional documentation.

While the work involved in the measurement and the recording is non-trivial, I have set my fee accordingly and my clients are happy with the product. I think the concept of offering certified XC courses could be attractive to runners and to race directors. I am interested to hear opinions pro, con, or sideways.
As I stated, we did discuss this a few years ago and decided not to certify XC courses. I found in our minutes from 2008 the following comment from David Katz.
David Katz described cross country running as the “purest form of running,” where distances are approximate, and the actual distance is unimportant. He said we shouldn’t get near the topic of certifying cross country courses. All others at the meeting agreed.

I applaud you for being so precise. However, I doubt that most race directors will follow these descriptions.
Last edited by genenewman
I applaud Lyman for the work he did on that cross country course BUT we should not be putting the stamp of USATF Certified on any XC course.
Our present methods and protocols for measuring road courses have a great deal of integrity and respect from the LDR community. Only when the course is not followed are there questions.
This could quickly erode if we start certifying xc courses for some of the following reasons:
1. You will only have "relative accuracy" because of the varying surfaces unless you steel tape the non paved portions of the course.
2. Unless you (the measurer) are onsite to help set up the course, it most likely will not be properly managed.
3. XC courses are constantly altered due to weather.
4. The accuracy of a XC course is not as important as a road course. Because of the great diversity in XC course there are no National Records, only course records. XC is a different animal then road racing with a focus on placing and team competition. Times and distance are have little importance.
5.And now for the drum roll...........I think it's great that a measurer would go out and help make any aspect of athletics more accurate but remember courses are awarded Certification by the Road Running Road Running Technical Council of USATF!

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