Here's a news article featuring Wisconsin certifier, Dave Moore. The complete article is available at this link:
I included the text below. Enjoy. -- Justin
March 5, 2010
Gloria West column: Appleton man makes sure courses measure up
Just how accurate are your local 5K, 10K and marathon courses?
If a course is not certified, it's probably a lot less accurate. Most race directors will state when their course is "USATF certified." This is the mark that runners should look for to know they have covered the advertised distance.
"Certified" means a course has been measured to exacting standards and is at least the stated distance. Guidelines for certification have been developed over the last 20 years stemming from top notch technical engineers with a running background. It is all about standardization. All certified courses use the same procedures for measurement and can be accurately compared.
Certified is not the same as "sanctioned," which relates to conduct of a race and provides USATF third party liability insurance for an event. Sanctioning must be done annually. Certification is done once and is good for the life of the course.
The process of certification is laborious, so it cannot be done by just anyone. The person must have a sense of precision and ability to follow USATF directions. It takes a bicycle, a "Jones" counter and quite a few hours to ride the course, which has to be done forward and backward. Then the real fun begins, with several pages of forms to complete.
The paperwork will then be keenly reviewed by a national certifier. In our state, this individual is actually from Appleton, and well known to many local runners. His name is Dave Moore. Dave is a stickler, so if a race director plans to try to get their course certified by doing the work themselves, they better dot the I's and cross the T's.
And I might add, "Good luck." This for sure is not my forte, so I always allow Dave to do the work and it is well worth the nominal fee he charges. Throughout the years, he has taught me many valuable lessons. For example, did you know the distance of the .1 of a 5K is not the same distance as the .1 of a 13.1? Yikes. I can't even begin to explain, so I will defer the explanation to Dave Moore.
For example, some people think that a 5K is 3.1 miles. But, the 5K is actually 3.106856 miles, which makes a difference of 36 feet. As you can see, this can make a much bigger difference over longer distances.
He has also taught me that a car's odometer might get to within 2/10 of the stated distance because that is as accurate as such a device can be. Bicycle computers get a better precision, now down to 1/100s of miles. A measuring wheel will even give a closer or more exact measurement, but walking the wheel just cannot give good straight lines, plus there is wobbling that can exaggerate the measured course length.
The preferred or recognized method of measuring a course is with the "Jones" counter attached to the front wheel of a bicycle. The counter is then calibrated over a surveyed or steel-taped 1000' calibration course. Other considerations are also taken. When calculating the measurement factor for the bike counter, a "Short Course Prevention Factor" 1/10 of 1 percent is included in the calibration constant. This factor gives a course that is very slightly long, adding a perceived five meters over a 5K.
The shortest possible route that a runner can take is how the certifier must look at the course. The route is measured along the line of sight a runner has, including how they will take tangents and crossing corner to corner. Any of us know, especially those a bit more competitive, we take the path of least footsteps. Inevitably, I often hear someone saying a marathon course is long even after it has been USATF certified. They believe this because their GPS is reading it as long.
Well, consider the bobbing in and out and non-straight lines one has to take when there is a crowd. Also, the hand held GPS device is simply not accurate enough for USATF measurements. As well as internal tolerances, the device can be affected by external factors such as atmospheric changes and nearby structures like tall buildings.
There is far more involved than what we can imagine when it comes to a road race course. Dave can surely attest to this. His work is impeccable. Being an avid competitive runner himself, he knows just how important it is. We are fortunate to have him so readily available as he has measured all of the local marathons, as well as numerous 5K and 10K courses.
So, if you are on one of Dave Moore's certified courses and you feel it is "too short," consider that you are just getting faster. And if you think it is "too long," according to your predicted time, you may have to concede to a bit more training.